'Le Monde Selon Crumb' (1991).

Robert Crumb - R. Crumb in short - was a spearhead of the American underground comix movement that emerged during the 1960s, and has remained one of the most relevant creators of alternative comics since. He became a cult figure through taboo-breaking stories strictly intended for adults. The anarchic, uncensored content shocked, thrilled and inspired many readers and other creators. By establishing independent comic books and magazines - Zap Comix being the trailblazer - he was able to get his work published, distributed and marketed, while keeping all of the rights himself. Crumb is renowned for his high quality artwork and gift for compelling storytelling. A biting social satirist and poignant observer of mankind, his signature creations are 'Fritz the Cat' (1965-1972) and 'Mr. Natural' (1966-2002), and his 'Keep on Truckin' image became an unintentional counterculture icon. While he has made many character-driven satirical stories ('The Snoid', 'Angelfood McSpade', 'Mode O'Day and Doggo'), he often surprised and polarized audiences with other narrative choices. Together with his second wife Aline Kominsky, he made audacious crossover tales about their private life, created under the 'Dirty Laundry Comix' and 'Aline & Bob' banners. Crumb additionally drew stories about his sexual escapades, family background, depressions and the horrid absurdity of life. Never far from controversy, he has been accused of obscenity, sexism, racism and misanthropy. He is capable of critical self-analysis, even finding black comedy in his own depraved and depressed thoughts. Crumb additionally made more life-embracing comics like his literary adaptations ('Inside Kafka', 'The Book of Genesis') and touching odes to 1920s-1930s music. This versatility helped him stay relevant and interesting outside the comic niche. Without ever compromising or selling out, Crumb has been able to make a living off his highly personal, sometimes offensive, and frequently bizarre comics. In the history of comics, he remains a key figure, reinventing the medium and himself many times.

'Walkin' The Streets' (Zap Comix #15, 2004).

Early life and family troubles
Robert Dennis Crumb was born in 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At age 12, he moved with his family to Milford, Delaware, where he spent the rest of his childhood. Crumb grew up in a highly dysfunctional family. His father had fought in South East Asia during World War II and visited Hiroshima five days after the atomic bombings. A strict, conservative man who hid his emotions in public, he regularly beat his sons. Crumb's mother was abused as a child. Working night shifts as a waitress, she took amphetamines, which gave her paranoid mood swings. Once she was institutionalized for a few months and received shock treatment. Crumb's parents were fighting constantly. Growing up in such an environment had a devastating effect on him and his siblings. Only his oldest sister, Carol, had a conventional life and career as pharmacist. Youngest sister Sandra was overly belittled by her mother and later grew, as Crumb described it, into "a staunch lesbian with an irrational hatred for men." Crumb's oldest brother Charles suffered from an overactive imagination and repressed pedo/homosexual tendencies. Younger brother Maxon turned into a celibate hermit, but found solace in drawing and painting. Robert himself grew into a deeply neurotic person with strange sexual fantasies that often repulsed him.

To the outside world, the Crumbs seemed like a decent all-American, church-going family. But Robert and Charles felt like social outcasts. They were bullied at school and unpopular with girls. They accepted black people in a time when most white people in their neighborhood were racists. As Charles grew older, he became more critical of politics, religion, corporate thinking and so-called traditional values. Since they had a close, brotherly bond, Robert was strongly influenced by Charles' personal tastes and opinions.

'My Troubles With Women, Part 2' (Hup #1, 1987).

Early influences
Besides guiding his younger brother to interesting literature, Charles was also directly responsible for Robert's cartooning career. He forced Robert to draw comics, based on his scripts. Some of these were fan-fiction based on the live-action Disney film 'Treasure Island' that Charles was obsessed with. Others were funny animal stories about self-created characters like Fuzzy Bunny, Donny Dog and Fritz the Cat. In 1958, the boys made three full issues of their own satirical comic magazine FOO!, modeled after Mad magazine. They unsuccessfully tried to sell copies door-to-door. As an artist, Robert Crumb was completely self-taught. He learned the craft by copying other cartoonists and had an early understanding on how to accurately convey perspective and proportion. Through Charles, he gained insight into story structure and the discipline to finish his work. Robert Crumb's comic influences ranged from crude pulp to sophisticated stories. He adored artists like Gene Ahern, Carl Barks, Billy DeBeck, Will Eisner, George Herriman, Walt Kelly, Winsor McCay, E.C. Segar, Sidney Smith, John Stanley and Harry J. Tuthill. As a teenager, he was blown away by the early issues of Mad Magazine. He described its founder and main scriptwriter Harvey Kurtzman as "the only person I ever idolized." Crumb followed Kurtzman's career beyond Mad and also singled out other Mad artists, like Jack Davis, Will Elder, Wallace Wood and Basil Wolverton, as strong graphic influences. He also enjoyed classic animators like Walt Disney, Max Fleischer, Tex Avery and Chuck Jones. Later in his career, Crumb looked up to fellow underground comix creators like Kim Deitch, Justin Green, Bill Griffith, Harvey Pekar, Art Spiegelman, Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson and his own wife Aline Kominsky. He additionally expressed admiration for Peter Bagge, Chester Brown, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Joyce Farmer, Jean Giraud, Phoebe Gloeckner, Fletcher HanksLorna Miller, Seth, Barbara Stok, Tobias Tak and Chris Ware.

As Crumb's artistic skills improved, he started drawing more realistically, finding inspiration in classic painters and graphic artists. Among his strongest influences in this field are Albrecht Dürer, Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rembrandt van Rijn, William Hogarth, James Gillray, Francisco Goya, Honoré Daumier, Thomas Nast, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Thomas Hart Benton, Christian Schad, Reginald Marsh, George Grosz, Otto Dix and Norman Rockwell.

'The Box' (Yellow Dog #3, 1968).

American Greetings
After graduating from high school in 1962, nineteen-year old Robert Crumb moved to Cleveland, Ohio. Through a state employment agency, he got a job as a greeting card designer at American Greetings. His boss was future 'Ziggy' cartoonist Tom Wilson. The company advised him to draw in a very cute style. His drawings endeared one young woman, Dana Morgan, so much that they became a couple and eventually married on 11 September 1964. In Cleveland, Crumb also met more like-minded people, such as Harvey Pekar, with whom he shared a passion for old jazz, blues and country music. Despite all this bliss, he felt stuck in a dead-end existence. In his spare time, he kept drawing comics out of escapism. At his friends' advice, he tried to get them published. After being rejected by many magazines, he was accepted by none other than his childhood hero, Harvey Kurtzman. In the January 1965 issue (#22) of Help! magazine, Kurtzman ran Crumb's city sketches made in Harlem, NYC, and a comic story starring his character 'Fritz the Cat'. Another 'Fritz' story was published in issue #24 of May 1965. The next issue (July 1965) featured a graphic report of Crumb's voyage to Bulgaria. At Kurtzman's commission, Crumb and his wife spent nine months in Europe. Unfortunately, by the time Crumb returned to New York City, Help! magazine was discontinued due to bad sales.

Fritz the Cat, by Robert Crumb
Album cover of 'Fritz the Cat'. 

Fritz the Cat
Fritz the Cat is Crumb's best-known character. Robert and his brother Charles created him in 1959, based on their house cat, Fred. Originally an innocent funny animal character, Fritz gradually evolved into a projection of what Crumb wished himself to be: a self-assured Casanova who did whatever he wanted. As Crumb became a young adult, the stories became more subversive and pornographic. In January 1965, Fritz the Cat made his official debut in Harvey Kurtzman's Help!, even though the stories were censored, since Kurtzman feared they would otherwise "end up in jail." It wasn't until February 1968, when Fritz the Cat appeared in the men’s magazine Cavalier, that Crumb could be more explicit.

Fritz is a socially conscious college student, who often raves about art, revolution and the rights of women and black people, yet hypocritically only wants to get high and have sex. In this incarnation, the stories became a satirical commentary on the naïvité of young, idealistic anarchists. 'Fritz the Cat' grew a cult following among young adults. The feature inspired many alternative cartoonists to create their own, free-spirited, unethical characters in taboo-breaking stories. Other 'Fritz' tales ran in the underground magazines Head Comix, Promethean Enterprises and Artistic Comics. A book compilation, 'R. Crumb's Fritz the Cat' (Ballantine Books, 1969), added an extra story. After a 1972 feature-length animation adaptation by Ralph Bakshi that Crumb disliked, he killed off Fritz in a final story, published in People's Comics (September 1972). Here, the hedonistic cat is exploited as a decadent Hollywood star until an insulted girlfriend murders him with an icepick. Today, the most complete 'Fritz' collection can be found in 'The Life and Death of Fritz the Cat' (Fantagraphics, 1993).

