Robert Crumb
January 5, 2002 2:37 PM   Subscribe

Robert Crumb is the creator of Zap Comix, Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, Keep on Trucking, and a lot more classic Underground Art. Tonight at 6:30 pacific time on International Film Channel, the David Lynch Presents/a Terry Zwigoff Film, Crumb, (Winner Grand Jury Prize Sundance Film Festival). Six years in the making, this documentary profiles a very talented, very strange family. A "creepy, darkly funny, and haunting glimpse", to say the least. If you are interested in the 60s counterculture, Crumb was the man. Art, maladjustment, maybe a touch of insanity? Watch this film.
posted by Mack Twain (47 comments total)
I saw this docu at the Sundance Fest in...97(?). It's definitely a must see. Crumb epitomizes the mad genius. Very spooky, though.
posted by glennie at 2:41 PM on January 5, 2002

Definitely worth watching.
posted by rhizome23 at 2:44 PM on January 5, 2002

thanks - not seen anything by crumb for ages. must be going to the wrong kind of gallery. altho' i think i saw mr natural in word clip-art not so long ago....
posted by andrew cooke at 2:50 PM on January 5, 2002

Robert Crumb would make a perfect case study for a phych. student seeking to prove the validity of Freuds theories. While I found Robert Crumb to be perhaps maladjusted, it's his two brothers that seem far more "out in left field." Of course, who knows how Robert would have turned out if he hadn't realized his artistic abilities and instead chose to live at home all his life or live on welfare.

No matter how you slice it, Crumb is a fascinating glimpse into the bizarre lives of the Crumb family. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction.
posted by bicyclingfool at 2:54 PM on January 5, 2002

Also see the R. Crumb profile on Salon's Brilliant Careers and the all-around good "Looking for Crumb?" and "Another R. Crumb Page" fan pages.
posted by waxpancake at 2:55 PM on January 5, 2002

This is a really good documentary, most notably for the incidental portray of people in Crumb's life. Be absolutely certain to watch all the credits -- right to the very last.
posted by at 3:11 PM on January 5, 2002

There's also an older BBC documentary that's every bit as good -- Crumb's just a fascinating subject. My memory is a little shaky, but wasn't the making of the film somehow implicated in what happened to his brother? Perhaps things might have turned out differently if they hadn't made the movie?
posted by muckster at 3:45 PM on January 5, 2002

such an incredible movie... first time i saw it was with a documentary film maker friend of mine in new york; we walked out and she said to me "that's why i do what i do."

sf-denizens will recognize one of his brother's, a, er, fixture on market street.
posted by msippey at 3:49 PM on January 5, 2002

It's a wonderful movie, probably my favorite documentary. We might think Crumb is strange, but when compared to his mother and his brothers (he has sisters but they refused to participate) he seems almost heroic in his successful struggle to rise above the twisted swamp of his background.

My favorite moment in the movie comes when R. Crumb is talking to his brother Charles, and Crumb says to him, "You haven't been out in six years." and Charles says, "Give me one good reason to leave the house." He's not just an agoraphobic with neurotic fears; he's indicting the shabbiness and worthlessness of the world. It's amazing, chilling, and somehow courageous punk moment of rejecting the status quo. It makes you think the guy could have written lyrics for The Ramones.
posted by lisatmh at 4:01 PM on January 5, 2002

Crumb fans should also check out his book, Your Vigor for Life Appalls Me : Robert Crumb Letters 1958-1977 (Amazon link).
posted by wfrgms at 4:12 PM on January 5, 2002

Is he still living in France? Should we all move there? Does his rejection of America make him a traitor? or worse, a Democrat?
posted by Postroad at 4:33 PM on January 5, 2002

It's comforting seeing your fetishes validated on screen--namely piggy-back riding and boot-humping.
The soundtrack isn't so shabby either.
posted by G_Ask at 4:40 PM on January 5, 2002

Point in fact: Robert Crumb has nothing to do with 60s counter-culture, whatever your opinion of that may be, in fact he despised it. Which even the laziest half asleep viewing of Crumb would tell you. He was an icon of sorts in those times and a very interesting person.
The total candor of his and Aline Kominsky-Crumb's comix is 120 proof vodka next to the near beer of bloggers in general.

The tragic story of his older brother--long familiar to those acquainted with his work--is the heart of the film and what gave me the creeps about it. I won't give anything away but his relationship with his brother and the way he and Zwigoff, who went on to make Ghost World, exploited unfoolded events made me very uneasy.

That said, I have the utmost respect for both of them as artists and pretty much share their attitudes towards mass culture and their taste in music--although I'm a Jack Mormom in comparison: I don't write off everything new... Just 99% of it.

