Michael Tisserand speaks at Prairie Lights

Michael Tisserand, author of widely recognized biography “Krazy: George Harriman, a Life in Black and White,” visited Prairie Lights to share his inspiration.


Mary Vander Weg, Online Graphic Designer

“Live from Prairie Lights” has featured many dedicated authors over the years, but none has quite the same passion as Michael Tisserand, author of Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White. After nine years of extensive research, comic analysis and in-depth searching, Tisserand published his award winning biography of one of the most influential newspaper comic writers in history: George Herriman.

“It is fantastic to be in Iowa City,” Tisserand said, greeting the crowd that had gathered Wednesday night to hear his story. “Speaking at Prairie Lights is like playing in Carnegie Hall!”

It was apparent from the moment Tisserand began speaking how devoted he was to his subject. With a big smile, elaborate hand gestures and even dozens of comic strips, Tisserand had the audience just as captivated with Herriman as he was.

“He delivered a very different message than the other cartooners of his time,” Tisserand said. “I want to return George Herriman to history, and fuel others’ work with my biography.”

Beginning in 1913, Herriman’s recurring comic strip, Krazy Kat, was featured in newspapers around the country, and had its readers captivated by the loving and light-hearted spirit that Herriman illustrated. Inspiring many other influential cartoonists such as Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, Krazy Kat depicts an unexpected love triangle between an oblivious cat, an easily-angered mouse, and an infatuated dog. It was storylines like this and the uniqueness of Herriman’s writing style that first captivated Tisserand and kept him determined.

Tisserand first began writing about Herriman after seeing a showing of his artwork in Wisconsin. recalled perusing the gallery, reading each strip aloud with his son.

“If somebody doesn’t like Krazy Kat, they should read it aloud,” Tisserand said, who went so far as to read a few strips to the audience himself, creating unique voices for each of the characters.

Whether the audience was familiar with Herriman’s work or not, they each learned dozens of new things about Krazy Kat, Herriman’s extensive involvement with African-American activism and even early 20th century wrestlers. Tisserand’s substantial knowledge of everything Herriman-related kept the crowd intrigued with every word.

I see life as a joke, and I try to draw what I see.”

— George Herriman

Tisserand’s extensive research and knowledge did not go unrecognized. Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White has won numerous awards, including the Kirkus Best Nonfiction Book of 2016 and a finalist for the NBCC and Pen/Jacqueline Awards for Biography. Tisserand’s hard work has payed off, and he has the pride to show for it.

Described as “indispensable,” “engaging,” and “enlightening,” Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, highlights everything from Herriman’s teenage comic roots to his extensive development of a lovable crazy cat. Herriman’s work showcases nothing short of absolute conviction, from the subject and the author alike.