Crumb in Chestertown, 2010
|Born||Robert Dennis Crumb
August 30, 1943
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US
Robert Dennis Crumb (born August 30, 1943), known as Robert Crumb and R. Crumb, is an American cartoonist and musician. His work displays a nostalgia for American folk culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and satire of contemporary American culture. His work has attracted controversy, especially for his depiction of women and racial minorities.
Crumb first rose to prominence after the 1968 debut of Zap Comix, which was the first successful publication of the underground comix era. Countercultural characters such as Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, and the images from his "Keep on Truckin'" strip, were among his popular creations. Following the decline of the underground, he moved towards biographical and autobiographical subjects, while refining his drawing style, a heavily crosshatched pen-and-ink style inspired by late 19th- and early 20th-century cartooning. Much of his work appeared in a magazine he founded, Weirdo (1981–1993), which was one of the most prominent publications of the alternative comics era. He is married to cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb, with whom he has frequently collaborated.
In 1991, Crumb was inducted into the comic book industry's Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.
Life and career
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Robert Crumb was born on August 30, 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a Catholic household of English and Scottish ancestry, and is a descendant on his mother's side of former U.S. president Andrew Jackson. His father, Charles V. Crumb, authored the book Training People Effectively, and was a Combat Illustrator for 20 years in the United States Marine Corps. His mother, Beatrice, was a housewife who reportedly abused diet pills and amphetamines. Charles and Beatrice's marriage was unhappy and the children were frequent witnesses to their parents' arguments. The couple had four other children: sons Charles Junior and Maxon, both of whom suffered from mental illness; and daughters Sandra and Carol.
Inspired by the works of Walt Kelly, Fleischer Brothers animation, and others, Crumb and his brothers drew their own comics and sold them door to door. At fifteen, Crumb became obsessed with collecting jazz and blues records from the 1920s to the 1940s.
Crumb got his first job in 1962, drawing novelty greeting cards for American Greetings in Cleveland, Ohio. There he met a group of young bohemians such as Buzzy Linhart, Liz Johnston, and Harvey Pekar. Johnston introduced him to his future wife, Dana Morgan, whom he married in 1964. Dissatisfied with greeting card work, he tried to sell cartoons to comic book companies, who showed little interest in his work. In 1965, cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman printed some of Crumb's work in the humor magazine he edited, Help!. Crumb moved to New York, intending to work with Kurtzman, but Help! ceased publication shortly after. Crumb briefly illustrated bubblegum cards for Topps before returning to Cleveland and American Greetings.
In 1966, Crumb and Dana took LSD, after which Crumb increasingly found his job at American Greetings difficult to bear. In 1967, encouraged by the reaction to some drawings he had published in underground newspapers, including Philadelphia's Yarrowstalks, he and two friends left for San Francisco, the center of the counterculture movement; he called Dana to follow him in 1968. His Zap Comix #1 appeared early that year, followed by #2 and #0; later issues also featured work by Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Spain Rodriguez, Robert Williams, and S. Clay Wilson. The countercultural work was filled with gratuitous sex, drugs, and violence; it sold well, and marked the beginning of the underground comix era.
Crumb was a prolific cartoonist in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He produced much of his best-known work then, including his Keep on Truckin' strip, and strips featuring characters such as the bohemian Fritz the Cat, spiritual guru Mr. Natural, and oversexed African-American stereotype Angelfood McSpade. In 1978, he divorced Dana and married cartoonist Aline Kominsky, with whom Crumb has frequently collaborated.
Crumb and family moved to a small village near Sauve in southern France in 1993. In 2009, after four years of work, Crumb produced The Book of Genesis an unabridged illustrated graphic novel version of the biblical Book of Genesis.
Crumb's collaboration with David Zane Mairowitz, the illustrated, part-comic biography and bibliography Introducing Kafka, aka Kafka for beginners, is one of his less sexual- and satire-oriented, comparably highbrow works since the 1990s. It is well-known and favorably received, and due to its popularity was republished as R. Crumb's Kafka.
A friend of Harvey Pekar, Crumb illustrated many of the award winning American Splendor comics by Pekar including the first issues (1976). Crumb collaborates with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, on many strips and comics, including Self-Loathing Comics and work published in The New Yorker.