'Fritz the Cat', Head Comix, 1968. 

Move to San Francisco
Although Robert Crumb's career was off to a good start in Harvey Kurtzman's Help!, the magazine soon folded. Restless, Crumb stayed in New York City from the fall of 1965 until early 1966, after which he temporarily moved into a friend's apartment in Chicago. American Greetings was so satisfied with his work that they kept mailing him new assignments. Crumb found extra income by illustrating bubblegum cards for Topps, under the art direction of Woody Gelman. This job enabled him to survive financially and send money to his wife Dana in Cleveland, even though he didn't return to her for a year and a half. Severely depressed, Crumb started taking LSD to escape reality. Still legal at the time, the hallucinogenic drug stimulated his creativity and enforced his disgust about everyday "conventional" life. But it also brought out the worst of his subconscious dark thoughts. Crumb suffered bad trips, one lasting a half year when everything looked fuzzy and distorted. His drawing style became wobblier, the stories more surreal and characters more psychotic.

By the end of 1966, the guilt-ridden Crumb finally returned to his wife, who accepted him back. But the same old rut returned. In January 1967, when two friends invited him to move to San Francisco with him, Crumb instantly took the offer. He was so eager to leave that he let a friend inform his wife where he had gone. Three weeks later, he phoned Dana to come over too. In many ways, San Francisco was perfect for Crumb's temperament and career. In this center of the hippie subculture, his adult comics found their target audience in local counter culture magazines like Yarrowstalks and The East Village Other. The third issue of Yarrowstalks was even completely devoted to Robert Crumb's work. But since most of his comics for these magazines were unpaid, he still had to rely on his jobs with American Greetings and Topps.

Mr Natural, by Robert Crumb
'Mr. Natural' (1977).

Mr. Natural
In the first issue of Yarrowstalks (5 May 1967), Crumb debuted his most enduring character, Mr. Natural. A wise guru, Mr. Natural is a parody of real-life cult leaders who were in vogue in the late 1960s, like Timothy Leary and the Maharishi. The long-bearded mystic is no ordinary man. He is capable of magic and in tune with the cosmos, so people constantly ask him for answers to life's questions. A regular client is the neurotic Flakey Foont, who debuted in Yarrowstalks issue #3 (August 1967), and who Mr. Natural finds incredibly annoying. It frustrates him that Flakey is incapable of rising above himself, so he deliberately acts strange or gives him vague answers, driving Flakey into utter anger and despair. On some occasions, the wise man has helped his insecure client out; he even introduced him to his future wife Ruth Schwartz.

Fans often regard Flakey and Mr. Natural as Crumb's most sympathetic recurring characters, which could explain why they are effectively his longest-running creations. Their stories ran in many underground magazines throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, including Zap Comix, Slow Death Funnies, Bijou Funnies, Uneeda Comix and Your Hytone. Between 2 February and 29 November 1976, Crumb drew an exclusive weekly 'Mr. Natural' comic for the Village Voice, in which Flakey no longer needs Mr. Natural and sends him to a mental institution. After 40 weeks, the story was abruptly discontinued, because Crumb couldn't keep up the weekly deadlines, despite the good pay. He also felt hurt over a parody comic, 'Mr. Neutral', drawn by Robert Romagnoli in the magazine Punk, which implied that 'Mr. Natural' was past its prime.

Part of a 'Mr. Natural' strip from Mystic Funnies #2 (1999).

It took a full decade before Mr. Natural and Flakey returned. In Hup issue #1 (Last Gasp, 1987), the duo was enriched with a third recurring character: Cheryl Borck, AKA "Devil Girl". This sexy, majestic, but evil woman lives with Mr. Natural. Flakey is both frightened and aroused by her. Unfortunately for him, the wicked woman picked up Natural's knack for mentally torturing Flakey. Crumb envisioned the Devil Girl as a spoof of the typical femme fatales from early 20th century pulp who always got their comeuppance in the end, despite exciting audiences during the first half of the narratives. In the late 1980s, Crumb made a life-sized painted sculpture of her. At first he loved it, but after a while the statue began creeping him out, almost as if it was possessed, so he sold it. Mr. Natural made his final appearances in issues #2 (April 1999) and 3 (March 2002) of the magazine Mystic Funnies. All episodes are collected in 'The Book of Mr. Natural' (Fantagraphics, 2010).

Zap 0 by R. CrumbZap Comix 1 by R. Crumb
Zap Comix, issue #0 and #1.

Zap Comix
Having found cult success, in 1968 Crumb received an offer from Yarrowstalks editor Brian Zahn to launch his own independent comic magazine. As a cherry on the cake, he would receive complete creative freedom. Crumb drew an entire issue, but Zahn fled to India with his original artwork. Luckily Crumb had taken the precaution of copying his pages beforehand and sending them to a friend in New York City. He had also prepared half of a second issue, which he took to a more trustworthy publisher, Don Donahue, who released Crumb's comic on 25 February 1968, distributed by Apex Novelties. Titled Zap Comix, it was a mature parody of traditional family-friendly comic books, complete with fake ads for non-existing products. Zap became an unexpected bestseller, proving that there was a market for "adults only" comics. The first issues, #1 and #0 (released in that order), were effectively one-man magazines. Starting with issue #2, Crumb brought in more underground cartoonists. By the fourth issue, Zap had six extra permanent contributors: Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez and Robert Williams. Each tried to top each other with wild, personal and controversial stories. From 1969 until 1978, The Print Mint took over distribution. Zap saw a regular publication for two years, but after 1970 new issues appeared only sporadically. In the 1980s, Last Gasp distributed all new issues. In later years, only two new cartoonists joined in, Paul Mavrides in 1998 and Aline Kominsky in the final issue of November 2014, published by Fantagraphics.

Crumb had lost interest in Zap by 1970, but throughout the decades his colleagues kept pressuring him to provide new artwork for it. Thanks to his presence and Zap's brand recognition, each new issue sold well. Original copies are still highly sought after by collectors and reprinted to this day. 'The Complete Zap Comix Boxed Set' (Fantagraphics, 2014) collects all 16 issues, as well as unreleased material.

Trucking by Robert Crumb
'Keep on Truckin'', Zap Comix issue #1 (February 1968). Colorized version. 

Keep on Truckin'
In the first issue of Zap Comix (February 1968), Crumb drew a comic based on the Blind Boy Fuller song 'Truckin' My Blues Away'. Titled 'Keep on Truckin'', it featured a group of men who walk with their feet prominently placed in the foreground, while their bodies tilt backwards. The happy message struck an unexpected nerve with audiences. The image and the phrase were bootlegged repeatedly on shirts, posters and other merchandising. Bands like the Grateful Dead ('Truckin', 1970) and Deep Purple ('Space Truckin', 1972) based songs on it, and in 1971 John Lennon was photographed in Cannes imitating the pose. Crumb, however, intended 'Keep on Truckin' as a parody of naïve feel-good imagery. It irritated him that people misunderstood his images and exploited them without his permission. His lawyer sued A.A. Sales, one of the most prominent bootleggers, but despite a settlement, they ironically just "kept on truckin'". The situation went way out of hand when in 1973 a judge ruled that the image was in public domain, since Crumb didn't copyright it. Then the U.S. tax service – the I.R.S. – became suspicious and accused the cartoonist of tax fraud. All the while, Crumb had never seen a dime of the proceeds. In a 1977 retrial, he was finally able to prove that the image had been copyrighted in Zap all along, but in the meantime he had suffered severe financial problems.

'Keep on Truckin'’ remained the "curse of his life", as Crumb put it. Bootleggers never left it alone. In 2006, Crumb sued Amazon.com for unauthorized use of the logo. In 2020, Crumb was horrified to learn that slick salespeople used his artwork to promote U.S. president Donald Trump under the title 'Keep on Trumpin''. He felt doubly insulted since he utterly despised Trump and his politics. Crumb launched a counter-offensive, using reprints of his drawings to promote anti-Trump messages.

