Appropriation art—sampling, mixing, whatever—is as old as the first time some creative person joined together scraps of ephemera into a composition. Fast-forwarding to the 1950s, the standard for comic collage art was set by Jess Collins, a Bay Area bohemian known simply as Jess. Jess meticulously de- and reconstructed Chester Gould’s ghoulishly grim gumshoe Dick Tracy strip into works of jazzy, downbeat visual bop poetry. And now Siglio Press, publishers of an indispensable book of Jess-oterica, has upped the anti-linear ante with Here Comes Kitty: a Comic Opera.
Here Comes Kitty is the work of multidisciplinary artist Richard Kraft, a Jess for our age. Kraft has craftily transformed a 1960s Polish espionage comic into a mad, post-mod melange of Western religion and Eastern mysticism, Nazi spies and domesticated animals, the disturbingly chaotic and the playfully erotic. And he sets the stage for us with one of the word balloons on page one: “It seems we have a comedian amongst us.” Ah-ha!
In addition to its absurdist humor, the book is simply marvelous in its visual complexity, as if Max Ernst’s Une semaine de bonté, Will Elder’s mischievous eyeball kicks, and Terry Gilliam’s animation circus took a deep dive into a James Joycean stream of heightened consciousness. Here comes everybody!
But who is this Kitty? And how do we explain her mysterious comings and goings? Since Kraft merely teases us with possible identities, we can only imagine. But in Kraft’s universe, that’s only appropriate.
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About Michael Dooley
Michael Dooley is the creative director of Michael Dooley Design and teaches History of Design, Comics, and Animation at Art Center College of Design and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also a Print contributing editor and author.