Crumb's work also appeared in Nasty Tales, a 1970s British underground comic. The publishers were acquitted in a celebrated 1972 obscenity trial at the Old Bailey in London; the first such case involving a comic. Giving evidence at the trial, one of the defendants said of Crumb: "He is the most outstanding, certainly the most interesting, artist to appear from the underground, and this (Dirty Dog) is Rabelaisian satire of a very high order. He is using coarseness quite deliberately in order to get across a view of social hypocrisy."
Crumb has created several sets of trading cards. His full-color, pen & ink portraits of 36 early great blues singers and musicians is entitled "Heroes of the Blues Trading Cards". In the fashion of baseball cards, the back of each card contains a short bio written by Stephen Calt. Crumb's portraits capture the humanity and individuality of each performer. This set of 36 3"x4" cards was originally published by Eclipse Books in 1995. Other similar sets of cards published since that time are entitled, "Early Jazz Greats" and "Pioneers of Country Music". In 2006, all 3 sets of cards were collected together in a 240-page book entitled, "R. Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country", which included a 21-song CD of songs by many of those depicted in the trading cards. Terry Zwigoff, the film maker, and Dave Jasen, the ragtime pianist and pop archivist, contributed to the written text. Another set of 36 cards published in 2010 is entitled "R. Crumb Trading Cards" (Denis Kitchen Publishing Co.) and features short stories on the back of each card about Crumb's familiar comic book characters: Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, etc. As of 2011, all 4 of these decks of trading cards are still in print.
A theatrical production based on his work was produced at Duke University in the early 1990s. Directed by Johnny Simons, and co-starring Avner Eisenberg and Nicholas de Wolff, the development of the play was supervised by Crumb, who also served as set designer, drawing larger-than-life representations of some of his most famous characters all over the floors and walls of the set.
Crumb has frequently drawn comics about his musical interests in blues, country, bluegrass, cajun, French Bal-musette, jazz, big band and swing music from the 1920s and 30's, and they also heavily influenced the soundtrack choices for his band mate Zwigoff's 1994 Crumb documentary. In 2006, he prepared, compiled and illustrated the book R. Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country, with accompanying CD, which derived from three series of trading cards originally published in the 1980s.
Crumb was the leader of the band R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, for which he sang lead vocals, wrote several songs and played banjo and other instruments. Crumb often plays mandolin with Eden and John's East River String Band and has drawn three covers for them: 2009's Drunken Barrel House Blues, 2008's Some Cold Rainy Day, and 2011's Be Kind To A Man When He's Down on which he plays mandolin. He was – together with Dominique Cravic – the founder of "Les Primitifs du Futur", a French music band, based on French musette/folk, jazz and blues, and played on that band's 2000 album World Musette. He as well drew the cover art of this, and some more albums.
Crumb has also released CDs anthologizing old original performances gleaned from collectible 78 RPM phonograph records. His That's What I Call Sweet Music was released in 1999, and Hot Women: Women Singers from the Torrid Regions was released in 2009. Naturally, Crumb drew the cover art for these CDs as well.
Crumb made a music video with Eden and John's East River String Band in 2013 for their album "Take A Look at That Baby" which Crumb plays mandolin on.
Crumb has illustrated many album covers, including most prominently Cheap Thrills by Big Brother and the Holding Company and the compilation album The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead.
Between 1974 and 1984, Crumb drew at least 17 album covers for Yazoo Records/Blue Goose Records, including those of the Cheap Suit Serenaders. He also created the revised logo and record label designs of Blue Goose Records that were used from 1974 onward.
In 1992 and 1993, Robert Crumb was involved in a project by a Dutch formation, The Beau Hunks, and for both their albums The Beau Hunks play the original Laurel & Hardy music (1 & 2), he was the album cover illustrator, as well as for the albums' booklets.
In 2010 he drew three artworks for Christopher King's Aimer Et Perdre: To Love And To Lose Songs, 1917–1934 released on CD on Tompkins Square in 2012.
In 2011 he drew his third album cover for Eden and John's East River String Band Be Kind to a Man When He's Down, on which he also plays mandolin.
Crumb in the media
At least three television or theatrical documentaries are dedicated to Crumb, not counting numerous reports running 10 minutes and below:
- Prior to the 1972 release of the film version of Fritz the Cat, Austrian journalist Georg Stefan Troller (see German Wikipedia) interviewed Crumb for a 30-minute documentary entitled Comics und Katerideen on Crumb's life and art, as an episode of Troller's Personenbeschreibung ("Person's description") documentary format broadcast on German ZDF. The documentary also included a making-of the upcoming Fritz movie with production background interviews of Ralph Bakshi. In this documentary, Troller called Crumb's work "the epitome of contemporary white North America's popular art". As part of Troller's Personenbeschreibung series, it can still be seen on rotation on ZDF-owned digital specialty channel ZDFdokukanal dedicated to highclass documentaries.
