He became hugely famous in the 70's for creating the “Keep On Trucking” phenomenon;
And had a feature animated film of his outrageous and irreverent cartoon character, Fritz the Cat by Ralph Bakshi;
He also created the hip, hippy guru, Mr. Natural.
Though there is another side to Crumb that is much more serious, thoughtful and touching. In 1984 Crumb contributed to the long running Zap Comics #11 a decidedly different kind of strip.
Zap Comics usually offers drug induced, hallucinated fever dreams.
But in #11 Crumb contributed a somber, biographical strip about one of his favorite blues singers Charley Patton.
In Patton we see a different side to Crumb. Here we see the serious artist come out, one who lovingly renders his idol and muse, blues singer Charley Patton. On the title page Crumb, using his famous cross-hatching style, lovingly captures the subtle lighting from a famous photo of Charley Patton.
You can also see the love Crumb has for this whole time period in the way he depicts the cloths and scenery.
Crumb seems totally sympathetic to the wild life that Patton led full of drunken fights and womanizing.
Then as he fills out the picture of Patton and his time, Crumb then clues us into the inner psyche of Patton and how he felt that death was walking next to him.
It’s a touching story filled with breathtaking illustrations. I’ve loved this story since I first saw it in the 80’s. I only wish that the illustrations were larger so that we could see more clearly all of the loving detail in each image. Maybe some day a smart publisher will re-publish this in a double size 13” x 20” format. Maybe someday but for now I guess will just have to be content with staring at this images on cheap 7" x 10" news print edition.
You can see the whole story in plus others in the book, R Crumb draws the Blues.