LOAC Essentials Volume 1: Baron Bean (Library of American Comics Essentials)

Image of LOAC Essentials Volume 1: Baron Bean
Release Date: 
December 3, 2012
IDW Publishing
Reviewed by: 

“Nearly 100 years after it first saw print, Krazy Kat is still incredibly funny.”

A combination of existentialism, surrealism, and unrequited love, Krazy Kat is considered by many the greatest newspaper strip of all time. But Krazy Kat was never a big hit with a general audience.

But publisher William Randolph Hearst loved the strip so much he gave its creator, George Herriman, a lifetime contract—one Mr. Hearst honored even when the strip dipped in popularity and the creator himself offered to take a pay cut.

Mr. Herriman’s work of genius didn’t arrive out of thin blue pencils; it developed over time. As Mr. Herriman worked hard at learning the developing field of newspaper strips and comic artistry he created several strips and grew fond of allowing characters to overlap within them.

Thus, in 1910, Krazy Kat debuts inside a strip called The Dingbats. Over the next few years different versions of the Kat can be found in the work Mr. Herriman creates after The Dingbats. As important as Krazy Kat is to historians and those who love comic strips and comic history, there have been few compilations of Mr. Herriman’s work prior to what he created with Krazy Kat.

The Library of American Comics Essentials Volume 1: Baron Bean corrects this unintentional omission by reprinting the last main strip George Herriman created before allowing Krazy Kat more of a starring role.

Presented in a deluxe format, the first full year of the Baron Bean daily strips are reprinted in their original size and format as they first appeared in 1916, including full titles and borders as designed by Mr. Herriman

The first volume is beautiful. It showcases Mr. Herriman’s developing style and his move toward a combination of absurdity, surrealism, and art deco. Then there are the multiple ways you can view the release.

In addition to the historical importance of this volume in the annals of comic history, Baron Bean also provides a detailed look back at the sociological issues in America at that time.

An historical artifact, Baron Bean also stands as a shining example of how newspaper strips, an art form still developing how to communicate with its audience, was moving toward an easily recognizable, standard format.

As noted in the excellent introduction by Jared Gardner, Mr. Herriman found inspiration for Baron Bean in both the rapidly expanding art form of the cinema (especially the work of Charlie Chaplin), as well as in Bud Fischer’s success with Mutt and Jeff.From the moment of its debut in 1907, Mutt and Jeff was a massive hit across the nation—a commercial juggernaut. Baron Bean echoes that strip’s success in the physical shape of the Baron himself. Long, lean, and slightly slouched, he bears more than a passing resemblance to Mutt. In addition, within the first two months he acquires his own Jeff in the form of a diminutive “servant/lackey” called Grimes.

More important than the influences on the strip’s creation is the way it makes fun of America’s then current fascination with European Royalty. In its earliest days, it is Bean’s own title Baron that carries the strip more than any other note.

The idea that someone could walk off the boat from Europe and reinvent himself once upon America’s shores had become a national joke. As immigrants arrived in wave after wave, the country was quickly filled with a lot of faux Barons and Dukes and noblemen—all claiming to hold royal lineage. In truth, almost all of them were broke, scrounging for resources like the next fellow. In Bean’s first year, the pursuit of food plays a big part in many of Mr. Herriman’s gags.

This overriding theme of false nobility is a funny and deeply insightful commentary on the gullibility of many who value status and standing over sustenance and substance.

As the strip grows over its first year, Mr. Herriman really began to toy with the pace of strip writing. With Krazy Kat he would take this to the next level. But on Baron Bean he is still operating miles above 90 percent of the other strips published at the time.

As the first year passes he introduced talking animals: ducks, geese, chickens. There is a memorable exchange with a family of moose that is downright hilarious. It’s the first real high point in the strip’s run.

Incorporating vaudevillian punch lines and slapstick with absurdity, it foreshadows the way Krazy Kat managed to hold an entire imaginary world within its borders, somehow representative and recognizable as reality.

All historical and critical malarkey aside, the strip accomplishes the most important thing of all: Nearly 100 years after it first saw print, Krazy Kat is still incredibly funny.

From the Baron’s numerous attempts to score free food to when the reader realizes that the epaulets on Grimes’ coat are really a whisk broom and a floor brush, Mr. Herriman packs notes in the foreground and images in the background that still amaze and amuse.

Once again The Library of American Comics sets the standard for archival and reprint quality.