Other characters of the 1960s and 1970s
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Crumb created several other recurring characters. In issue #2 of Yarrowstalks (July 1967), the lewd dwarf Mr. Snoid, sometimes named 'The Snoid', made his debut. He is a sneaky, short-tempered, egotistical bully who takes advantage of everybody, especially women. In the same issue, Angelfood McSpade, an even more controversial and offensive character was introduced. Angelfood is a nude black African tribe woman who speaks in African-American slang. A naïve and uneducated nymphomaniac, she is often victim of sexual assault. Crumb intended her as a caricature of the big-lipped, ink black characters that were in vogue in many 19th-century and early 20th-century Western comics. In issue #3 of Yarrowstalks (August 1967), Eggs Ackley first smashed eggs in people's faces. In Zap Comix #1 (February 1968) the bald-headed mystic Shuman the Human was introduced, often as a rival to Mr. Natural. A group of adorable but sleazy and depraved teddy bears, nicknamed 'Those Cute Little Bearzy Wearzies', debuted on 26 January 1968 in The East Village Other. They enjoyed some adventures in Zap Comix and Yellow Dog. In 1975, the bears made a comeback in Arcade, but in longer, more existential stories. While all these bizarre characters had regular appearances in the late 1960s, Crumb retired most of them halfway through the 1970s. Only the Snoid lasted until 1979.

Cover design for the East Village Other, 11 February 1970. 

Early style, influence and success
Since Crumb had drawn comics intensively since childhood, he was fully drenched in the medium by the time his career took off. He could mimic its visual look and knew all the comic clichés by heart. Many of his 1960s and 1970s comics look like typical 1940s-1950s era children's comic books. Embracing a retro feel, his human characters have big floppy noses and huge feet. Animals and objects are anthropomorphized. Some look cute and goofy. A couple of them were directly modeled after once well-known comic characters. Mr. Natural, for instance, was based on The Little Hitchhiker from Gene Ahern's 'The Squirrel Cage' and Dr. Wotasnozzle from E.C. Segar's 'Thimble Theatre'. Sometimes iconic characters appear in cameos, such as Disney's Goofy and Little Helper, and Lowzie from Billy DeBeck's 'Barney Google'. Crumb uses them in wacky adventures and silly gags. In a parody of newspaper comics, he included smaller, unrelated gag strips at the top or the bottom of a page, like a traditional "topper comic". Crumb also included fake advertisements, and it is here that his inspiration from Mad Magazine shines through the most. Much like Mad, he brings pop culture characters into cynical and depraved situations.

Crumb's work and underground comix in general ought to be understood within the context of the repressive 1950s and free-spirited 1960s. Much like his readers, he had grown up with carefree and mostly bland children's media of the 1950s, when many topics were considered taboo. A decade later, Crumb drew everything that wasn't "allowed" in his comics. Since the medium was so associated with innocent children's entertainment, it was shocking but also liberating to see Crumb's characters swear, have sex, take drugs, discuss politics or die gruesome deaths. Although pornographic comics had existed before and family-friendly comics with layers for mature readers too, Crumb's personal and bizarre stories couldn't be pigeonholed into one of these genres. The explicit sex scenes are often part of a larger, thematically different story, where Crumb confronts the reader with dark satire or plain weird plot twists. All his attractive women have a very specific look: huge buttocks, thick legs and massive thighs. And if this wasn't enough to turn off some lustful readers, many stories feature cute cartoon characters and funny animals, giving the sex scenes a disturbing undertone.

Crumb was not the first underground comix artist. Before him, there had been cartoonists who made subversive mature stories in college magazines, fanzines and hippie publications. But Crumb was an innovator and a trendsetter. With Zap Comix, he proved that cartoonists didn't have to go to mainstream publishers and compromise their vision and earnings. They could just draw what they pleased and distribute their comics independently and through specialized stores, the so-called "head shops". The fact that one had to go "underground" to find these comics, coined their nickname and added an extra level of "forbidden pleasure". Through word-of-mouth advertising and promotion in countercultural magazines, underground comix effectively became a force on the market. The best part was that cartoonists could keep the rights and royalties in their own pocket.

'Whiteman vs. Bigfoot' (Homegrown Funnies, 1971).

Many alternative comic artists, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, have imitated Crumb's graphic look. From the black-and-white, cross-hatched lines to the anarchic, pornographic content. Many established their own independent books and magazines and spelled the word "comics" with the affix "-ix", to emphasize the "X-rating". Crumb himself brought out dozens himself, some one-shots, others running for a few issues. Together with S. Clay Wilson, he launched three issues of Snatch Comics (Apex Novelties, October 1968-August 1969) and one of Jiz Comics (Apex Novelties, 1969). Between 1968 and 1973, R. Crumb produced several solo titles that carried his comix, released through imprints like Viking Press, The Print Mint, Rip Off Press, Kitchen Sink Press and Apex Novelties. Among them were Head Comix, Despair, Uneeda, R. Crumb's Comics and Stories, Motor City Comics, Big Ass Comics, Home Grown Funnies, Your Hytone Comix, XYZ Comics, The People's Comics, Artistic Comics and Black and White Comics. Many were also distributed to other countries.

Among his peers, Crumb distinguished himself through his virtuoso style, easily switching between cartoony characters and more realistic imagery. His stories are well-staged, captivating and unpredictable. Dialogues are snappy and read like actual everyday conversations. As an attentive observer of people, Crumb is particularly good in portraying men, women and children of different classes, ages and personalities in a believable way, even when depicted through a satirical lens. His work reached many adults who normally didn't read comics. He even won the admiration of veteran cartoonists otherwise associated with conventional comics, like Dik Browne, Hergé, Ward Kimball, Don Martin, Charles M. Schulz and Willy Vandersteen.

The success enabled Crumb to quit his job at American Greetings. By 1968, he could draw whatever he wanted and have it published. Many magazines boosted their sales by running his art or featuring his name promptly on the cover. From the same exceptionally privileged position, he could actually choose assignments. He turned down some lucrative offers, including from Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine and The Rolling Stones. Sometimes he could really use the money, but he was rarely long without income. In 1969, he was able to buy a home in Potter Valley, California, where he lived until 1974. Crumb also kept much of his artwork, so he could sell it off if he needed quick cash.

'Our Lovely Home', from: Weirdo #23 (Summer 1988), crossover comic with Aline Kominsky. 

Aline Kominsky
One of Crumb's greatest thrills about being famous was that he now became attractive to women who previously ignored him. Since he often portrayed himself in his comics, he was recognizable to many readers. And since he didn't hide his strange sexual kinks, the women who liked him were already prepared to re-enact them in real life. Although Crumb had been married since 1964, he simply couldn't conform to a traditional marriage. Robert and his wife Dana maintained an open relationship, where they both saw other partners. In October 1971, Crumb met Aline Kominsky, who caught his attention because she happened to share the same look, ethnicity and almost the same name as one of the characters in his Snatch comic book, Honeybunch Kaminski. They became partners and, in 1978, they got married. Kominsky had a soft spot for geeky men. Contrary to many other women, she wasn't repulsed by his comics, but felt they were funny and honest. Likewise, Crumb admired her attitude, humor and independence. Kominsky drew underground comics in a similar raunchy, self-mocking style. Although Robert and Aline also had an open marriage, they also had a child together, Sophie Crumb (born in 1981). From his previous marriage with Dana, Crumb also had a child, Jesse (1968-2017), but at that time he wasn't ready for parenthood. When Sophie was born, Crumb felt more settled and prepared for this role.

