Robert Crumb

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Robert Crumb
An elderly man with a white beard, round glasses, a beret-like hat, a dark vest, and a necktie.  He faces down right, looking into an open book.
Crumb in Chestertown, 2010
Born Robert Dennis Crumb
(1943-08-30) August 30, 1943 (age 70)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Nationality American
Area(s)
Pseudonym(s) R. Crumb
Notable works

Official website

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 non-white races.

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[edit]

Robert Crumb was born on August 30, 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a Catholic household[1] of English and Scottish ancestry, and is a descendant on his mother's side of former U.S. president Andrew Jackson.[citation needed][2] His father, Charles V. Crumb, authored the book Training People Effectively,[1] and was a Combat Illustrator for 20 years in the United States Marine Corps.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] The couple had four other children: sons Charles Junior and Maxon, both of whom suffered from mental illness; and daughters Sandra and Carol.[1]

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.[1]

Crumb's first job, in 1962, was drawing novelty greeting cards for American Greetings[3] 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,[citation needed] 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.[3]

In 1966, Crumb and Dana took LSD, after which Crumb increasingly found his job at American Greetings difficult to bear.[4] In 1967, encouraged by the reaction to some drawings he had published in underground newspapers, including Philadelphia's Yarrowstalks,[citation needed] he and two friends left for San Francisco,[4] the center of the counterculture movement;[citation needed] 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.[4] The countercultural work was filled with gratuitous sex, drugs, and violence; it sold well, and marked the beginning of the underground comix era.[citation needed]

Crumb was a prolific cartoonist in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He produced much of his best-known work then,[4] 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.[citation needed] In 1978, he divorced Dana and married cartoonist Aline Kominsky, with whom Crumb has frequently collaborated.[4]

Crumb and family moved to a small village near Sauve in southern France in 1991. 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.[5][6][7][8][9][10]

Professional collaborations[edit]

In the early 1980s, Crumb collaborated with writer Charles Bukowski on a series of comic books, featuring Crumb's art and Bukowski's writing.[citation needed]

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).[citation needed] Crumb collaborates with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, on many strips and comics, including Self-Loathing Comics and work published in The New Yorker.[citation needed]

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."[11][12]

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.[citation needed]

Musical projects[edit]

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 1930s, 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.[13]

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. With Dominique Cravic, he founded "Les Primitifs du Futur" – a French-style band based on musette / folk, jazz and blues – and played on its 2000 album World Musette.[14] He also provided the cover art for this and other albums.

Crumb has 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 in 2009. Crumb drew the cover art for these CDs as well.

In 2013, Crumb played mandolin with the Eden and John's East River String Band on their album Take A Look at That Baby and also took part in the accompanying music video.

Album covers[edit]

Crumb cover artwork for the 1968 Big Brother and the Holding Company album Cheap Thrills.

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 Dutch formation The Beau Hunks and provided the cover art for both their albums The Beau Hunks play the original Laurel & Hardy music 1 and 2. He also illustrated the albums' booklets.

In 2009, Crumb drew the artwork for a 10-CD anthology of French traditional music compiled by Guillaume Veillet for Frémeaux & Associés.[15] The following year, he created three artworks for Christopher King's Aimer Et Perdre: To Love And To Lose Songs, 1917–1934 [16] and, in 2011, he once again played mandolin on an Eden and John's East River String Band album (Be Kind to a Man When He's Down) for which he also created the album cover artwork.

In the media[edit]

In addition to numerous brief TV reports, there are at least three television or theatrical documentaries dedicated to Crumb.

  • Prior to the 1972 release of the film version of Fritz the Cat,[17] Austrian journalist Georg Stefan Troller (de:Georg Stefan Troller) interviewed Crumb for a thirty-minute documentary entitled Comics und Katerideen on Crumb's life and art – which he describes as "the epitome of contemporary white North America's popular art" – as an episode of his Personenbeschreibung (literally "Person's description") documentary-format broadcast on the German TV network ZDF. The documentary also includes a "making-of" look at the [then?] forthcoming Fritz movie, featuring production background interviews with Ralph Bakshi. [As of [when?]], it can still be seen on rotation as part of the Personenbeschreibung series on the ZDF-owned digital specialty channel ZDFdokukanal.
  • The Confessions of Robert Crumb (1987).

In the 2003 movie American Splendor, Crumb was portrayed by James Urbaniak.

In 2006, Crumb brought legal action against Amazon.com after their website used a version of his widely recognizable "Keep on Truckin'" character. The case is expected to be settled out of court.

