Mr. Natural (comics)
|Publisher||Apex Novelties, Print Mint, San Francisco Comic Book Company, Last Gasp, Kitchen Sink Press|
|First appearance||Yarrowstalks #1 (May 5, 1967)|
|First comic appearance||Zap Comix #1 (Feb. 1968)|
|Created by||Robert Crumb|
|Full name||Fred Natural|
|Place of origin||Earth|
|Partnerships||Flakey Foont, Shuman the Human, Devil Girl|
|Abilities||magical powers, cosmic insight|
Mr. Natural (Fred Natural) is a comic book character created and drawn by 1960s counterculture and underground comix artist Robert Crumb. Enormously popular during the underground comix fad of the 1960s and 1970s and still enjoying a cult following today, Mr. Natural has been endlessly merchandised as a decorative plastic statue and on bumper stickers, posters, T-shirts, etc. The character first appeared in the premiere issue of Yarrowstalks (the May 5, 1967 issue).
After debuting in Yarrowstalks, Mr. Natural made appearances in other underground newspapers such as the East Village Other. He made his first official comix appearance in Zap Comix #1 (Feb. 1968). Mr. Natural also appeared in early underground comix titles like Bijou Funnies, and Yellow Dog. He was a regular in Zap for the balance of the 1960s until appearing in his own three-issue title, originally co-published by The San Francisco Comic Book Company and Apex Novelties.
Crumb created original Mr. Natural strips for The Village Voice from February 2, 1976, to November 29, 1976, which were first collected in Mr. Natural #3 (Kitchen Sink Press, 1977).
After a ten-year hiatus, Mr. Natural returned in the pages of Crumb's solo series, Hup (Last Gasp), and then after another gap, in Mystic Funnies #1 (Alex Wood, 1997). The character hasn't made a new appearance since 2002.
Mr. Natural's various appearances were collected in The Complete Crumb Comics vol. 4, "Mr. Sixties!" (Fantagraphics, 1989), The Book of Mr. Natural (Fantagraphics, 1995), as well as The Complete Crumb Comics vol. 11, "Mr. Natural Committed to a Mental Institution!" (Fantagraphics, 1995).
At first appearance, Mr. Natural is a mystic guru who spouts aphorisms on the evils of the modern world and the salvation to be found in mysticism and natural living. He has renounced the material world and lives off anything he can get in exchange for his nuggets of wisdom. Usually depicted as slightly overweight (although his size varies), he is bald with a long white beard, and wears a gown which makes him resemble "old man" depictions of God or a prophet.
Crumb's bearded guru is too unapologetic to be called a con man. Despite his renunciation of the material world, he is an unrepentant sybarite. His straight talk, while refreshing, can get him into trouble, as when he was kicked out of heaven for telling God it's "a little corny" in "Mr. Natural Meets God". But he may be the only Crumb creation who is genuinely likable. Mr. Natural's aphorisms, such as "Keep on Truckin'", are seemingly at odds with his image as a sage, and his inventions are at once brilliant and crackpot.
Mr. Natural has strange, magical powers and possesses cosmic insight; but he is also moody, cynical, self-pitying, and suffers from various strange sexual obsessions. He is endlessly being accosted by would-be disciples seeking the truth (among them such long-running Crumb characters as Flakey Foont and Shuman the Human). He typically regards them with amused condescension and a certain grudging affection, although his patience often wears thin and he takes sadistic pleasure in making them feel like idiots. While he is typically very cool and in control, he sometimes ends up in humiliating predicaments like languishing for years in a mental institution.
In recent years he has entered into a tempestuous relationship with Devil Girl, another popular Crumb character.
According to a biography written and illustrated by Crumb, "Fred Natural" had been a jazz musician and then faith healer in the 1920s, which would mean that he was "born" in the early years of the 20th century, and by the time of his first encounters (set in the San Francisco area) in the 1960s, was a 60-year-old man. However, in Crumb's illustration of the 1920s faith healer, Fred Natural looks approximately fifty, which would make him one hundred years old in the earliest Flakey Foont encounters.