Aline Kominsky had a strong impact on Crumb's life and career. She provided him with well-needed stability, boosting him up whenever he felt depressed. Kominsky encouraged Crumb to draw more autobiographical comics and express thought-provoking social commentary. The couple additionally made a long-running crossover comic series together, appearing under titles like 'Dirty Laundry Comix', 'Aline & Bob' or 'Robert and Aline'. In irregular production since 1973, the comics center on their private lives. Sharing both story and art duties together, Crumb and Kominsky deliberately drew in their own graphic styles. The contrast between Crumb's sophisticated and detailed artwork and Kominsky's more loose, crude approach led to a funny effect. In their stories, Crumb and Kominsky reveal things most couples would prefer to keep a secret, like arguments, worries and their sex life. Readers and colleagues were often surprised by their audacity. In many ways, the 'Robert and Aline' series is almost like an ongoing reality show before the phenomenon existed. Although they encouraged other comic creator couples to make similar "warts and all" comics, none dared to do the same. As such, 'Robert and Aline' remains a unique and barely imitated project. It says a lot about their honesty, mutual understanding and gift for self-mockery that they never divorced. For comedic effect, however, most scenes are presented in an exaggerated fashion. Robert often comes across as a misanthropic, non-conformist pervert and Aline as an imposing bully with inhuman super powers. They also abuse each other in ways that nobody would survive in real life. As soon as daughter Sophie could draw recognizable figures, she did occasional graphic contributions too. A compilation of Crumb and Kominsky's crossover comics can be found in 'Drawn Together: The Collected Works of R. and Aline Crumb' (Boni & Liveright, 2012).

1970s: new directions
Although Crumb achieved creative freedom, wealth, status and female attraction, by the early 1970s he again felt directionless. People kept after him for interviews and commercial offers. Visitors expected the self-described "America's favorite hippie cartoonist" to always be eager to get stoned with them. He hardly found time to get behind his drawing table. Eventually, Crumb became more assertive against unwanted visitors and in 1974 quit marijuana and LSD. It left him with more time for his comics, which resulted in more detailed drawings. However, around the same time, the underground comix movement was in a dead end. As the optimism of the golden sixties ebbed away, hippies made way for new subcultures. The young adults who previously bought his work had now matured and were less interested in sex-obsessed comics. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local communities could decide for themselves whether they would allow distribution of pornographic material. Many U.S. states banned underground comix or threatened stores that sold them with legal harassment. Several underground cartoonists either quit or toned down the shock comedy and sex scenes.

Crumb, however, wasn't the kind of artist to be muzzled. In that sense, underground comix had "spoiled him" to never hold himself back. Putting his strange, dark thoughts on paper helped keep Crumb’s mental state healthier. But since he had already broken so many taboos in his work, he really wondered what else he could do, besides repeating himself. Influenced by the work of Justin Green and encouraged by his new girlfriend Aline Kominsky, Crumb ventured into a more autobiographical direction. He delved deep into his inner psyche and analyzed his past and personal neuroses. The purely character-driven, sex-themed stories weren't neglected, he merely broadened his scope. Like a columnist, he used his drawing talent to discuss a variety of topics. It kept his work fresh and helped him avoid becoming just another has-been of the 1960s.

'The Young Crumb Story', from: American Splendor #4 (1979).

American Splendor
Between 1976 and 1987, Crumb regularly teamed up with the writer Harvey Pekar, who he had known since the early 1960s, and who had already written one story for him, 'Crazy Ed' in People's Comics (September 1972). Both men were open-hearted and cynical, while sharing a common passion for collecting old jazz and blues records. Pekar was interested in telling stories about real-life anecdotes and recognizable, ordinary, every-day events and conversations. Since he couldn't draw, he asked others to illustrate his scripts, published as comic books under the name 'American Splendor' (May 1976). While Crumb wasn't the only graphic artist who illustrated Pekar's stories, he was, for a long time, the most famous name. Thanks to his stature, he helped 'American Splendor' attract attention and develop into a long-running series. Crumb contributed to the issues #1 through 5, #7 through 9 and #12. After a decade, he felt the series could stand on his own legs and declined further commissions, feeling he didn't want to devote his career to being Harvey Pekar's house illustrator. All of Crumb's work with Pekar was available separately under the title 'Bob and Harv's Comics' (Running Press, 1996).

In 1980, Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly launched their classy comic anthology RAW, which became a haven for alternative cartoonists from all over the globe. Although Crumb and his wife Aline Kominsky also published in its pages, he felt it was "too arty farty". He wanted a comic magazine that was more down to earth, bringing the medium back to its pulp roots. Between March 1981 and the summer of 1993, Crumb released a new alternative comic magazine, Weirdo. It was mostly a vehicle for his own comics, but also offered room for his wife Aline and marked the print debut of Crumb's daughter Sophie and his brother Maxon. Apart from relatives, the magazine also featured work by established underground and alternative cartoonists, as well as new talent, like Peter Bagge, who also served as chief editor from the 10th to the 17th issue. Afterwards, Aline Kominsky took over until the final issue.

Published by Last Gasp, Weirdo was difficult to pigeonhole. Some comics by Crumb featured sharp social satire, like 'Trash: What Do We Throw Away' (issue #6, Summer 1982), about the trash disposal problem and its effects on the environment. Others were allegories, like 'People… You Gotta Love 'Em!' (issue #26, Fall 1989), targeting overpopulation. Some comics were autobiographical, like 'Footsy' (issue #20, Spring 1987), dealing with high school memories. Others analytical ('I Remember the Sixties', issue #4, February 1982) or comic adaptations of literary works, such as Samuel Boswell's Diary (issue #3, Fall 1981). Crumb also reprinted obscure comics by unknown authors he had found in low-circulation publications. He looked even further in the past, digging up prototypical comics from previous centuries.

Covers for Weirdo issues #11 (Fall, 1984) and #26 (Fall, 1989). 

Weirdo featured one actual new character-based series by Crumb, titled 'Mode O'Day and Doggo'. Launched in issue #9 (Winter 1983), it stars an ambitious but bitchy woman, Mode O'Day. The stories are set in a strange world where humans and anthropomorphic animals live together. Mode's confidential advisor is Doggo, a canine-faced loner who can be described as a literal "dirty dog". He leads a sleazy existence, drinking booze and watching porn. Although Mode looks down on him, he is the only person she can trust and boss around for personal gain. Doggo's best friend is a pseudo-intellectual porpoise, Porpy, who is even geekier than him. In most episodes, Mode tries to move up in society with the help of Doggo, but utterly fails.

The magazine lived up to its title through its many surreal covers and stories. In the end, this overall oddity always kept it a cult magazine. And even his small devoted fan base sometimes dropped off, feeling offended by some of the content. Crumb once made a parody of missing children printed on milk cartons in the hope of finding these kids. However, this ad spoof was rejected by publisher Last Gasp, and eventually printed in National Lampoon magazine. While Weirdo's content may have been hit-and-miss, it did offer some of the most interesting and versatile alternative comics from that era. It was also Crumb's longest-running magazine in terms of issues. In 2019, Jon B. Booke published a book about its history, 'The Book of Weirdo' (Last Gasp, 2019), with a foreword by Drew Friedman.

Between February 1986 and June 1992, Crumb released new comics in his own short-lived publication Hup, published by Last Gasp. Hup is best remembered for marking the comeback of Mr. Natural after a decade, though his presence is somewhat overshadowed by his new girlfriend Cheryl Borck, AKA "The Devil Girl". Most stories in Hup were humorous, like Crumb's semi-ironic fantasy 'If I Were A King' (Hup #2, 1987), in which he imagines himself as a king who can do and get whatever he wants. In 'Point the Finger' (Hup #3, November 1989), Crumb satirizes business mogul Donald Trump. Crumb had just read his ghost-written book 'The Art of the Deal' and felt even more disgusted by Trump's personality than before. In the late 2010s, this particular comic drew more attention when Trump became President of the United States.

Other stories in Hup are more contemplative, such as 'My Troubles With Women, Part 2' (Hup #1, February 1986), 'The Story of My Life' (Hup #3, November 1989) and 'You Can't Have Them All: Magnificent Specimens I Have Seen' (Hup #4, 1992), in which Crumb examines his obsessions with the opposite sex. His existential angst is prominent in 'Can You Stand Alone and Face Up to the Universe?' (Hup #4, June 1992) and an adaptation of a chapter from Jean-Paul Sartre's novel 'Nausea' (Hup #3, November 1989). Hup only lasted four issues, but in issue #3 Crumb did receive a congratulatory letter from Disney animator Ward Kimball.

'Pointing the Finger' (Hup #3, 1989), Robert Crumb confronts Donald Trump. 