I do think Crumb and Ghost World to be beautiful and moving movies. And I like the part in Crumb about being driven around in a car photographing power poles and store signs.
posted by y2karl at 4:50 PM on January 5, 2002

Simply put, R. Crumb stands head and shoulders above all the other so-called
"alternative" comix artists out there. Here's hoping though that in 20 years I'll be seeing the film biography of Crumbs onetime colleague
Peter Bagge
who was to my 90's, at least, what R. was to the 60's.

posted by jonmc at 5:24 PM on January 5, 2002

Simply put, R. Crumb stands head and shoulders above all the other so-called
"alternative" comix artists out there. Here's hoping though that in 20 years I'll be seeing the film biography of Crumbs onetime colleague
Peter Bagge
who was to my 90's, at least, what R. was to the 60's.

posted by jonmc at 5:25 PM on January 5, 2002

Simply put, R. Crumb stands head and shoulders above all the other so-called "alternative" comix artists out there.

I wouldn't go quite that far. No disrespect intended, but were you even around in those days?
posted by RavinDave at 6:25 PM on January 5, 2002

No disrespect intended, but were you even around in those days?

RavinDave-no I wasn't, (I'm 31), however every veteran of the '60's I know says that that Crumb captured the essence of the time better than any other comix artist.
Now, i don't claim to be a wanna be '60s type, which is why I threw Pete Bagge in for comparison. Pete's comic "Hate" was a deadly accurate depiction of what my life was like over the past decade.(to the point that some of my freinds refer to me as "Buddy Bradley"-I even look like him a bit.)
And while Gil Shelton's stuff is a lot of fun, he simply dosen't have Crumbs willingness to turn a jaundiced on absolutely everything including himself.
posted by jonmc at 6:38 PM on January 5, 2002

Although I understand the sentiment, RavinDave, and I was around in those days--The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers? Puh-leeze... Willy Murphy, Moscoso, Griffith, Jayzey Lynch, S. Clay Wilson, Aline Kominsky, Trina, and Shary Flenniken were way better than the sucky sucky Gilbert Shelton. And Crumb was the best of the lot.
posted by y2karl at 6:46 PM on January 5, 2002

After watching Crumb in 1996-7, I bought a book on underground comix. (I hate that spelling almost as much as wimmin)

After thoroughly researching the scene and period, I'd have to disagree, RavinDave. He did stand head and shoulders above the others.
posted by jragon at 6:48 PM on January 5, 2002

I should looked before I posted, jonmc, but there's two--now three--opinions...I never cared for Bagge's style that much but I liked his stories. And I liked Weirdo when he was editor. I con't keep up that much anymore but I liked Jason Lutes' Jar of Fools and Daniel Clowes' Ghost World--even before the movie, for which Terry Zwigoff was the prerfect choice for director.
posted by y2karl at 6:58 PM on January 5, 2002

I should looked before I posted, jonmc,

Never do that, karl, your posts are always interesting. But bagge's style always reminded me of Big Daddy Don Roth and as much as I enjoyed eightball and other stuff by Clowes, Bagge gets the nod from me because he took the lesson from Crumb to show the culture he was part of warts and all.

Now that Hate! has been reduced to an annual, it remains to be seen whether he can expand his range to become the Crumb of his era. I think he will. And as far as storytelling goes the ultimate storyteller in comics(nod to jragon) today is Adrian Tomine of "Optic nerve" fame.
posted by jonmc at 7:26 PM on January 5, 2002

A couple of months before I saw "Crumb", I visited the Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco. Several of Maxon Crumb's sketchbooks were on display. They contained page after page of some of the most intricate crosshatching that I had ever seen. I took it to be the sign of a deranged mind. The movie pretty much confirmed my view.
posted by MrBaliHai at 7:45 PM on January 5, 2002

Guys, guys, guys ... don't misunderstand me. I'm certainly not bagging on Fritz's progenitor -- particularly not in a thread celebrating his well-deserved documentary attention. I'm merely pointing out he wasn't playing in a deserted ballpark. There were an awful lot of talented people out there (and, yes, Gilbert Shelton was one of them). Certainly, every head shop I fondly recall had the obligatory Mr. Natural poster. I still have alot of original Crumb paraphenalia. No one denies his popularity or significance. (Bakshi was responsible for more than a bit of that, btw) Just don't be too quick to pull the pedestal out from under other deserving souls.
posted by RavinDave at 8:19 PM on January 5, 2002