In the "biography", "Fred Natural" leaves America and travels for many years in Asia, which is where he picks up his unique combination of wisdom and chicanery. For a time he worked as a taxicab driver in Afghanistan. He returns to the U.S during the Beat era of the 1960s, and is drawn to the San Francisco Bay area by nubile girls and people willing to listen and pay for his improvisational spirituality. He exhorts his disciples to eat only his own line of "Mr. Natural Brand Foods", and to listen to his broadcasts on WZAP Radio.
A theme in Mr. Natural is the inability of generations in the United States to connect, with each generation rejecting the one before it. Mr. Natural is a "grandfather", and not a "father", to the clueless Foont. In one strip, Natural teams with Foont's grandfather — who resembles Snoopy's father in Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts cartoon — but Foont's grandfather, a rugged frontier type, finds Foont so decadent that he attacks him.[volume & issue needed]
Perhaps Mr. Natural's most famous aphorism is, "Mr. Natural sez, Use the right tool for the job" — spoken on seeing Flakey Foont unloading a truck full of bowling balls with a pitchfork. Asked, "What does it all mean?", he responds, "Don't mean sheeit..."[volume & issue needed]
Barry Miles writes that Mr. Natural is a lampoon of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In the film Comic Book Confidential, Crumb says that he was inspired to draw the character when he heard then radio DJ David Rubenstein, jokingly calling himself "Mr. Natural".
A conscious model for Mr. Natural would be various louche and disreputable Great Depression survivors who'd gone through the Second World War in various capacities such as war correspondent, and who'd volunteered for service in the Spanish Civil War, only to discover, in the McCarthy era of the 1950s, that their background made them unemployable and who developed various sorts of scams to prey upon the postwar Baby Boomers' search for enlightenment.
Crumb has acknowledged that one inspiration for Mr. Natural was a character called The Little Hitchhiker from a comic strip called The Squirrel Cage by Gene Ahern, which ran from 1936–1953. An homage is sometimes read into this (see external link, below). Mr. Natural also somewhat resembles an E. C. Segar character, Dr. O.G. Wotasnozzle. Mr. Natural's one-piece yellow outfit bears a resemblance to Richard F. Outcault's early comic strip The Yellow Kid. There is also a real "Mr. Natural" who claims he was part of the inspiration for Crumb's comic character, possessing permission to use R. Crumb's image of Mr. Natural to represent himself on his published materials, and has lived in Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco since the 1960s teaching his own music learning system.
In popular culture
In 1973 a pornographic film called Up in Flames was made, featuring Mr. Natural and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. The film was made without the knowledge or permission of Robert Crumb or the Freak Brothers' creator, Gilbert Shelton.
The character appeared, unauthorized, stamped on the blotter paper of a popular form of LSD in the 1970s.
List of appearances (selected)
- Mr. Natural #1 (San Francisco Comic Book Company/Apex Novelties, Aug. 1970) — "Mr. Natural's 719th Meditation," "Om Sweet Om" (with Shuman the Human), "The Origins of Mr. Natural," "The Mr. Natural Drawing Contest," "On the Bum Again"
- Mr. Natural #2 (San Francisco Comic Book Company, Oct. 1971) — "A Gurl in Hotpants" (with Flakey Foont), "Sittin' Around the Kitchen Table" (with Flakey Foont), "The Girlfriend" (with Flakey Foont), "Have you seen 'um lately?", "I am the greatest! Make way! Make Way!", "On the Bum Again, part two"
- Mr. Natural #3 (Kitchen Sink Press, 1977) — essentially 43 1-page stories (originally published in the Village Voice)
