Posts Tagged ‘R. Crumb’

Learning from Don Donahue


Friday, October 29, 2010

Read Comments (17)

Photo by another undergrounder gone: Clay Geerdes

I was saddened to learn of Don Donahue’s passing. Don was most famously the publisher of Zap #1 in 1968. According to Patrick Rosenkranz in his indispensable Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution, Donahue was a former typesetter and production man who hooked up with a printer named Charles Plymell. “Donahue was visiting friends who wanted to introduce him to a cartoonist they knew,” Rosenkranz writes. “It turned out to be Robert Crumb, who had a comic book he wanted someone to publish. Donahue looked at the artwork and immediately agreed to do it.” The story of actually printing the thing and then selling it on the street on February 25th, 1968, is a classic one, and is also a reminder that Donahue was both printer and publisher and everything else. These days we publishers are vastly removed from what he went through. So much so that it’s kinda hard to imagine. But there it is. (more…)

Labels: , ,

Class and Comics: Labour Day Notes


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Read Comments (13)

Reid Fleming: Working Class Hero

Labour Day is coming up, so let’s talk about social class:

1. In the R. Crumb Handbook, the creator of Mr. Natural writes: “Some of the other comics that Charles and I liked, Heckle and Jeckle, Super Duck, things of that ilk, featured very primitive stories on the crudest proletarian level….The super-hero comics of the 1940s also had this rough, working class quality. A cartoonist like Jack Kirby is a perfect example. His characters – Captain America, for instance – were an extension of himself. Kirby was a tough little guy from the streets of New York’s lower east side, and he and he saw the world in terms of harsh, elemental, forces. How do you deal with these forces? You fight back! This was the message of all the comic strips created during the Great Depression of the 1930s, from Popeye to Dick Tracy to Superman.” Crumb as usual is right: I’d add that the anti-comics movement of the 1940s and 1950s had a class dimension as well. Genteel, middle-class Americans were shocked by the plebian violence, crude sexuality and general spirit of irreverence of the early comic books.


Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Rosenbaum on Crumb


Monday, August 16, 2010

Read Comments (2)

Some Monday reading for you. The often enlightening and always at least thought-provoking (even at his most objectionable) Jonathan Rosenbaum has reprinted his 1995 essay on Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb. Here’s a sample:

Every American male knows the sound of that nervous tittering, and Robert Crumb’s comic world is not only suffused with it (his own adult sexual obsession is amazonian, big-assed, thick-legged women) but encircled by it. I can’t think of any other movie that’s dealt with this kind of laughter so directly. Cassavetes’s fictional film Faces probably came the closest, but there it was simply backslapping businessmen dealing with everyday sexual embarrassment. Crumb cuts deeper, letting us see the potential madness lurking beyond the simple nervousness of sexual panic — a madness disquietingly made to seem as American and almost as ordinary as that pie in the sky. This is one creepy movie, and it should come as no surprise that David Lynch, who helped to get it released, is mentioned at the top of the credits.

Rosenbaum has also written a new piece for the new Criterion DVD of the film, available here.

Labels: , ,

A Pekar Notebook


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Read Comments (7)

Pekar as drawn by Crumb.

Some jottings from my Pekar notebook:

Pekar and Crumb. When I saw Harvey Pekar earlier this year, we chatted a bit about Crumb. Pekar was very pleased by one thing I said, which was that I thought he was as important in the evolution of Crumb’s career as Crumb was in the launching of Pekar’s career. What I meant was this: that drawing Pekar’s stories enlarged Crumb’s sense of what comics could be, made him more attentive to quiet moments and the potency of a well-shaped narrative. There was a tendency in the early Crumb to go for the easy shock or the satisfyingly quick yuck-yuck laugh. Pekar taught Crumb to trust the audience more, to be more circumspect and less in-your-face. I think the lessons of Pekar can be seen in the strong run of stories Crumb did in the 1980s for Weirdo, particularly “Uncle Bob’s Mid-Life Crisis” (Weirdo #7). To some extent Crumb was already heading in that direction (see “That’s Life” from Arcade #3), but Pekar unquestionably pushed Crumb into a more meditative direction. I’m also thinking that Crumb’s habit of adapting classic (Boswell, Sartre, Genesis) might have its root in those Pekar collaboration in the sense that they made Crumb realize that he enjoyed the challenge of coming up with pictures for other people’s stories. In a sense, adapting a classic work gives Crumb the benefits that the Pekar collaborations did without the difficult of dealing with Pekar’s ornery personality.


Labels: , ,

Interviews and Autodidacts Notebook


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Read Comments (33)

Gil Kane, an artist whose interviews are always worth reading.