Like y2karl, I was around in those days too. I viewed the Freak Bros. as the 3 Stooges with more drugs and less eye gouging and Fat Freddy's Cat was essentially Garfield with his balls intact. Crumb was to be drooled over for his sheer talent as an artist and raunchy Cab Calloway sensibilities. But for immaculately stoned, transcendent horniness you just couldn't beat Vaughn Bode and that guy in the hat.
posted by MrBaliHai at 8:36 PM on January 5, 2002

Shelton, Vaughn Bode, Dan Clowes, Moscoso, Mary Fleener, Kyle Baker, Alan Moore, Robert Williams, and countless others are all terrific, but mark my words 20 years from now Pete Bagge's Buddy Bradley will be revered as a symbol of his time like Crumb's Mr. Natural is now.
posted by jonmc at 8:45 PM on January 5, 2002

Chris Ware is Crumb's equal -- anyone's equal. Check out any of the Acme Novelty Library editions or, especially, Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth and see what you think.
posted by argybarg at 8:58 PM on January 5, 2002

I have almost zero knowledge of R. Crumb, or comics in general, but I was transfixed watching the film. The sad thing to me was that it looked like, at first, Charles had every bit as much talent as Robert, but he just got so weird. My jaw dropped when Robert was thumbing through the pages of a notebook in which Charles had just scribbled some indecipherable scrawl for hundreds and hundreds of pages. I couldn't even imagine the obsession that it took to do something like that. Incredible.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:06 PM on January 5, 2002

Point in fact: Robert Crumb has nothing to do with 60s counter-culture...y2karl, I did'nt mean he was a member of the Who's Who of the Haight-Ashbury Era, but rather that his work (comix and album covers) was a product of the LSD Haight-Ashbury days, and if Keep on Trucking isn't one of the foremost signposts of the era, I do not remember what was (I was around then). Crumb wasn't a Hippy or a Yippie or even a Beatnick, just very talented and very different. I'm interested in the obviously genetic link between art talent and whatever in the hell was going on in their heads. Wonder how his daughter is doing?
posted by Mack Twain at 9:17 PM on January 5, 2002

Geez ... Richard Brautigan's been dead for almost 20 years?? Seems like yesterday I stood in line at a bookstore to get an autograph and enjoyed a short chat. Thanks for that "Who's Who" link, Mack. I need a moment.

Now back to Crumb.
posted by RavinDave at 9:55 PM on January 5, 2002

Mack Twain,
his daughter, now 19, is also an artist. she had a bit of her work shown (however fleetingly) in Ghost World.
posted by bradth27 at 11:17 PM on January 5, 2002

Well, apart from the fact that he was ripped off for the Keep On Trucking poster and never saw a cent from its sale and which led to a suit--a case which, had he not been too poor to pursue it to the end, might have changed copyright law profoundly--he provided some decor to the 60s.

He was a huge influence and popularizer of underground comics, but those were peripheral and unknown to most people I knew then. He was a genius but, as Crumb gingerly deals with, there was much that was too troubling for most people in his art. And don't even get me started on S. Clay Wilson.

as for Sophie Crumb's art, click on Enid's sketchbook here. Jeez, what it must have been like to be the teenaged daughter of Robert and Aline--you thought you were embarrassed by your parents....
posted by y2karl at 12:28 AM on January 6, 2002

Um, the "I" in IFC stands for "Independent," not "International."
posted by Fofer at 1:49 AM on January 6, 2002

Aside from all the weirdness of Crumb's family, as well as Crumb's overt fetish for non-traditional women, I was dumbstruck by the fact that he was able to trade a couple of his sketchbooks for a chateau in France.

Let's see... 80 or 100 drawings = a huge house in France.


That, and the soundtrack is pretty good, too.
posted by crunchland at 5:11 AM on January 6, 2002

Anything with Geechie Wiley's Last Kind Word--look down!--is a great soundtrack...
posted by y2karl at 5:49 AM on January 6, 2002

Let's see... 80 or 100 drawings = a huge house in France.

Yeah, but this came after years of grinding poverty. Like Crumb points out in the movie: Pay for Cheap Thrills album cover: $150. Original art work sold on Sotheby's for $10,000+.
Then there is the outright theft of Keep On Truckin'...
posted by y2karl at 6:11 AM on January 6, 2002

Karma 101: You really can't market something like that.

The whole "Keep On Truckin'" thing just sorta blossomed out of nowhere. Had Crumb controlled the merchandising from the get-go, the phenomenon simply would not have occurred. (How much did the "happy face" guy make?) Best to take the philosophical view that it got him exposure for other stuff. Granted, he also took it in the shorts there as well, but wouldn't you chalk that up to a lack of business acumen? He did turn down some lucrative stuff like the Stone's album cover.
posted by RavinDave at 7:00 AM on January 6, 2002

I checked this out of the Nashville Public Library a few years ago. Excellent.
posted by at 8:06 AM on January 6, 2002

Jesse Crumb must have taken a business class: check out the Crumb Products Site; I especially like that 9X14 oil by Max, and uhh, if you want to buy it..$12,000 will do er up nicely..
posted by Mack Twain at 9:45 AM on January 6, 2002

And as far as storytelling goes the ultimate storyteller in comics(nod to jragon) today is Adrian Tomine of "Optic nerve" fame.