Publications in the 1990s and 2000s
In the 1990s and 2000s, Robert Crumb published two other short-lived publications. Id (Fantagraphics, 1990-1991) lasted three issues and mostly featured one-shot cartoons, sketches and a couple of comics about twisted sex fantasies and neuroses. A strange project was the ironically entitled Art & Beauty Magazine (1996, 2003, 2016), released by Kitchen Sink Press and David Zwirner Books. It mostly featured realistic portraits of attractive women, often copied from classic paintings, fashion photographs, press clippings or snapshots sent to Crumb by fans. Each image came with quotes by famous authors. Some images celebrate feminine splendor, others degrade it. Between January 1997 and March 2002, Fantagraphics published another three-issue Crumb-filled magazine, Mystic Funnies. The stories ranged from one-shot humor stories to episodes of Mr. Natural, Flakey Foont and a big-nosed imbecile named 'The Moron', trying to cope with life. Crumb is a regular contributor to the art magazine Mineshaft starting with  issue #5 (December 2000). He usually draws sketches, like his 2009 series 'Excerpts from R. Crumb's Dream Diary', based on strange personal dreams and nightmares.

Psycho-analytical comics
Early in his career, Crumb drew strange stories about characters in odd situations, some influenced by LSD and S. Clay Wilson's similar stream-of-consciousness comics. It was only later when Crumb realized that many of his bizarre characters and images were in fact deeply rooted in his personal background. Some were unintentionally inspired by childhood events, family members or his own sexual obsessions. By reading more psycho-analytical literature, Crumb started to explore the human psyche, and to a larger degree his own, in comics that didn't revolve around fictional creations. Some looked back on his dysfunctional background ('Walkin' the Streets' in Zap Comix issue #15) or his love-hate relationship with women ('My Troubles With Women', Zap, Hup). In the same passionate manner he adapted chapters from Richard von Krafft-Ebing's book 'Psychopathia Sexualis', about people with odd sexual fetishes, printed in Weirdo issue #13 (Summer 1985). Authors with neurotic backgrounds, like Franz Kafka, or ones who wrote about existential angst (Jean-Paul Sartre's 'Nausea', Hup, November 1989) or strange mental experiences ('The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick', Weirdo 17, Summer 1986), also intrigued him. Crumb also made dozens of one-panel illustrations about the inner realm of the mind, weird sex fantasies and the dread he sometimes feels about life. Many ran in the aptly titled magazine Id (1990-1991).

Like most people, he regularly experienced strange dreams and nightmares that made him wonder about their meaning afterwards. As early as the mid-1960s, he started writing them down - along with the exact date – often minutes after he woke up. He tried to recapture the imagery in quick sketches. Starting in 2009, excerpts were first published in the art magazine Mineshaft. In 2018, he bundled them all in the book 'R. Crumb's Dream Diary' (Eleara Press, 2018), though sometimes with more fleshed out texts and artwork than his original quick scribblings. He also added possible explanations for his dreams, like things he experienced or witnessed in real life. The end result is an intriguing collection of dreams that are sometimes funny ('Dream of Being Kissed by George Bush'), often pornographic and frequently horrifying.

'That's Life' (Arcade, issue #3, Fall 1975).

Odes to music
While Crumb is often associated with the hippie era, he never enjoyed being part of that scene. Instead, he has a strong nostalgia for media and memorabilia from long before he was born. Crumb is especially passionate about the 1920s and 1930s. He has collected several books, photographs, films, toys, furniture, posters, paintings and comics about and from this specific era. The old-fashioned artist is particularly lyrical about "old music", one of the "few things that actually gives me a love for mankind." As a child, he loved Marvin Hatley's background music in 'The Little Rascals' and 'Laurel & Hardy' shorts. In his teen years, he discovered jazz, blues and country from between the two world wars. He became a lifelong record collector of 1920s and early 1930s music, making no distinction in genres. In Crumb's opinion, the musicians on these obscure singles have an authenticity that is nowadays lost. Some carried on traditions of several generations before them. Many played for their own delight, regardless of skill, pretense or financial benefit. The raw, heartfelt sound of this long gone era had a melancholic impact on Crumb. He felt that most music from the mid-1930s on suffered from commercialism, making it too slick and premeditated for his taste.

In some of his 1960s and early 1970s comics, Crumb quoted old song lyrics. From the mid-1970s on, he made direct graphic homages to old jazz and blues. 'That's Life' (Arcade #3, Fall 1975), is a bittersweet archetypal tale about how a 1930s African-American blues musician dies a short and inglorious life, only finding posthumous appreciation with record collectors. 'Patton' (Zap Comix #11, February 1985) is a short biopic about Delta blues legend Charlie Patton, while 'Jelly Roll Morton's Voodoo Curse' (Raw #7, May 1985) delves into a strange backstory about jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton's final years. Crumb also explained his love for old music and contempt for modern music in the editorial comics 'The Old Songs Are The Best Songs' (Weirdo #5, May 1982), 'Where Has It Gone, All the Beautiful Music of Our Grandparents?' (Weirdo #14, Fall 1985) and 'Street Musicians' (The New Yorker, 19 August 1996). He additionally provided illustrations for a series of biographical cards about notable musicians, released by Yazoo. These three collections, 'Heroes of Blues' (1980), 'Early Jazz Greats' (1982) and 'Pioneers of Country Music' (1985) were later all compiled in book form by Harry N. Abrams as 'Heroes of Blues, Jazz and Country' (2006).

It’s not surprising that Crumb has also designed album covers for compilations and re-releases of 1920s-1930s music. Some were compiled from his own rare collection for digital restoration and musical preservation. Occasionally, Crumb has been a guest radio DJ, playing some of these singles on the radio. In early 2003, he appeared on the BBC Radio 3 show 'Sweet Shellac'. A compilation of these shows can be found on the album 'R. Crumb's Sweet Shellac' (2003). In 2012, he was guest DJ in five episodes of the podcast series 'John's Old Time Radio Show', hosted by John Heneghan.

'Philip K. Dick’s Hallucinatory Spiritual Experience' (Weirdo #17, Summer 1986).

Comic adaptations of literary works
A huge bookworm, Crumb has often adapted works of literature in comic format. Cult novelist Charles Bukowski scripted his comic 'Bop Bop Against that Curtain' (Arcade issue #3, Fall 1975), while Crumb returned the favor by illustrating Bukowski's short stories 'Bring Me Your Love' (1988), 'There's No Business' (1997) and 'The Captain Is Out to Lunch and the Sailors Have Taken Over the Ship' (1998). Crumb's magazine Weirdo frequently featured literary adaptations in comic form. In issue #3 (September 1981), he visualized excerpts from 18th-century diarist Samuel Boswell's London Journal, making nods to the graphic style of William Hogarth. In the 13th issue (Summer 1985), Crumb illustrated chapters from Richard von Krafft-Ebing's late-19th-century sexologist manual 'Psychopathia Sexuals', about medical cases with strange fetishes. Weirdo #19 (Winter 1986), featured an adaptation of the fairy tale 'Mother Hulda' by The Brothers Grimm. While science fiction isn't Crumb's thing, he was intrigued by author Philip K. Dick, who once had a strange month-long, LSD-induced hallucination about living in ancient Judea. Crumb drew a comic about it, 'The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick' (issue #17, Summer 1986), which has become one of his most reprinted stories. In issue #3 of Hup (November 1989), the artist also visualized a chapter from Jean-Paul Sartre's existential novel 'La Nausée' ('Nausea').

One of Crumb's most ambitious projects was 'Introducing Kafka' (Totem Books, 1993, reprinted in 2005 as 'R. Crumb's Kafka' and in 2007 as 'Kafka' by Fantagraphics). The book is an illustrated essay about novelist Franz Kafka, written by David Zane Mairowitz, and partially a written text, partially a comic book. Mairowitz' analysis of Kafka's life, anxieties and the parallels with his short stories and novels come with illustrations by Robert Crumb. Kafka's actual stories are presented in comic book format. Mairowitz later also collaborated with cartoonist Jaromír Svejdík on a graphic novelization of Kafka's magnum opus 'The Castle', published in 2013.

'The Book of Genesis' (2009).