A notebook on comics interviews and autodidacts:

Autodidacts. I often think William Blake is the prototype for many modern cartoonists. Blake was a working class visionary who taught himself Greek and Hebrew, an autodidact who created his own cosmology which went against the grain of the dominant Newtonian/Lockean worldview of his epoch. The world of comics has had many such ad hoc theorists and degree-less philosophers: Burne Hogarth, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, Neal Adams, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Gary Panter, Lynda Barry, Howard Chaykin, Chester Brown, Dave Sim, Alan Moore. These are all freelance scholars who are willing to challenge expert opinion with elaborately developed alternative ideas. The results of their theorizing are mixed. On the plus side: you can learn more about art history by listening to Gary Panter and Art Spiegelman talk than from reading a shelf-full of academic books; Robert Crumb’s Genesis deserves to be seen not just as an important work of art but also a significant commentary on the Bible; Lynda Barry’s ideas about creativity strike me as not just true but also profound and life-enhancing. On the negative side: Dave Sim’s forays into gender analysis have not, um, ah, been, um, very fruitful; and while Neal Adams drew a wicked cool Batman, I’m not willing to give credence to his theories of an expanding earth if it means rejecting the mainstream physics of the last few centuries. Sorry Neal!


Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Doing Justice to Crumb


Sunday, June 27, 2010

Read Comments (9)

Crumb's Boswell.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been disappointed by the critical response to Crumb’s Genesis book. It is not so much a matter that the book hasn’t won enough praise, but rather that the critics, with a handful of exceptions, haven’t had the intellectual resources to tackle the challenge presented by Crumb’s handling of the Bible. Ideally, the critics of the book should be well-versed in both comics and Biblical scholarship. Instead, we’ve had many reviews from critics who know about comics but not the Bible (most of the reviews, I’d say) and a few from scholars who are well-versed in the Bible but are clearly unfamiliar with the history and language of comics (Harold Bloom being the prime case). Robert Alter wrote one of the best reviews of the book, but even he was hampered by his inability to fully respond to visual storytelling, leading him to make the theoretically dubious argument that print is inherently more ambiguous than pictures.


Labels: , ,

Worst Comics Criticism of the 21st Century


Friday, April 23, 2010

Read Comments (9)

Lately there has been an attempt to flesh out what constitutes good comics criticism. There was a Hooded Utilitarian roundtable on the topic and Ben Schwartz has edited a soon-to-be-released book titled Best American Comics Criticism. But it is worth remembering that there is a lot of bad criticism out there, which is also worth describing and demarcating. For me, one of the worst pieces of comics criticism I’ve ever read was Harold Bloom’s review of Crumb’s Genesis in the December 3, 2009 issue of The New York Review of Books.

Perhaps wisely, the New York Review hasn’t made more than a snippet of this idiotic review available. But some early sentences are telling:  “Staring at the women and men of Crumb’s Genesis, I dimly recall someone showing me an issue of Mad magazine. To my untutored view the work of Crumb recalls that publication yet somehow also is touched with what I remember as the doughty proletarian style of Ben Shahn.” As this makes clear, Bloom doesn’t have the background or equipment to say anything useful about Crumb as a visual artist. For most of the rest of the review he talks not about Crumb but about other things that spring to his mind like Thomas Mann’s Joseph books. For a more thorough examination of Bloom’s review, with some choice quotes, see here.

Labels: , ,

Crumb’s Visual Sources: Research Note 2


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Read Comments (6)
Robert Crumb is a great synthesizer, a great adopter of other people’s stylistic conventions which he cunningly redeploys for his own ends. Any in-depth analysis of Crumb has to come to terms with the way his art is not only great in itself but also serves as a veritable museum of 20th century cartooning. Most comics criticism tends to have a literary bias, so this visual aspect of Crumb has gone under-discussed. But I don’t think we can understand Crumb’s art without reference to his many allusions to earlier cartoonists (not to mention painters and illustrators).

Here are a few notes that might help future research:

1. Wolverton. Crumb has often talked about his debt to Basil Wolverton, going back to the sacred cover of Mad comics #11. Interestingly, Wolverton and Crumb both adapted the Bible. I’d like to know how familiar Crumb was with Wolverton’s religious art (now available in the great Fantagraphics book The Wolverton Bible).

Above is a scene from Wolverton’s rendition of the Noah story.

And here is a panel from Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated. Notice that in both Wolverton and Crumb, the choppy waves have an oddly static look, as if they were sand dunes rather than water.

2. Billy DeBeck. I’ve never heard Crumb talk about Billy DeBeck but Crumb’s big-nosed style, especially in the late 1960s and early 1970s, had a strong touch of DeBeck’s bounciness.

Above are two excerpts from Billy DeBeck’s work, one showing the character Bunky (the very eloquent baby) and the other Lowzie, the bonnet-wearing hillbilly.