Underground rap artist Aesop Rock mentions Crumb several times in his lyrics, including in the songs "Catacomb Kids" from the album None Shall Pass and "Nickel Plated Pockets" from his EP "Daylight".

R. Crumb's Sex Obsessions, a collection of his most personally revealing sexually-oriented drawings and comic strips, was released by TASCHEN publishing in November 2007. In August 2011, following concerns about his safety, Crumb cancelled plans to visit the Graphic 2011 festival in Sydney, Australia after a tabloid labeled him a "self-confessed sex pervert" in an article headlined "Cult genius or filthy weirdo?".[18][19]

In 2012, Crumb appeared in five episodes of John's Old Time Radio Show talking about old music, sex, aliens and Bigfoot. He also played 78-rpm records from his record room in southern France. He continues to appear on the show, for which he has now[when?] recorded twelve one-hour podcasts.

Style[edit]

As told by Crumb in his biographical film, his artwork was very typical in the beginning. His earlier works show a more restrained 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.

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."[20] 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.

Crumb has also cited his extensive LSD use as a factor that led him to develop his unique style.[21][22]

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...."[23]

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[22] and in the Philadelphia Inquirer.[24]

Awards and honors[edit]

Crumb has received several accolades for his work, including a nomination for the Harvey Special Award for Humor in 1990 and the Angoulême Grand Prix in 1999.

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.[25][26]

Publications[edit]

Front cover of Fritz the Cat.

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; in the 1980s, to Weirdo (which he created and co-edited).

As Crumb's career progressed, his comic work became more autobiographical. He frequently collaborates with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, on comics. His Complete Crumb Comics and sketchbook selections have been published by Fantagraphics[27] between Oct. 1987 and Jul. 2005, seventeen volumes of comics and ten volumes of sketches. Crumb (as "R. Crumb") contributes regularly to Mineshaft magazine, which, since 2009, has been serializing "Excerpts From R. Crumb's Dream Diary".[28]

Bibliography[edit]

  • 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

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 158.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 159.
  4. ^ a b c d e Duncan & Smith 2013, p. 160.
  5. ^ Gustines, George Gene (October 23, 2009). "Graphic Books Best-Seller List" (book review). New York Times. Retrieved October 27, 2009. 
  6. ^ "R. Crumb on Genesis (slide show)". Nytimes.com. October 18, 2009. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  7. ^ Bloom, H., "Yahweh Meets R. Crumb", The New York Review of Books, 56/19 (December 3, 2009).
  8. ^ R. Crumb. "Crumb's 'Genesis,' A Sexy Breasts-And-Knuckles Affair". Npr.org. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  9. ^ 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).
  10. ^ "Robert Crumb" and "Robert Crumb, Part 2" (transcript of National Film Theatre appearance), The Guardian (UK), March 18, 2005. Genesis referenced in latter.
  11. ^ "Nasty Tales Trial 2". funtopia.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk. February 9, 1973. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  12. ^ "International Times" journal, #147, February 9, 1973, Template:Pp.17.
  13. ^ Danny Baker, "What a feast of Crumbs", The Observer, 8 October 2006. Retrieved December 17, 2013
  14. ^ World Musette – Les Primitifs du Futur : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards : AllMusic
  15. ^ "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. 
  16. ^ Aimer et Perdre : To Love & To Lose Songs, 1917–1934 « tompkinssquare.com
  17. ^ J.C. Maçek III (August 2, 2012). "'American Pop'... Matters: Ron Thompson, the Illustrated Man Unsung". PopMatters. 
  18. ^ AFP: Graphic artist Crumb cancels Australia visit
  19. ^ Fulton, Adam (August 10, 2011). "A toxic turn and safety fears soured cartoonist on visit". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved October 18, 2011. 
  20. ^ The Comics Journal #246
  21. ^ The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book at p. 67
  22. ^ a b Mr. Natural Goes to the Museum, September 5, 2008, New York Times
  23. ^ The Art of S. Clay Wilson, Ten Speed Press, 2006, p. vii.
  24. ^ Out from underground, August 31, 2008, Philadelphia Inquirer
  25. ^ "Exhibitions: Masters of American Comics". The Jewish Museum. Retrieved August 10, 2010. . WebCitation archive.
  26. ^ Kimmelman, Michael. "See You in the Funny Papers" (art review), The New York Times, October 13, 2006.
  27. ^ "Fantagraphics Books – Complete Crumb Comics". Fantagraphics.com. Retrieved January 14, 2011. 
  28. ^ Palmieri, Gioia. "Update". Mineshaft Magazine. Retrieved December 11, 2010. 

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]