In 2009, Crumb surprised many fans by adapting the biblical chapter Genesis into a graphic novel, 'The Book of Genesis' (W.W. Norton & Company, 2009). Given his reputation, many expected an ironic, iconoclastic deconstruction of the "Book of All Books". Indeed, Crumb originally followed this approach. He drew a two-page comic about Adam and Eve in a comical, pornographic style and toyed with the idea of turning God into an African-American woman. But eventually Crumb decided it would be better to make a serious, straightforward adaptation, just to make readers realize how many strange things are present in the original text. Previous Bible reprints - comic book adaptations included - had often shortened, simplified or altered scenes. Crumb did a lot of research about the time period and consulted biblical scholars. To evoke a spiritual atmosphere, he spent several weeks living in a shepherd's hut in the French mountains. Only his wife sometimes interrupted his hermit-like working methods to bring him food.

'The Book of Genesis' was released to much acclaim. It became the bestselling work of his entire career and was translated all over the globe. Though Crumb was the first to put it all into perspective. He said that many religious people obviously only bought it because it was a biblical adaptation. All while devout Jewish readers presumably wouldn't like it, because it portrays God, and many equally devout Christians would be offended by his blasé portrayal of nudity and sex. The book came with an epilogue, in which Crumb and historians dissected Genesis in a series of footnotes. They analyzed how and why the people who wrote the original text presented the events in this particular way. The analysis also tied in with his personal convictions. Despite being a lapsed Catholic, who has drawn many blasphemous scenes and frequently criticized organized religion, Crumb still professes a belief in a God. But at the same time, he considered the Bible to be written by humans, not the direct word of a God. In his opinion, this also explains many contradictions and strange statements in the Bible.

Parodies of other comics
Influenced by Mad magazine, Crumb sometimes made one-shot parody comics. In Uneeda Comix (August 1970) he spoofed the popular bubble gum comic 'The Dubble Bubble Kids' by Ray Thompson. In the final issue of Bijou Funnies (November 1973), he parodied Jay Lynch's 'Nard 'n' Pat' as 'Pard 'n' Nat'. He made a modernized version of the classic fairy tale 'Goldilocks' (Weirdo #11, Fall 1984) and mocked typical superhero stories with 'The Mighty Power Fems Versus the Horrible Homunculi' (Hup 2, July 1987). Crumb drew a vicious parody of Reed Waller and Kate Worley's 'Omaha The Cat Dancer' in Weirdo 24 (Winter 1988). His homage to Harvey Kurtzman, published in Harvey Kurtzman's Strange Adventures (1990) imitated Kurtzman's graphic style. In 1992 Crumb drew a porn parody of Émile-Joseph Pinchon's classic French comic series 'Bécassine' that, according to his liner notes, "will doubtless make Mr. Pinchon turn over in his grave." In issue #27 (April 1997) of Hate, Peter Bagge scripted and Crumb drew 'Caffy!', a parody of Cathy Guisewhite's newspaper comic 'Cathy'. Crumb drew his final spoof in issue #3 (March 2002) of Mystic Funnies, ridiculing Al Fagaly's funny animal comic 'Super Duck'.

1996 drawing by Robert Crumb of his French hometown Sauve.

Move to France
In 1991, the Crumb family moved to France, settling in Sauve, a village nestled in the Cévennes foothills. As a lifelong Francophile, Aline Kominsky motivated her husband to move. The couple financed the trip by selling original artwork and publishing some of Crumb's sketchbooks. Living in the California town of Winters, they increasingly felt like outsiders. Their bohemian lifestyle, cultural tastes, political-social opinions and lack of religion weren't appreciated by the locals. The couple also felt saddened by how local Californian nature was rapidly industrialized. At first, Crumb was reluctant to move, since his work is so defined by his country of birth. But he quickly got to like his new environment. As an artist, he felt more accepted in France than in his home country, and that Europe as a whole has more respect for its centuries-old cultural heritage and nature. His daughter once remarked that they weren't even the most eccentric people in Sauve. In interviews, Crumb stated that whenever he revisited the USA, it's always enjoyable at first, but after a few days he automatically hates it for the same reasons he originally left it.

'Angelfood McDevilsfood in Backwater Blues' (Home Grown Funnies #1, January 1971), starring Angelfood McSpade and The Snoid. 

Throughout his career, Crumb has never been out of controversy. Whether puritan conservatives, or politically correct progressives - or something in between - there have always been people offended by his work. Even his fans were sometimes troubled by the images and stories he put on paper. In the late 2010s, several modern alternative cartoonists started to distance themselves from Crumb's work and opinions. His worldview has been criticized as misanthropic, sexist and racist. Crumb never tried to be liked by the masses and therefore doesn't hold back his polarizing opinions. In his comics and during interviews, he regularly criticized the U.S. government, corporate thinking, organized religion and most of modern society. The artist wants a complete return to the rural communities and traditional craftsmanship of the past, sometimes calling himself a Communist. His often reprinted pantomime comic 'A Short History of America' (Apex Novelties, February 1979) shows how U.S. nature was gradually replaced by ugly, urban landscapes. He also advocates belief in various conspiracy theories. Suffering from depression, Crumb admitted that he sometimes contemplated suicide. Being able to express his feelings in drawings helped him clear his mind, but certainly didn't endear him to more idealistic people.

Many sex scenes in his comics have been contested for their filthiness. The hardcore pornography sets off general readers. He has sexualized goofy cartoon characters, anthropomorphic animals and demonesses. Women are often degraded or treated as lust objects. A disturbing recurring situation in his comics depicts them being stuck, tied up, asleep or unconscious, so they can be taken advantage of. His characters Fritz the Cat and The Snoid are the worst offenders, but many other horny men have violated women in his comics as well. Sometimes Crumb portrayed himself in these situations too. A fan once gave Crumb a list of the amount of times that women in his comics are portrayed without a head, or decapitated. It even shocked Crumb. Critics feel that some of these scenes can't be classified as "satire", but are clearly random masturbation fantasies. Another persistent accusation is racism in Crumb’s comics. Several of his 1960s and 1970s comics depict black people as big-lipped caricatures talking jive. His African-American nude tribal woman Angelfood McSpade is the best-known example. Also cited as racist is the deliberately offensive, pitch black satire 'When the Niggers/Goddamn Jews Take Over America' (Weirdo issue #28, Summer 1993).

'Robert Crumb vs. The Sisterhood' (Black and White Comics, June 1973). 

Some of Crumb's comics have been banned. In 1969, gallery owner Simon Lowinsky was charged with obscenity for exhibiting Crumb's original drawings. Crumb's story 'Joe Blow' (Zap Comix #4, 1969), in which an all-American family has incestuous relationships, caused a similar trial against publisher Print Mint. When Lowinsky was acquitted, the case against Print Mint was dropped. In January 1995, 500 copies of Crumb's 'My Troubles with Women', ordered by British publisher Knockabout Comics, were confiscated by the British customs at Heathrow airport for containing obscenity, which led to a court case. Thanks to a testimony by comic critic Paul Gravett, Knockabout won the case and received the books back. In August 2011, an Australian tabloid magazine branded Crumb a "sex pervert". It caused such uproar that the artist canceled his planned visit to Sydney. Even today, Crumb's comics aren't available in some U.S. states and certain countries.

A major problem with Crumb's comics is that they are often read outside their original historical context and therefore misunderstood, especially as time marches on. In the late 1960s and 1970s, many underground comix artists reacted against the repressive society they were brought up in, including the comic censorship of the Comics Code. As a result, they vented a lot of anger and frustrations in their comics. Artists like Crumb (strongly influenced by S. Clay Wilson in this field), depicted numerous taboos to see what he could get away with. Most scenes of hardcore porn, murder, rape, incest, necrophilia and racism were purely done for shock value. Since the stories ran in hippie magazines, Crumb counted on the fact that their predominantly left-wing progressive readers would understand the dark satire behind them. After all, most were from the same generation. Part of the thrill was that older, right-wing conservative generations would be utterly outraged by these obscene comics. In a way, Crumb and his colleagues showed things that happened in real life, instead of the bland, chaste, idealistic world as presented in most mainstream media.

