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Robert Crumb (1943 - )

Related: counterculture - American comics - satire

Crumb's comic artwork has elicited sharply divided commentary from readers and critics. He has been hailed as one of the century's greatest artists, and compared to literary satirists Rabelais, Jonathan Swift, and Mark Twain. Art critic Robert Hughes has likened Crumb to Dürer, Breughel and Goya. [Apr 2006]


Robert Crumb (who signs his work as "R. Crumb") is an artist whose entire adult life has been dedicated to drawing comic strips and comic books. He never joined the mainstream comic book publishing industry; since the 1960s, he has been one of the founders and major participants in the field of underground comics.

As the flower power movement of the 1960s was getting into full swing, Crumb came to San Francisco and found a number of other artists who were interested in publishing small-press, independent comic books aimed at the audiences of the day. Along with such artists as Spain Rodriguez and Gilbert Shelton, Crumb published the first issue of Zap Comics in 1967. The comic series took the psychedelic counter-culture movement by storm, giving rise to a series of rebellious, adult-oriented comic books that found an audience with the hippies, rebels, and rock-and-roll crowd who didn't want anything to do with the mainstream superhero comic books of such publishing houses as DC and Marvel. Crumb, however, claims disaffection with the flower power movement, saying that he just wanted to "get in on some of that free love."

In the pages of Zap and many other esoteric comic books, Crumb created a number of characters that became icons of the anti-establishment, including Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat. Crumb's single-page comic strip Keep On Truckin' summed up the "free love" generation, and Crumb found his work to be in great demand. Janis Joplin hired him to draw the artwork for the cover of her album Cheap Thrills; while animation director Ralph Bakshi made a feature-length animated film of Fritz the Cat (the first animated film to garner an "X" rating), and the film was a box-office hit. Crumb disliked the film so much that he killed the fictional cat in his comics by having an ostrich-woman stab him in the head. Nonetheless Crumb became famous; his fame took him by surprise as much as anyone ... and he didn't like it.

One of the few anti-establishment figures who genuinely rejected the notion of "selling out" (he turned down an offer to illustrate an album cover for the Rolling Stones because he hated the band's music), Crumb rarely published his works in mainstream magazines. Over the years, he published a large number of small-press, independent comic books with similar titles, including Head Comix, Carload o' Comics, Uneeda Comics, Weirdo Comics, etc. (He published a promotion for the Church of the SubGenius in Weirdo, which contributed greatly to the popularization of the organization in the early 1980s).

Crumb's comic artwork has elicited a wide range of commentary from his readers and critics. A number of respected literary figures view his art as sublime, subversive satire, comparing him to Francois Rabelais, while other see his drawings as merely pornographic and misogynist. Crumb has admitted that he has an abnormal "fear of women," and a great deal of his work is indeed adult-oriented. A notorious issue of Zap Comics containing an illustrated satiric story by Crumb of a household demonstrating family togetherness by engaging in incest resulted in the prosecution of at least one comic book store on charges of obscenity.

A theatrical production based on his work was produced at Duke University, in North Carolina, in the early 1990s. Directed by Johnny Simons, and starring Nicholas de Wolff and Avner Eisenberg of Avner the Eccentric fame, 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.

The 1996 documentary film Crumb is an in-depth look at Crumb's life and artwork. The film was directed by Crumb's friend Terry Zwigoff, who had started it decades before it was released, then abandoned it, only to resume filming much later.

Crumb moved with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb (also a well-known "underground" cartoonist) and their daughter, Sophie, to the small town of Sauve, France. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Crumb [2004]

Review of "Crumb" by D. K. Holm for www.cinemonkey.com


One would have thought that the counter culture that coincided with the emergence of Crumb would have promoted this artist as an alternative to conventional views of sexuality. Instead, he has been steadily attacked, and it turns out that feminists would prefer to cleanse Crumb of the perverse element of his works. Instead, since the early '70s, Crumb has increased his iconography of boots, feminine superiority, and S&M. Crumb says that he is "revealing something to myself," and tells a reporter in the film in a blend of mea culpa and defiance, "I can't defend myself." And why should he?


There's one thing Zwigoff doesn't tell us, however, and that's why Crumb has become such a cult figure. People—or should I say men—are obsessed with him. Collectors leave no avenue untrammeled in their efforts to acquire everything to which his name is attached. As Zwigoff told Cinemonkey in an interview at the Mallory Hotel, in Portland, Oregon, collectors have been besieging him for months for Crumb memorabilia. One wanted an original birthday card Crumb had sent Zwigoff, offering $500 for this unique item (Zwigoff sold it).


Though most reviews have so far been positive, Crumb has been attacked, notably by Andrew Sarris in the New York Observer, for its central character's misogyny (Zwigoff trots out two requisite, ironclad feminists—cartoonist Trina Robbins and Mother Jones editor Deirdre English—to spout the predictable "woman hating" line on Crumb). But if you step outside the approved cultural appreciation of women, Crumb can be viewed as one of the bravest, most vocal fans of the strong women. --D. K. Holm for www.cinemonkey.com -- http://www.cinemonkey.com/reviews/dougcrumb/doughrcrumb.html


  1. Complete Crumb: Mr Sixties - Robert Crumb [1 book, Amazon US]
    The review above says this is not Crumb's best stuff, and not to buy anything from "This Publisher." This makes NO SENSE, because Fantagraphics is publishing THE COMPLETE WORKS of ROBERT CRUMB, in order, from his early years right up to the present. Crumb supervises each release and writes the introductions to each volume. Furthermore, Fantagraphics is one of the best publishers of quality comix in the world.
    If you like R. Crumb, this collection is pretty much the best you can get. Unless you just want a "greatest hits" which is fine to. In any case, Volume 4 is my favorite collection, but there is quality stuff in each one. The review above is sort of akin to someone blasting the Riverside Shakespeare because it includes stuff like Pericles or The Two Noble Kinsman. It's the COMPLETE WORKS, guy! It contains the BEST and the WORST, but everyone will disagree about which is which. --The Great Unknown for amazon.com


  1. Crumb (1994) - Terry Zwigoff [Amazon US]
    Robert Crumb is known for his disturbing, yet compelling, underground cartoons: his most famous works made countercultural icons out of Mr. Natural ("Keep on Truckin'...") and Fritz the Cat. Terry Zwigoff delves into the odd world of the cartoonist in his documentary film Crumb, and the picture that emerges is not always pretty--at moments, it's almost repellent--but it's a fascinating glimpse into a very strange mind. Interviewing immediate family--Crumb has one suicidal brother, one semi-psychopathic brother, two sisters who declined to be interviewed, and a tyrannical mother--Crumb begins to look a bit saner. Given his surroundings, it's remarkable that he has survived so well. His hostilities toward women may turn some viewers off, but his wife, Aline, seems to be a grounding point, and she provides a solid counterbalance to the man. No one shies away from discussing incredibly intimate things (namely, sex!), which explains much of R. Crumb's cartoons. This documentary can definitely be considered a masterpiece for the cult crowd, and as for the rest of us, it's sure to make us feel a little better about our own lives! --Jenny Brown for amazon.com

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