- The Confessions of Robert Crumb (1987)
- Crumb (1994), a documentary film by Terry Zwigoff
In 2006, Crumb brought legal action against Amazon.com after the web site used a version of his widely recognizable "Keep on Truckin'" character. The case is expected to be settled out of court.
R. Crumb's Sex Obsessions, a collection of his most personally revealing sexually-oriented drawings and comic strips, was released from TASCHEN publishing in November 2007. In August 2011 Crumb cancelled plans to visit Graphic 2011 festival in Sydney, Australia due to safety concerns after a tabloid labeled him a "self-confessed sex pervert" in an article headlined "Cult genius or filthy weirdo?".
In 2012 Crumb appeared on five episodes of John's Old Time Radio Show where he talks about old music, sex, aliens, big foot and plays 78rpm records from his record room in Southern France. He continues to appear on the show and has now recorded 12 one-hour Podcasts for the show.
As told by Crumb in his biographical film, his artwork was very typical in the beginning. His earlier works show a more restrained and typical style. In Crumb's own words, it was a lengthy drug trip (possibly LSD) that "left him fuzzy for two months" and led to him adopting the surrealistic, psychedelic style he's become (in)famous for.
Crumb has been acclaimed for his attention to detail and satirical edge, but he's received a significant amount of controversy for his graphic and very disturbing portrayals of sexuality and psychology.
Crumb has admitted that he rarely starts a comic with a clear idea of where he wants to go, and usually employs a stream-of-consciousness method when drawing.
Reception and legacy
A peer in the underground comics field, Victor Moscoso, commented about his first impression of Crumb's work, in the mid-1960s, before meeting Crumb in person: "I couldn't tell if it was an old man drawing young, or a young man drawing old." Robert Crumb's cartooning style has drawn on the work of cartoon artists from earlier generations, including Billy De Beck (Barney Google), C.E. Brock (an old story book illustrator), Gene Ahern's comic strips, George Baker (Sad Sack), Isadore Freleng's drawings for the early Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes of the 1930s, Sidney Smith (The Gumps), Rube Goldberg, E.C. Segar (Popeye) and Bud Fisher (Mutt and Jeff). Crumb has cited Carl Barks, who illustrated Disney's "Donald Duck" comic books and John Stanley (Little Lulu) as formative influences on his narrative approach, as well as Harvey Kurtzman.
After issues 0 and 1 of Zap, Crumb began working with others, of whom the first was S. Clay Wilson. Crumb said, about when he first saw Wilson's work "The content was something like I'd never seen before, ... a nightmare vision of hell-on-earth ...." And "Suddenly my own work seemed insipid...."
Crumb's comic artwork has elicited harsh commentary. Some critics cite his pictures of highly sexualized women, often in subservient roles. One critic has called him "the chief sexist of underground comics". Other critics, such as African American cartoonist and author Charles Johnson, claim that Crumb's comics are inherently racist because of their racially stereotyped portrayals of minorities, such as "darky" Afro-Americans. Crumb and his supporters say that the subject is white male attitudes, not the women and minorities themselves.
Crumb's The Book of Genesis, was critiqued by Robert Stanley Martin: "...Talking heads and indifferently posed figures tediously expound at one another. Crumb's usually acute dramatic sense abandons him...Genesis seems creatively lazy. It comes across as hackneyed...the entire book feel(s) flat..."
Crumb remains a prominent figure, as both artist and influence, within the alternative comics milieu. He is hailed as a genius by such comic book talents as Jaime Hernandez, Daniel Clowes, and Chris Ware. In the fall of 2008, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia hosted a major exhibition of his work, which was favorably reviewed in the New York Times and in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Awards and honors
With Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Gary Panter, and Chris Ware, Crumb was among the artists honored in the exhibition "Masters of American Comics" at the Jewish Museum in New York City, from September 16, 2006 to January 28, 2007.
Crumb is a prolific artist and contributed to many of the seminal works of the underground comics movement in the 1960s, including being a founder of Zap Comix, contributing to all 16 issues, and additionally contributing to the East Village Other and many other publications including a variety of one-off and anthology comics. During this time, inspired by psychedelics and cartoons from the 1920s and 1930s, he introduced a wide variety of characters that became extremely popular, including Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural. Sexual themes abounded in all these projects, often shading into scatological and pornographic comics. In the mid-1970s, he contributed to the Arcade anthology, and in the 1980s, to Weirdo (which he created and co-edited).