Other stories by Crumb are actually parodies of the naïve clichés and stereotypes found in old comics. In Zap Comix #3 (Fall 1968), the two-page 'Street Corner Daze', warns "young readers" of the dangers of heroin, presented as an ironic, child-like cautionary tale, complete with Mr. Natural being the voice of reason. Another example is 'On the Bum Again' (August 1970), in which Big Baby, an adult woman who still dresses and behaves like a baby, gives Mr. Natural a blowjob. The story isn't about pedophilia, but a parody of similar comic book babies with mature minds, like Billy DeBeck's Bunky and E.C. Segar's Swee'pea. Crumb just brings the absurdity of this concept to a logical end. The same can be said about his use of outdated caricatures of black people. Crumb often defended himself that he didn't invent these things: they were all once part of Western culture. He merely regurgitates the nonsense he was brought up on. Or, in his words: "I spent my whole childhood absorbing so much crap that my personality and mind are saturated with it. God only knows if that affects you physically!" Transported to a modern, mature context, all these archetypes feel very weird and disturbing. Crumb has, however, also used these retro elements in less offensive ways. In issue #6 of Arcade (Summer 1976), a cute bear couple goes through a series of banal, everyday events, deliberately done in a small-sized, monotonous lay-out. It's a more realistic depiction of how a real-life couple would live and a satire on life's repetitiveness.

What separates Crumb from other controversial artists is that he has regularly apologized for some of the things he drew in the past. He admitted that some of his women-unfriendly scenes were just an expression of his sexual frustrations. He even analyzed the roots of his animosity in the self-critical stories 'My Troubles With Women' (volume 1, Zap Comix 10 [1982], volume 2, Hup 1 [February 1986]). Crumb largely discontinued using racial caricatures from the mid-1970s on, going for a more realistic portrayal of people. While his dark satire 'While the Niggers/Goddamn Jews Take Over America' (Weirdo #28, Summer 1993), was predictably used by white supremacists as a propaganda tool, Crumb stated in a 9 October 1994 interview with The Chicago Tribune that he wasn't surprised: "it shows how stupid those people are." As early as 1965, Crumb drew a clever satire of race politics in the Fritz the Cat story 'Fritz Bugs Out'. Some of his most passionate comics have expressed his love for black jazz and blues musicians. He drew a complete graphic novel about Jewish-Czech writer Franz Kafka. Two of his wives, Dana Crumb and Aline Kominsky, and his good friend Terry Zwigoff were Jewish. Many of his publishers, lawyers and accountants had the same heritage too.

Crumb also contested that people often confuse him with his comic book persona. People seem to think they "know" him, by taking everything in his comics literally. In the same way, he is often confronted with stories he drew in the 1960s and 1970s, while his career has spanned for over more than half a century, showing very different sides of his character. In 'I'm Grateful, I'm Grateful' (Weirdo #25, Summer 1989), he summarizes the things he is actually happy about in his life. While it's true that there is enough offensive material by Crumb to fill two entire books: 'Bible of Filth' (Futuropolis, 1986) and 'R. Crumb's Sex Obsessions' (Taschen, 2007), there has also been enough more gentle work to fill another: 'The Sweeter Side Side of R. Crumb' (W.W. Norton & Company, 2011). In general, fans have defended Crumb for at least being consistent in drawing what's on his mind and being as hard on himself as anybody else. Alison Bechdel even praised Crumb: "If everybody were as honest in their work, it'd be a better world."

Zwigoff by Robert Crumb
Artwork by Robert Crumb, dedicated to his friend Terry Zwigoff (who also directed the 1994 'Crumb' documentary.)

Graphic and written contributions 
Robert Crumb was among many cartoonists to pay graphic tribute to Don Dohler's character ProJunior in the one-shot comic 'ProJunior' (October 1971). He later also honored underground comics lawyer Albert Morse in another one-shot issue, 'Morse's Funnies' (Albert Morse, 1974). He made a contribution to 'El Perfecto' (Print Mint, 1973), a book to raise funds for the defense of drug guru Timothy Leary, who was facing prison time for drug possession, but eventually avoided a trial. Crumb additionally illustrated the cover of a January 1975 issue of Coyote Growls, the newsletter of the sex workers organization Coyote. With Gary Dumm as inker, he also livened up an essay by Harvey Pekar, 'The Man Who Changed Comics', paying homage to Siegel & Shuster, and published in 'Superman At 50' (Octavia Press, 1987) and 'What Superman Means To Me' (Snarf, 12 June 1989). Crumb also contributed to AARGH (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia, 1988) and the collective crossover comic The Narrative Corpse (1995), originally instigated by Art Spiegelman. He contributed to the crossover book, 'Jamming with Zograf' (Pancevo, 2002), edited by Aleksandar Zograf.

Crumb wrote the foreword to Kurtzman Komix (September 1976), a reprint of Harvey Kurtzman's best work. He also penned a preface to Dori Seda's 'Lonely Nights Comics: Stories To Read When The Couple Next Door Is Fucking Too Loud' (Last Gasp, 1986), Phoebe Gloeckner's 'A Child's Life and Other Stories' (North Atlantic Books, 1998), Craig Yoe's 'Clean Cartoonists' Dirty Drawings' (Last Gasp, 2007), Gary Groth's 'Norman Pettingill: Backwoods Humorist' (Fantagraphics, 2010), Camilo Solano's 'Desengano' (self-published 2015) and Rick Trembles' 'The Rick Trembles' Weakly Dispatch' (Conundrum Press, 2022). Crumb helped out family members with prefaces to 'Maxon's Poe: Seven Stories and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe' (1997) by Maxon Crumb and 'Sophie Crumb: Evolution Of A Crazy Artist' (2010) by Sophie Crumb.

Crumb was one of several comics artists interviewed for the documentaries 'Comic Book Confidential' (1988) and 'Sex in the Comics' (2012). He also appeared in 'Robert Williams. Mr. Bitchin'' (2010), about Robert Williams, and 'Trashman. The Art of Spain Rodriguez' (2012), about Spain Rodriguez. Crumb was additionally interviewed in a 1992 episode of 'Rhythms of the World' about the jazz culture in New Orleans. He played himself in an episode of the TV series 'Split Screen', 'Kevin & Crumb at the Quick Stop', where Kevin Smith meets him in a store. Crumb also appeared in the documentary, 'Chelsea on the Rocks' (2008), about the Chelsea Hotel.

'The Story of Oggie and the Beanstalk' (The Yum Yum Book, 1975).

Book illustrations
At the commission of American Greetings, Crumb illustrated the storybook 'The Sad Book, A Collection of Sad Stories' (American Greetings, 1967) by John P. Gibbons. In 1975, he released 'R. Crumb's The Yum Yum Book' (Scrimshaw Press, 1975), a children's picture/comic book originally made during his early years at American Greetings. The fairy tale follows a toad, Oggie, who is dissatisfied with college life and discovers a paradise when climbing a beanstalk. But in typical Crumb fashion, even there he wonders whether he is truly happy. The book was reprinted in 1995 as 'Big Yum Yum Book: The Story of Oggie and the Beanstalk' (Snow Lion Graphics, 1995), with a foreword by Harvey Pekar. More culinary treats followed when he illustrated the pages of his first wife Dana Morgan's cookbook 'Eat It' (Bellerophon, 1974).

'Cheap Thrills' album cover (1968). The cyclops in the left corner was inspired by the underground posters of colleague John Thompson.

Album covers and other music-related art
Crumb is a productive designer of album covers, most of them promoting music from the 1920s and 1930s. His most uncharacteristic record cover also happens to be his most famous: 'Cheap Thrills' (1968) by the blues rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. He wasn't a fan of their music, but did it as a favor for their lead singer Janis Joplin. The image he intended as the back cover, was eventually used for the front. It features the band members and individual tracks in a comic book lay-out. Over the years, 'Cheap Thrills' has been frequently parodied by other (album cover) designers, including Herb Trimpe in Not Brand Echh (Marvel, 1968), W.T. Vinson ('KYA 21 Golden Gate Greats, Volume Two', 1969), Pat Moriarty ('Califuneral' by Fat Tuesday, 1992), Rick Meyerowitz ('Cheep Thrills: The Silliest Songs of Sesame Street', 1994 - an official 'Sesame Street' album!) and by Eric Cougrand to promote the 2000 Comics Festival in Angoulême. Hell C. and cartoonist Filips also spoofed 'Cheap Thrills' on the cover of their comic book 'La Revanche du Rocker Masqué' (1993). In 2009, Marc Palm drew another Muppet-inspired 'Cheap Thrills' parody titled 'Muppets Rawk'. The same year an unknown Japanese artist made another parody for the album 'Signs' by Glory Hill. In 2012, Belgian techno band Lords of Acid had their album cover for 'Deep Chills' illustrated by Karl Kotas.

