‘expression is the need of my soul’

Archy and Mehitabel, like Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, have transcended their times and speak as well to today’s world as they did to their own.

This tickled me no end when I read it in bed last night.

Archy and Mehitabel live! And in them, so does their creator, Don Marquis, who started cranking out tales of their lives and times for his newspaper column back in 1916, two years before my father was born. George “Krazy Kat” Herriman, whose work is likewise deathless, provided the illustrations.

Another writer I revere, E.B. White, wrote the introduction to the book at right. In it, he recalled how Marquis suffered for his craft and eventually, like Archy the poetic cockroach, fell exhausted.

I don’t recall when I first stumbled across Archy and his feline shadow Mehitabel, but I must have been quite young. I was reminded of them many years later when I first read the collection “Essays of E.B. White,” and rushed out to buy me some Marquis.

Christ, he was good. As White notes in his introduction, the work is among a handful of books by American humorists “that rest solidly on the shelf.”

“It is funny, it is wise, it is tender, and it is tough,” he added.

And it holds up. If you don’t already have a copy, get one. You’ll find it marvelous, even if you’ve never thrown yourself headfirst at the keyboard, as have Archy, Marquis and I.

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10 Responses to “‘expression is the need of my soul’”

  1. Pat O'Brien Says:

    I’ll have to check that out. E. B. White is the coauthor of “The Elements of Style.” That little book got me through decades of technical writing. I still have the copy I used as a text book in my first community college technical writing class.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Oh, yeah. Got two copies of that one. Belt and suspenders. “Omit needless words.”

      Incidentally, if you’ve never read White’s essays, pick up a copy of that one, too. He managed to write sparingly and brilliantly at the same time.

      Dog lovers in particular will appreciate White’s recollections of his dachshund Fred (see “Bedfellows”).

  2. gary burnette Says:

    Patrick, like you, I was knocked out by all of them, Archy, Mehitabel, Marquis, and White. Thanks for the reminder! Good stuff never dies.

  3. Mike Spak Says:

    I recall hearing Rosalie Sorrels channeling some Mehitabel in concert. Maybe you heard it from her. I think she was opening for Utah Phillips.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Utah Phillips. I saw the old Wobbly perform in Oregon when I lived in Corvallis back in the Eighties. I wear my IWW watch cap in his honor when the days turn cold.

      Speaking of which, how’s life in the frozen north? Race ‘cross this past season?

  4. B Lester Says:

    I stumbled on the cat and cockroach late in grade school. Devouered everything the school library had. Marquis’ point of view was a very important part of my development. When Gaylord Nelson’s first Earth Day further raised my awareness, I was far ahead of my classmates in understanding the real reasons why.

  5. DownhillBill Says:

    Wow! I haven’t read Archy & Mehitabel in decades. Definitely past time to pick them up again. And speaking of sparing and brilliant, look at the expressions in those drawings – so evocative with so few lines. Thanks for digging them up again.

    Got in a metric century on our only local bike trail today, taking advantage of record high temps in the mid seventies. Global warming is great if you’re in the right place at the right time.

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