Friday, August 29, 2014

Happy 71st Birthday R. Crumb!

Robert Crumb (born August 30, 1943) is the founding father of the underground comic art movement of the late 60's and early 70's. He started off his career drawing LSD inspired comics but went on to do some very influential auto-biographical comics as well as some very impressive biographical work of blues singers as well as literary people such as Kafka. His latest work is a faithful adaption of the book of Genesis.


The text from this piece was Crumb himself, speaking in the 1987 documentary, the Confessions of R. Crumb.

"When I was 19 a pen pal of mine invited me to come and share an apartment with him in Cleveland. I quickly got a job at a local greeting card company. All through this whole period I was still basically a lonely mal adjusted weirdo. I would do secret drawings of my sex fantasies and when I was finished, I would tear them up and flush them down the toilet. Then all of a sudden I met a fat alienated lonely girl and the next thing I knew I was married."

"She was as desperate as I was. The only thing we had in common was our desperation. She was 18 and I was 21 and everybody thought it was wonderful so we got married. We immediately settled into a dismal married routine.

I would get up and go to work. And after work I would go out with the guys from the greeting card company. We’d start to get drunk and then the wives would call up the bar on the phone and demand that the husbands would come home."

"I started getting involved in the budding hippy sub culture in Cleveland. And in 1965 I took LSD for the first time which completely knocked me for a loop. Things were never the same.  The whole thing just seemed like a shabby cardboard flat reality compared to the levels of meaning that I saw under the influence of that drug."

"I couldn’t talk to people at work. I was speechless. They’d look at me and say “Crumb what’s with you, what happened to you?”

"There was no way I could explain it. The whole world I was living in just seemed like a puppet show or a tragic farce. I couldn’t get why anyone would want to live that way." 
“In 1966 my head was just spinning with strange visions in this electric animated craziness that is hard to describe. I managed to get some of it down on paper. I did drawings of all of these archetypal cartoon figures that are just floating around in the collective subconscious, these images would just come up in mind when I was sitting on a bus or starring out a window and all just start spinning out of my brain.”

"I met a couple of friends of mine at a bar one night after work in Cleveland and they said that they were going out to San Francisco so I decided to just go with them. Once I was out there I was overcome with guilt and got in touch with my wife and she came out and we lived the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco for a couple of years. Thousands of young kids were coming from all over the country to the Mecca of hippidom taking LSD and dancing around the streets. It was quite a zoo, really."

"Myself, I never really became a full-fledged hippie. You know I said “far out” and “groovy” and “oh wow” and all that, I confess, but somehow I was too uptight or too modest to ever really "let it all hang out" as they use to say. I couldn’t dance with my bare feet in the park or play a bamboo flute or all that. Janis Joplin use to say, “Come on Crumb, don’t you want to be popular with the girls and all that, and let your hair grow long and get yourself one of those big flowing shirts and all that. Come on.” I said I can’t do that. Still though I was definitely caught up in the general optimism of the period. I believed like a lot of other people that all you need is love and all that and that the world was going to blossom out and smell like roses forever more and all that."


"Suddenly, when I was 25, after spending most of my life generally being ignored by most people in the world and being sort of a non-entity suddenly all these people wanted to talk to me they thought I was this interesting person. I was hot and the man of the hour."

Fritz the Cat was a character of Crumb's that attracted  the attention of big time hustlers.

The movie poster of Ralph Bakshi's Fritz the Cat.

"I think what it did to the content of my work was it made me more cynical and the comics got weirder and nastier. I started putting more and more of the darker side of myself into my comics just to say, “O.K. if they love me so much, let’s see if they can handle this.” That’s when I did the Big Ass Comics and the Snatch Comics and all that offensive, grotesque sex stuff."

"I feel like I finally arrived at a place where I am technically capable of capturing something realistic and pulling it off. I don’t think I could have done that years ago where I can actually do a documentary type comic book like that Jelly Roll Morton thing where it is basically taken from interviews with him that were recorded in 1940 or somewhere around there. That was hard work illustrating something like that. It is only now at this point in my life that I feel that I can even technically handle a task like that."

Jelly Roll Morton's Voodoo Curse from RAW Magazine #7, 1985
"For this Philip K. Dick strip I have these photos of the guy that I have to use. It really helps a lot. This is a style of drawing which I’m new at. I’m using a brush to do the inking." 
The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick from Weirdo #17, June 1986
"I’ve been doing some research on these old artists from the early days of comic books This is a comic from 1954 by this guy Jay Disbrow. He’s not particularly well remembered or appreciated now but I really love the mood that he creates with the heavy black ink. Some people think that this style isn’t as distinctive as my pen and ink style, but so what. I’m into it." 
Jay Disbrow's Night Monster from Ghostly Weird Tales # 120, Sep, 1953
"I have to make a lot of changes as I go because I never get it the first time. It was so much easier in the old days when I just drew in that Popeye style. It took me a long time to come around and to try to draw in a realistic style. I was always so intimidated. It takes me a lot longer to do a comic page than it used to. Yes, I suppose you could say that my work has turned a few corners since the early days of Zap Comics."

The text from this piece was Crumb himself, speaking in the documentary, the Confessions of R. Crumb.

You can see more on Robert Crumb on the Official R. Crumb Site. 


  1. More great stuff. I was a Marvel zombie in the '70s, for a while getting maybe 30 or 40 of their mags a month. By the mid-80s I'd mostly quit reading Marvel's output but through reading the Comics Journal I read about Crumb and over the years started getting into his stuff, including his collaborations with Harvey Pekar in American Splendor.

    1. I quite Marvel for the most part by the mid to late 80's as well though it was as much because of Moore as it was the Comics Journal (which I loved reading as much as the comics). After reading Moore, all the other superheroes on the stands were really sad. It was only work by such people like the Hernandez bros., Chester Brown and Bob Burden that kept me coming back to the comic shop at all.