Saturday, September 27, 2003

Return of the patron cockroach
In a crazed desire to insure my own blogging immortality, I have decided to announce Cockroach Blogging Saturdays in imitation of Kevin Drum and Cat Blogging Fridays.

I’m kidding. Actually, I had planned to write this blog about my patron cockroach last night and offer it with the clever headline Cat (and cockroach) blogging Friday. However, normal life and its crises intervened: being stupid at work led me into two hours of late detours, I came home to find my wife tending to a serious set of catastrophes with her oldest friend, and by the time I got the computer it was too late for me to think clearly. So here it is, late Saturday, and I’m trying to think of a disingenuous way to do yesterday’s blog today.


The other day I received a letter from M. Allen, a reader of obvious taste and refinement, who expressed pleasure at seeing Archy on the web. This seems like as good an excuse as any to say a few words about Archy and the art of Archy. I've also fired up the old and scanner and prepared a few pictures for the old blog.

Archy at work

Archy, the journalistic cockroach, first appeared as a correspondent of Don Marquis in his column The Sun Dial in 1916. Archy was a vers libre poet who was reincarnated into the body of a cockroach. By throwing himself headfirst onto the keys of Marquis’ typewriter, Archy was painfully able to type out his messages, one letter at a time, without capitals or punctuation, beating out e. e. cummings by a generation. Archy, accompanied by his friend Mehitabel, a fellow reincarnatee and cat of questionable character, watched the world come and go, a sort of urban, immigrant insect counterpart to Will Rogers.

Archy’s original notes to Marquis originally appeared in The Sun Dialwithout illustration. It wasn’t until 1928, when a selection of Marquis’ columns were collected into book form as Archy and Mehitabel (in print since 1927) that someone thought to show the world what Archy looked like by illustration.

George Herriman was not the only artist, or even the first, to portray Archy, but his is the definitive rendering. To most fans, Herriman’s art is as much an inseparable part of Archy and Mehitabel as E. H. Shepherd is a part of Winnie the Pooh or John Tenniel is a part of Alice in Wonderland.

Herriman was an inspired choice for Archy and Mehitabel. Not only did he have years of experience drawing a small, free-spirited, black cats and their companions, in his stip Krazy Kat, but his whimsical sense of the fantastic perfectly matched the tone and color of Archy’s correspondence. Any number of Archy’s companions, like Warty Bliggins or Clarence the Ghost, would have been right at home with Krazy and Ignatz in Coconino County. And, of course, many critics have pointed out the suspicious resemblance between Krazy and Mehitabel.

Archy and Mehitabel

Krazy and Ignatz

Archy, as drawn by George Herriman, would have been a familiar figure to readers in the thirties. With his battered derby and shapeless body, he was essentially Charlie Chaplin, an unobtrusive everyman, who has been around, seen a lot, and is able to speak for us all.

That’s why I claim Archy as my patron saint. Whether he is Will Rogers, Charlie Chaplin, Don Marquis, or just a poetic bug who has been around the wheel of life more times than he cares to count, Archy is a model worth emulating, the littlest of the little guys whose opinion still matters.

For more on Archy and a sample of his prose and poetry, check out John Batteinger’s Don Marquis page.

For more on the fantastic art of George Herriman, start with Peter Campbell’s Coconino County Home Page.

After that, rush out in buying frenzy and pick up anything you can find with either Don Marquis or George Herriman on the cover.

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