As Crumb got older, his comic work became more autobiographical. He frequently collaborates with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, on comics. His complete comics and selections from his sketchbooks have been published by Fantagraphics in seventeen volumes of comics and ten volumes of sketches to date. R. Crumb contributes regularly to Mineshaft magazine. Since 2009, Mineshaft has been serializing "Excerpts From R. Crumb's Dream Diary".
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- Zap issues from 1 and 0 (1968) through at least 9 (1978) and several more, Apex Novelties, Print Mint, Last Gasp and other transient brand names, generally under Crumb's control. 0 and 1 are all drawn by Crumb, the rest have strips by others also.
- R. Crumb's Head Comix', anthology published by Viking Press in 1968, ISBN unknown. Re-issued by Fireside Press in 1988, with a new introduction by Crumb; ISBN # 0-671-66153-1.
- R. Crumb's Fritz the Cat, Robert Crumb, 1969, Ballantine, New York, (no ISBN listed)
- R. Crumb's Comix and Stories, April 1964, Number One, "copyright 1969", Rip Off Press. This contains a single story about Fritz the Cat and incest.
- Uneeda Comix, "the Artistic Comic!', July 1971, The Print Mint. Several short strips by Crumb. The longest, last and strongest continues onto the back cover in color.
- Hytone Comix, all Crumb, 1971, Apex Novelties
- The People's Comics, 1972, Golden Gate. All Crumb. This contains the strip in which there is Crumb Land (a black void), and also the strip in which Fritz the Cat is killed.
- Artistic Comics, 1973, Golden Gate Publishing Company. All Crumb, but pictures of Aline(?).
- Best Buy Comics, 1979, Apex Novelties. R. Crumb and Aline Kominsly.
- Snoid Comics, 1980, "Kitchen Sink Enterprises, a division of Krupp Comic Works, Inc.". All Crumb.
- The Complete Crumb Comics, 17 Volumes, Fantagraphics
- R. Crumb Sketchbook, Vol 1–10, Fantagraphics.
- Mineshaft Magazine #5-#26
- R. Crumb's America, 1995, SCB Distributors. ISBN 0-86719-430-8
- The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book, Edited and designed by Peter Poplaski, 1997, Little Brown and Company, ISBN 0-316-16306-6
- Odds & Ends, 2001, Bloomsbury UK. ISBN 978-0-7475-5309-0
- R. Crumb's Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country, 2006, Harry N. Abrams. ISBN 978-0-81093-086-5
- Your Vigour for Life Appalls Me, 2008, Turnaround Publisher, ISBN 978-1-56097-310-2
- The Book of Genesis, 2009, W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-06102-4 OCLC 317919486
- The Book of Mr. Natural, July 2010, Fantagraphics. ISBN 978-1-60699-352-1
- The Complete Record Cover Collection, November 2011, W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 978-0-393-08278-4
- Sweeter Side of R. Crumb, 2011, W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-33371-8
- Drawn Together: The Collected Works of R. and A. Crumb, October 2012, Liveright. R. Crumb and Aline Crumb. ISBN 978-0-871-40429-9
- Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 158.
- Crumb, Robert Crumb Family Comics. Last Gasp, 1998. ISBN 0-86719-427-8, where he discusses his ancestry at length in a hand-written essay.
- Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 159.
- Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 160.
- McKenna 1995.
- Gustines, George Gene (October 23, 2009). "Graphic Books Best-Seller List" (book review). New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2009.
- "R. Crumb on Genesis (slide show)". Nytimes.com. October 18, 2009. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
- Bloom, H., "Yahweh Meets R. Crumb", The New York Review of Books, 56/19 (December 3, 2009)
- R. Crumb. "Crumb's 'Genesis,' A Sexy Breasts-And-Knuckles Affair". Npr.org. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
- Heer, Jeet. "Word Made Fresh: R. Crumb gives visual form to the first book of the Bible", Bookforum, September/October/November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-04 (access requires registration)
- "Robert Crumb" and "Robert Crumb, Part 2" (transcript of National Film Theatre appearance), The Guardian (UK), March 18, 2005. Genesis referenced in latter.
- "Nasty Tales Trial 2". Funtopia.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. February 9, 1973. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
- "International Times" journal, No.147, February 9, 1973, pp. 17–20.
