The “R. Crumb” Thing

I felt so painfully isolated that I vowed I would get revenge on the world by becoming a famous cartoonist.” Robert Crumb

“When people say ‘What are underground comics?’ I think the best way you can define them is just the absolute freedom involved… we didn’t have anyone standing over us.” Robert Crumb

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 sharp satire of contemporary American culture.

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 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

“As a kid growing up in the 1950s I became acutely aware of the changes taking place in American culture and I must say I didn’t much like it. I witnessed the debasement of architecture, and I could see a decline in the quality of things like comic books and toys, things made for kids. Old things seemed to have more life, more substance, more humanity in them.” The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005)

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.

“For a while I was most well known for that [the Janis Joplin album cover], and for “Keep on Truckin’.” That was a drawing that came out of LSD trips, and the words came from a Blind Boy Fuller song from 1935. I drew it in my sketchbook and then for Zap. It sort of caught the popular imagination. It became a horrible popular thing.”    “R. Crumb, The Art of Comics No. 1”

In the early 1980s, Crumb collaborated with writer Charles Bukowski on a series of comic books, featuring Crumb’s art and Bukowski’s writing.

“I couldn’t tell if it was an old man drawing young, or a young man drawing old.”  Victor Moscoso

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.

As Crumb got older, his comic work became more autobiographical. He frequently collaborates with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, on comics.

“Everything that is strong in me has gone into my art work”. Robert Crumb

He 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.

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?”.

“I have always had an abiding interest in that type of female anatomy.” Robert Crumb

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.

“The only burning passion I’m sure I have, is the passion for sex.” Robert Crumb

“I’m such a negative person, and always have been. Was I born that way? I don’t know. I am constantly disgusted by reality, horrified and afraid. I cling desperately to the few things that give me some solace, that make me feel good. I hate most of humanity. Though I might be very fond of particular individuals, humanity in general fills me with contempt and despair. I hate most of what passes for civilization. I hate the modern world. For one thing there are just too goddamn many people. I hate the hordes, the crowds in their vast cities, with all their hateful vehicles, their noise, their constant meaningless comings and goings. I hate cars. I hate modern architecture. Every building built after 1955 should be torn down! I despise modern popular music. Words cannot express how much it gets on my nerves—the false, pretentious, smug assertiveness of it. I hate business, having to deal with money. Money is one of the most hateful inventions of the human race. I hate the commodity culture, in which everything is bought and sold. No stone is left unturned. I hate the mass media, and how passively people suck it up. … I hate having to eat, shit, maintain the body—I hate my body. … Nature is horrible. It’s not cute and lovable. It’s kill or be killed. … How I hate the courting ritual! I was always repelled by my own sex drive, which in my youth, never left me alone. … I hate the way the human psyche works, the way we are traumatized and stupidly imprinted in early childhood and have to spend the rest of our lives trying to overcome these infantile mental fixations. And we never fully succeed in this endeavor. I hate organized religions. I hate governments. It’s all a lot of power games played out by ambition-driven people, and foisted on the weak, the poor, and on children. Most humans are bullies. Adults pick on children. Older children pick on younger children. Men bully women. The rich bully the poor. People love to dominate. I hate the way humans worship power—one of the most disgusting of all human traits. I hate the human tendency toward revenge and vindictiveness. I hate the way humans are constantly trying to trick and deceive one another, to swindle, cheat, and take unfair advantage of the innocent, the naïve and the ignorant. I hate all the vacuous, false, banal conversation that goes on among people. Sometimes I feel suffocated. I want to flee from it. For me, to be human is, for the most part, to hate what I am. When I suddenly realize that I am one of them, I want to scream in horror.” “The Litany of Hate” in The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005)

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