George Herriman was born in a light-skinned Creole of Color family in New Orleans, Louisiana. In his adolescence Herriman's father moved the family to Los Angeles, California, among many educated New Orleans Creoles of Color to do so at the time in order to avoid the increasing restrictions of Jim Crow laws in Louisiana. (In later life many of Herriman's newspaper colleagues were under the impression that Herriman's ancestry was Greek, and Herriman did nothing to disuade them of this notion.)
At the age of 17 Herriman began working as an illustrator and engraver for the Los Angeles Herald newspaper. Over the next few years he did many newspaper spot illustrations and cartoons, and produced several early comic strips, at times producing several daily strips at the same time. Herriman's early strips including Major Ozone, Musical Mose, Acrobatic Archie, Professer Otto and his Auto, Two Jolly Jackies and several others, most of which were only slightly above the average quality of newspaper strips of the time.
Perhaps the first indication of Herriman's unusual creativity and the bizarre poetical sense of humor which would make him famous surfaced in 1909 with his strip Goosebury Sprig, the Duck Duke. The following year Herriman began a domestic comedy strip called The Dingbat Family. After a while Herriman started drawing The Dingbat Family strip as two strips in one; the main action happening with the human family taking up most of each panel, and an unrelated storyline involving a cat and mouse underneath the family's floorboards taking place in the bottom segment of each panel. This strip was then renamed The Family Upstairs. The cat and mouse strip was then spun off into another strip in 1913, originally Krazy Kat and Ignatz, and then Krazy Kat.
Herriman also continued drawing the domestic comedy strip, again named The Dingbat Family, until 1916. From 1916 through 1919 Herriman also drew the daily strip Baron Bean. Herriman would continue to draw other strips in addition to Krazy Kat through 1932.
Krazy Kat, however, was the strip which became Herriman's most famous. It was never the most popular strip of its day; many readers complained it made no sense. However it had an enthusiastic following, including many prominent artists and intelectuals of the era, as well as Herriman's publisher William Randolph Hearst himself.
On June 25, 1944, two months after Herriman's death, the last of his Krazy Kat strips was printed. At the time Hearst usually brought in new cartoonists when the artists of a popular strip died or quit, but an exception was made for Herriman, as no one else could take his place.