Tomine is good, but Clowes is better. (Though, admittedly, I don't follow Tomine regularly.)

One need only pick up a copy of the latest Eightball (#22) to experience Clowes' mastery of the comics form.
posted by MegoSteve at 11:22 AM on January 6, 2002

A few points.

Crumb is a genius. Crumb is a fucked up asshole.

Crumb once said -- "Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures." -- I love that quote.

The documentary begins with Crumb repudiating Mr. Natural / Keep On Truckin' and Fritz the Cat as things he ended up despising. He hated the way the "counterculture" of the time made his work a touchstone. Mr. Crumb may be of the 60s, but using his to represent that era rings false.

Crumb is another example of how really interesting artists defy you from summing up their meaning and worth in pithy sentences. See the documentary and learn more about an interesting person. Then draw your own conclusions.
posted by artlung at 11:35 AM on January 6, 2002

Yeah, Mack Twain, I stumbled across that Crumb Products site recently, too. Well, at least he's giving the family some, hey? 'S funny, there was a panel of a guy in some yoga pretzel atop a board of nails in one of his early comics and it wasn't until I saw Crumb that I realized it was a picture of Max. It's nice that Jesse put up art by Charles--I only wish there was some of his early work as shown in Crumb: the movie seemed to suggest that Charles was the genius of the family before his spirit was crushed. Looking at his drawings in the first example makes one wonder how much Robert's art derived from his vision.
posted by y2karl at 11:41 AM on January 6, 2002

The irony of Robert Crumb is that he persistently longs for (or at least cites with nostalgia) an era (mostly the '10s and '20s) in which he surely would have been thrown in a mental institution. No one would have published a frame of his art.
posted by argybarg at 1:19 PM on January 6, 2002

Great movie.

And I'll gladly second argybarg's recommendation of Chris Ware's work. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, is one of the best pieces of art/writing/social criticism I've seen in a long time.
posted by bragadocchio at 1:43 PM on January 6, 2002

Jimmy Coorigan: The Smartest Kid On Earth is great. I like Tony Millionaires Maakies, too, for that matter, and as I've just noted elsewhere, Doug Allen.

The problem for is that there is just so much of everything now. I remmeber reading an essay by Samuel R. Delany about how the number of great poets in the Romantic period could be counted on your fingers and toes, with those of a couple more people for the merely noteworthy. Now there are more poets of worth alive aperson could read closely and non-stop in their lifeftime even if they did nothing else.

On one hand, mass culture obliterates and crushes the unique and vernacular everywhere in the same old same old McMonoculture, and one the other, not just a hundred but a hundred thousand flowers are let bloom everywhere.

Antique and vernacular musics are my avocation by trade, and even if fixed and limited forever, there's still so much out there that I haven't listened to that it dwarfs that which I have heard. Brave New World indeed.
posted by y2karl at 3:32 PM on January 6, 2002

Er, I mean, Now there are more poets of worth alive than a person could read closely and non-stop in their lifetime .
Tiny print and longwindedness: my twin nemeses.
posted by y2karl at 3:35 PM on January 6, 2002

You're right y2karl, at times it feels as if there's just too much to sift through to separate the good from the bad, or the good from the great. I came across an article which describes some of the more serious themed comics out there today, and it's filled with some great quotes from today's creators in this medium.

Some links for Chris Ware: his thoughts on winning the Guardian First Book Award 2001, a thoughtful and introspective interview with Time magazine, The Acme Novelty Warehouse, a collection of links from his publishers at Random House, and more of the ACME Novelty Library Company from Fantagraphics. I haven't seen any of his work on a new character named Rusty Brown/i>, but after this thread, I'm inspired to look.
posted by bragadocchio at 5:30 PM on January 6, 2002

I watched part of Crumb last night on IFC, and it got boring after a while. There were definitely interesting parts, like Charles' pages and pages of literally word-like scribbles. Maybe I'm just not a documentary viewer.

In other news, I remember seeing some online magazine with strange articles including one about Robert Crumb. It was yellow and used frames, and I think its name was five letters or so starting with an "s." Anyone happen to know what I'm talking about?
posted by markpasc at 2:37 AM on January 7, 2002

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