- Mystic Funnies #1 (Alex Wood, 1997) — (all stories co-star Flakey Foont) "Who Are You?", "Look and See!", "Ah Yes, So It Goes," "Big Man," "Omen in the Gloamin,'" "The Saints"
- Yarrowstalks #1 (David Auten and Brian Zahn, May 5, 1967)
- Mr. Natural Encounters Flakey Foont," Yarrowstalks #3 (David Auten and Brian Zahn, Aug. 1967) — with Flakey Foont
- "The Old Pooperoo Pauses to Ponder," East Village Other vol. 3, #2 (December 1–15, 1967) — with Flakey Foont and Angelfood McSpade
- "Mr. Natural 'Visits The City,'" Zap Comix #1 (Apex Novelties, Feb. 1968) — with Flakey Foont
- "Mr. Natural's School of Wisdom," Yellow Dog #1 (Print Mint, May 1968)
- "Hm!! Some of these students of mine haven't been making their monthly payments of late!", Zap Comix #2 (Apex Novelties, July 1968)
- "Mr. Natural in Death Valley," Zap Comix #0 (Apex Novelties, late 1968) — with Flakey Foont
- "Street Corner Daze," Zap Comix #3 (Apex Novelties, Fall 1968)
- "Hey Boparee Bop," R. Crumb's Head Comix (Viking Press, Nov. 1968) — with Angelfood McSpade
- Yellow Dog #8 (1969)
- ""Mr. Natural! Mr. Natural! I want you to come and look at my sore bunion" (with Flakey Foont)
- "Mr. Natural Falls in Love"
- "Mr. Natural Takes a Vacation," Zap Comix #4 (Print Mint, 1969) — with Flakey Foont
- "@**!!!! I gotta remember to cancel my subscription to that rag..." (later retitled "Let Mr. Natural do your thinking for you!!"), Zap Comix #5 (Print Mint, 1970) — with Flakey Foont
- "Smogville Blues," Slow Death Funnies #1 (Last Gasp, Apr. 1970) — with Flakey Foont
- "Mr. Natural —The Zen Master," Bijou Funnies #4 (Print Mint, May 1970)
- "Angelfood McSpade," Playboy vol. 17, #7 (July 1970) — with Angelfood McSpade and Hugh Hefner
- Uneeda Comix (Print Mint, Aug. 1970)
- "Mr. Natural Goes to a Meeting of the Minds" — with Flakey Foont and Shuman the Human
- "It's a Workaday World" — with Flakey Foont
- "Mr. Natural Stops Talking," Your Hytone Comics (Apex Novelties, Feb. 1971)
- "I'm taking you to see my ol' man...", Zap Comix #6 (Print Mint, 1973) — with Flakey Foont
- "Mr. Natural Meets 'The Kid,'" Zap Comix #7 (Print Mint, 1974)
- Hup #1 (Last Gasp, 1987)
- "Uh Oh! He's Back! Who's Back? You'll Find Out!" — with Flakey Foont
- "Here He Comes Again!" — with Flakey Foont and Devil Girl
- "The Meeting," Hup #2 (July 1987) — with Flakey Foont and Devil Girl
- "He's A Natural Man!", Hup #3 (Last Gasp, Nov. 1989) — with Flakey Foont and Devil Girl
- Hup #4 (Last Gasp, 1992)
- "Distractions, Distractions!!" — with Flakey Foont and Devil Girl
- "A Bitchin' Bod!" — with Flakey Foont
- "Mr. Natural Wants to Talk to You!" Mystic Funnies #2 (Last Gasp, Apr. 1999)
- "Don't Fuck With Him," Mystic Funnies #3 (Fantagraphics, Mar. 2002)
- R. Crumb's Head Comix (Viking Press, November 1968).
- Burgess, Steve, "R. Crumb", Salon (May 2, 2000)
- Varnum, Robin and Gibbons, Christina, The Language of Comics Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2001 ISBN 978-1-57806-414-4 p111
- Crumb, R. "Untitled," The Village Voice (Oct. 18, 1976); later republished in The Complete Crumb volume 11: Mr. Natural Committed to a Mental Institution! (Fantagraphics, 1995).
- Crumb, R. " "The Origins of Mr. Natural," Mr. Natural #1 (San Francisco Comic Book Company, Aug. 1970)
- Crumb, R. The Book of Mr. Natural, Fantagraphics Books (December 27, 1995) ISBN 978-1-56097-194-8 p.5
- Miles, Barry, Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now, Macmillan, 1998 ISBN 978-0-8050-5249-7 p.401
- Mann, Ron, director. Comic Book Confidential (Cinecom Pictures, 1988).
- Music Theory Decoded, by Mr. Natural & Lynne Vanne. Published by Mr. Natural's Electric Classroom (March 7th, 2001) ISBN 978-1-257-01983-0
- "Erowid LSD (Acid) Vaults : LSD Tablet and Blotter Contents, 1968–1974 (Microgram and PharmChem)". erowid.org.
- Rowson, Martin (23 July 2008). "The night Karadzic rocked the Madhouse" – via The Guardian.