- Danny Baker, "What a feast of Crumbs", The Observer, 8 October 2006. Retrieved December 17, 2013
- World Musette – Les Primitifs du Futur : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic
- "World music France : une anthologie des musiques traditionnelles Enregistrements realises entre 1900 et 2009 (10 cds) – Frémeaux & Associés éditeur , La Librairie Sonore". Fremeaux.com. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
- Aimer et Perdre : To Love & To Lose Songs, 1917–1934 « tompkinssquare.com
- J.C. Maçek III (August 2, 2012). "'American Pop'... Matters: Ron Thompson, the Illustrated Man Unsung". PopMatters.
- AFP: Graphic artist Crumb cancels Australia visit
- Fulton, Adam (August 10, 2011). "A toxic turn and safety fears soured cartoonist on visit". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved October 18, 2011.
- The Comics Journal #246
- The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book at p. 67
- Mr. Natural Goes to the Museum, September 5, 2008, New York Times
- The Art of S. Clay Wilson, Ten Speed Press, 2006, p. vii.
- BookForum.Com, September 3, 2009, by Jeet Heer
- ImageText, September 3, 2009, "Racial Imagery, Racism, Individualism, and Underground Comix"
- "Crumb Finally Finds His Limits", The Comics Journal, no. 301 (2011).
- Out from underground, August 31, 2008, Philadelphia Inquirer
- "Exhibitions: Masters of American Comics". The Jewish Museum. Retrieved August 10, 2010.. WebCitation archive.
- Kimmelman, Michael. "See You in the Funny Papers" (art review), The New York Times, October 13, 2006
- "Fantagraphics Books – Complete Crumb Comics". Fantagraphics.com. Retrieved January 14, 2011.
- Palmieri, Gioia. "Update". Mineshaft Magazine. Retrieved December 11, 2010.
- Duncan, Randy; Smith, Matthew J. (2013). "Crumb, Robert". Icons of the American Comic Book: From Captain America to Wonder Woman. ABC-CLIO. pp. 158–168. ISBN 978-0-313-39923-7.
- McKenna, Kristine (April 23, 1995). "Creep Show: A new film shines disturbing light on the very dark family secrets of cartoonist Robert Crumb. There's a lot more there than just Mr. Natural.". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
- Crumb Family Comics. Trade Paperback Collection of stories by each member of the R Crumb family
- The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book. (ISBN 0-316-16306-6, 1997).
- The R. Crumb Handbook, Published by MQ Publications, London, 2005, ISBN 1-84072-716-0
- The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship (1998) written by Charles Bukowski and illustrated by Robert Crumb.
- Busted! Drug War Survival Skills (2005) written by M. Chris Fabricant and illustrated by Robert Crumb.
- Robert Crumb, written by D. K. Holm, published by Pocket Essentials, 2003 (revised edition 2005), 13 digit ISBN 978-1-904048-51-0.
- R. Crumb: Conversations, edited by D. K. Holm, published by the University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS, 2004, ISBN 1-57806-637-9.
- R. Crumb and Mineshaft. A brief history, with letters and art, of Robert Crumb's ongoing collaboration with Mineshaft magazine.
- Official website
- interview on John's Old Time Radio Show 2012
- Mineshaft Magazine regularly publishing R. Crumb's sketchbook drawings. Currently serializing Excerpts from R. Crumb's Dream Diary.
- Crumb and East River String Band in The Wall Street Journal
- Kim Deitch reviews Robert Crumb's GENESIS from Mineshaft magazine, issue No. 25 (Spring, 2010)
- Page Six New York Post
- Lovece, Frank. "R. Crumb's Family Circus", Entertainment Weekly No. 277, June 2, 1995.
- "Monsieur Naturel: R. Crumb in France" by Brendan Bernhard, LA Weekly, April 29, 1998.
- "Mr. Natural" by Ian Buruma, The New York Review of Books 53(6), April 6, 2006. – Review of The R. Crumb Handbook
- Crumb plays mandolin in France 2012
- The Crumbs' Underground Comics NPR Fresh Air interview with R. Crumb and wife Aline Kominsky Crumb
- Biblical Sex Row Over Explicit Illustrated Book of Genesis, The Telegraph, October 18, 2009
- Widmer, Ted (Summer 2010). "R. Crumb, The Art of Comics No. 1". Paris Review.
- Cult American cartoonist Robert Crumb on show at Paris' Modern Art Museum , RFI English
- New York Times