Hey, I’m Stevie, a first year PhD student in English and American Studies at the University of Manchester, and I study comics! More specifically, I study George Herriman’s Krazy Kat (1913-1944), an American comic strip that loosely follows the daily lives of Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse (with whom Krazy is in love) and Offissa Pupp (who is in love with Krazy!) as they unfold against the fantastical desertscape of ‘Coconino County’. Krazy wasn’t very popular among most readers, but it drew praise from artists, writers, and intellectuals, including the poet e. e. cummings, the critic Gilbert Seldes, and, purportedly, Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein, among others! As a result, a number of scholars have linked Krazy to the field of modernism, an early twentieth century art movement that sought to respond to the rapidly-changing modern world. My work focuses on deeply contextualising the strip’s production, content, distribution, and reception to ask where, in the vast field of American modernist production and culture, it is most usefully historicised.
Deciding what to study at university was tricky because I was torn between English literature, sociology, and creative writing. Ultimately, I chose the BA American Literature with Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, which gave me quite a lot of freedom with choosing modules and meant I could combine interdisciplinary American Studies classes with writing workshops. It also gave me the opportunity to spend a year at Occidental College in Los Angeles, where I encountered my first Krazy strip through a brilliant class on comics and graphic literature. In final year, I wrote my dissertation on Krazy and took a fantastic body culture studies module - both left me knowing I wanted to study further, but I spent a few years working to save money and to decide exactly what course I wanted to do – more American studies, something more focused, something to do with my work in education? In September 2017, I joined the MA Gender, Sexuality and Culture at the University of Manchester, a course that indulged my interest in gender and body studies from a philosophical/conceptual perspective, but also let me choose a range of modules from postcolonial literature to transnational radical subcultures. Knowing I wasn’t through with Krazy Kat, I also took a class on modernist studies to help me prepare a PhD proposal, and used my MA dissertation on frontier manhood in ‘Buffalo Bill’s Wild West’ to hone skills and touch on areas of knowledge that I’ll use going forwards: using digital archives and special collections, and learning more about transatlantic entertainment and the cultural meanings of the American West. For me, the most enjoyable thing about the PhD is having the time and freedom to follow my curiosity, which has taken me through digital archives of 1920s Vanity Fair magazines, over 100-year-old maps of Arizona, and into poetry, short stories, art, and comics I’ve never encountered before. There is a huge amount of fascinating work going on in both comics studies and modernist studies that is seeking to draw attention to the myriad things we can learn about history through popular culture; I hope that my work can play a small part in bringing these exciting fields into conversation with one another. In the meantime, what an honour to read and write about Krazy for work!
Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is an educational and entertaining introduction to the history and grammar of comics...written as a comic!
If you want to know more about George Herriman, Krazy Kat, or the American newspaper comic industry in the early c20, check out Michael Tisserand’s brilliant biography Krazy: A Life in Black and White.
Comics Grid and ImageTexT are online, open-access journals of comics studies.
The Modernist Review is the British Association for Modernist Studies’ (BAMS, for short!) postgraduate blog, featuring wide-ranging articles written in an accessible way.
The John Rylands Library has a Special Collections blog where you can read more about the research the collections are being used for. I’ve linked below to the main blog, and to a post I wrote about using their ‘Buffalo Bill Scrapbook’ for my MA dissertation.