And here is Crumb’s Big Baby (from Big Ass #1, 1969).

3. E.C. Segar. The creator of Popeye is much loved by Crumb.

Here is a panel from a Segar Thimble Theatre page (July 19, 1931). Pay close attention to the crowd, a jumble of noses.

And here is Crumb’s cover for Weirdo #14, where he pays homage to Segar’s crowd of fools.

Labels: , , , ,



Thursday, December 17, 2009

Read Comments (5)
Feiffer on the left, Mayer on the right…

A couple recent items have sparked my comics fancy. First, The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics, edited by Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly. This 350-page, full color book is a brilliant anthology by two masters of the form. I haven’t seen much about it in the comics press, so I thought it would be worth mentioning here. The book collects a few dozen stores from the 40s and 50s by well known cartoonists like Barks and Stanley as well as lesser known figures like Milt Stein and Jim Davis, not to mention complete unknowns like Frank Thomas and Andre LeBlanc. The promotional aspects of the book are pitched at children, as it should be (after all, the work is exactly what I wish I had as a kid), but the beauty of the organizing conceit is that many of the best cartoonists in the world were making “children’s” comics, so what the book really is is an anthology of masteful drawing and storytelling — the kind that informed cartoonists as diverse as the Hernandez Bros (Bob Bolling, Al Wiseman), R. Crumb (Barks and Kelly) and Seth (Stanley). And Spiegelman and Mouly don’t stint on the background material — the biographies of the artists are snappy and well-researched and the historical introduction nicely contextualizes the stories that follow.

Even for an obsessive (and fellow anthologist) like me there were stories that were near revelatory, like Walt Kelly’s “Never Give a Diving Board an Even Break” (composed entirely around a see-saw) and the aforementioned Frank Thomas’s “Billy and Bonny Bee”. Part of it is getting to read a single story at a time by someone like Barks, Stanley or Bolling. Making it bite-sized, without the weight of 10 other stories in an anthology or 3 others in a comic book, allowed me to just focus intently on what Barks was doing, as opposed to what, say, Milt Stein was doing. It’s good to see the “giants” amongst the unknowns — it feels like an accurate context.

All the different sensibilities here, most fully developed and deployed, are staggering in their diversity. And the other part of this book is simply the pleasure of looking: The production quality is ideal: the original comic book colors are intact and printed on uncoated stock against an off-white tone. Ahhh, perfection.

Anyhow, as a collection of near-flawless cartooning, this book can’t be beat. Go get it and learn from it.

The other item is less an item and more a stray idea: No one has really mentioned that Robert Williams has been chosen to participate in the 2010 Whitney Biennial (warning: obnoxious web site) It’s not the first time someone “outside” the mainstream art world has been exhibited — Chris Ware and Forcefield both exhibited in 2002 — but it nonetheless marks an important moment: Williams’ penetration into the curatorial world that Juxtapoz so despises. It may or may not have any real ramifications, but it would be nice if it meant there was some real curatorial interest in someone like Williams (and extending beyond him, in collecting and preserving other non-mainstream artists). I loved walking between his show and Mike Kelley’s a month or so ago and I think the work will kinda throw everything else into stark relief. In a good way. Context, baby. It’s all about context.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

A Crumb Cameo


Friday, November 27, 2009

Read Comments (2)

Comic fans who pick up E.L. Doctorow’s new novel Homer & Langley will be interested in a character named Connor who is described by the sight-impaired narrator Homer Collyer in these terms:

Connor, or Con, was monosyllabic and from what I could infer a cadaverous figure with a long neck and thick eyeglasses. He wore no shirt but a denim jacket open over his hairless torso. He spent his time drawing comic strips in which men’s feet and women’s breast and behinds were greatly exaggerated. Langley told me the strips were quite good in their appalling way. A touch surreal, he said. They seemed to celebrate life as a lascivious dream.

Con is clearly a stand in for Robert Crumb. There are thematic reasons for this Crumb cameo. Doctorow’s novel is much concerned with the psychopathology of collecting and the generation of trash by mass culture, both long time Crumb concerns (as in his great Weirdo story on “Trash”). It makes perfect sense that a cartoonist like Crumb, with his fascination for the grungy past, would fall into the orbit of the Collyer Brothers, those arch-gleaners of the ephemeral.

A whole essay could be written on Doctorow’s engagement with comics. As editor of The Dial Press, he shepherded into print Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic-Book Heroes (and indeed the title and original idea for the book came from Doctorow). Doctorow’s 1985 novel World’s Fair has some interesting evocations of the comic strips of the 1930s like Flash Gordon. And more deeply and perhaps more importantly, the staccato rhythm of Doctorow’s fiction, notably Ragtime, where everything is action and surface and color and noise, owes something to snappiness of early 20th-century comic strips.

Labels: ,