Although Crumb's artwork has been featured on several bootleg rock albums in the 1960s and 1970s, these were mostly reprints, and used without his knowledge or permission. The only rock albums Crumb officially designed since 'Cheap Thrills' are the back covers of Diane Tell's 'Marilyn Monteuil' (1991) and Dollhouse's 'Oh My People' (2009). Another unusual music-related contribution were his liner notes to Mats Gustafson's free jazz cover album 'Torturing The Saxophone' (2014), that basically describe how much he hated the music on that record. Yet Gustafson took it as a compliment. Listing all of Crumb's album cover designs for various old-time jazz, blues, country, film soundtracks and world music would take up too much space, but an excellent overview can be found in 'R. Crumb. The Complete Record Cover Collection' (W.W. Norton & Company, 2012).

In 1986, Crumb illustrated the movie poster for a documentary about blues musician Louie Bluie, 'Louie Bluie', made by his friend Terry Zwigoff. He also appeared in the pages of Alexander Theroux' book 'Grammar of Rock: Art and Artlessness in 20th Century Pop Lyrics' (Fantagraphics, 2013), about the marvels of pop lyrics.

Album cover for 'Harmonica Blues' (Yazoo Records, 1976).

Robert Crumb's own musical career
Also a musician himself, Robert Crumb is skilled in playing the piano, banjo and mandolin. He played in the retro bluegrass bands The Good Tone Banjo Boys (with Danny Wheetman) and Armstrong's Pasadenians, the latter led by fellow underground cartoonist Robert Armstrong. Both bands also released a 1972 joint single, in which they respectively covered the standards 'The Ducks Yas Yas' and 'Beautiful Missouri Waltz'. Crumb, Armstrong and Allan Dodge also formed the folk band Robert Crumb and His Keep on Truckin' Orchestra, who brought out the single 'River Blues/Wisconsin Wiggles' (1972). Crumb's best-known musical group is Robert Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, who, between 1974 and 1978, brought out three albums and one single. Over the decades, they performed at many public events where Crumb was an invitee. Apart from Armstrong, another well-known member is Terry Zwigoff, who later made the documentary film 'Crumb' (1994).

Crumb was also a regular collaborator with the French jazz ensemble Les Primitifs Du Futur and the folk group Eden & John's East River String Band. He performed with the retro folk band McCamy's Melody Sheiks on their only album, 'There's More Pretty Girls Than One' (2011), and with the blues band John Heneghan & His Henpecked Husband on their sole album 'Ever Felt the Pain?' (2016). The compilation album 'Chimpin' The Blues' (2013) features both old Delta blues songs and covers played by Crumb and Jerry Zolten. Crumb has also performed with his wife Aline Kominsky and daughter Sophie Crumb, under the name The Crumb Family. Robert and Sophie also played in a band titled Millie's Moochers. A compilation of Crumb's performances in many of the mentioned bands can be found on the free CD 'R. Crumb's Music Sampler', that came with each copy of the book 'The R. Crumb Handbook' (MQ Publications, 2005) by Peter Poplaski.

Fritz the Cat by R. Crumb
The end of Fritz the Cat, following Robert Crumb's dissatisfaction with the Ralph Bakshi movie adaptation, from 'Fritz the Cat Superstar' (People's Comics, September 1972). 

Media adaptations
Robert Crumb and his work have been the subject of several media adaptations. In 1972, 'Fritz the Cat' was adapted into an animated feature by Ralph Bakshi, which Crumb hated so much that he actually killed off Fritz in his next story 'Fritz the Cat Superstar' (People's Comics, September 1972). His hatred was predictable, since Crumb had been reluctant from the start and wasn't involved in the production. Many fans also unfairly blamed him for selling out, for instance Michael O'Donoghue and Randall Enos in their vicious comic strip parody of the film for National Lampoon magazine. A movie sequel, 'The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat' (1974), still hit theaters, albeit not directed by Bakshi, but by Robert Taylor. Crumb tried to sue, but legally there was nothing he could do. Luckily for him, the picture flopped, ending the milking of his disowned character. In 1978, John Seman directed a porn movie, 'Up in Flames', which featured both Mr. Natural and Gilbert Shelton's 'The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers'. None of the authors were informed and the film never rose above obscurity.

Twice Crumb was approached to adapt his comic story 'Whiteman Meets Bigfoot' into a film. In 1988, he agreed to an offer by porn producers the Mitchell Brothers. Crumb and Terry Zwigoff adapted the story into a screenplay, 'Sassy', while Crumb designed promotional artwork. In the end, the project fell through because no producer believed in it. Still, it wasn't a total waste of time, as Crumb claimed to have learned more about story structure, which helped him write tighter comic scripts.

In 1994, Zwigoff directed a documentary about his friend, 'Crumb' (1994). The film showed a side of Robert Crumb that both fans and outsiders weren't familiar with, particularly the influence of his family members on his work and personality. The documentary even reached people otherwise uninterested in comics, or Crumb for that matter. It won several awards and launched Zwigoff's directional career in Hollywood. Crumb received more media attention and appreciation from art critics. Critic Robert Hughes famously named him "the Bruegel of the late 20th century", a nickname Crumb himself felt was silly. In 2003, Shari Springer Belman and Robert Pulcini made a biopic about Harvey Pekar, 'American Splendor' (2003), in which Crumb was played by James Urbaniak.

While Crumb was never pleased with film adaptations of his work, he was more enthusiastic about stage performances. In 1980, the Dell'Arte Players Company of northern California adapted 'Whiteman Meets Bigfoot' into a theatrical play, directed by Alain Schons. Johnny Simons made 'R. Crumb Comix - The Musical' (1985), with music by Michael Aitch Price and His Musical Miscreants. Crumb was actively involved and designed sets.

Crumb has received the Yellow Kid Award (1969), Adamson Award for Best International Artist (1970), Inkpot Award (1989), Max und Moritz Award (1998), the Grand Prix Angoulême (1999) and was in 1991 inducted in the Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. 'The Complete Crumb Comics' volumes 3, 6, 7, 10 and 12 won Harvey Awards for "Best Domestic Reprint" in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996 and 1997, and volume 11 was awarded an Eisner (1996) for "Best Archival Collection". 'The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book' received a 1998 Eisner Award for Best Comics-Related Book. In 2010, 'The Book of Genesis' won both a Harvey Award for "Best Artist" as well as a Haxtur Award for "Best Comics". 'Kafka' too won a Haxtur Award in 2010.

Since the 1980s, Crumb's work has been frequently exhibited in the United States and Europe, including in the Musée de l' Érotisme (2001), Musée d'Art Moderne (2012) and David Zwirner Gallery (2022) in Paris, the Musée de Sérignan in Sérignan (2007), the Stedelijk Museum (2001) in Amsterdam, Ludwig Museum (2004) in Cologne, Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia (2008) and the Seattle Museum of Art (2016).

Robert Crumb as Mr. Sixties
Part from the cover of 'The Complete Crumb Comics, Volume 4. 'Mr. Sixties'', September 1989. 

Legacy and influence
Robert Crumb remains a towering figure in comics. He influenced countless adult artists in many different genres, such as underground comix, alternative comics, porn comics, and autobiographical comics. He proved that the medium could be used to discuss any possible topic, without holding oneself back. Regardless of the continuous controversy that surrounds his work, he is still respected as one of the most important and influential comic artists of the second half of the 20th century. A "grand old man" of the art, whose stature is such that numerous publishers have used illustrations by Crumb to boost sales. Like Robert Storr once wrote in Peter Poplaski's 'The Life and Times of R. Crumb' (1998): "Crumb's triumph is that of the nerd who ended up having more fun than the cool kids - even if it was mostly in his head."

In the United States, Robert Crumb influenced indie cartoonists like Peter Bagge, Alison Bechdel, Lyn Chevli, Charles Burns, Bruce Chrislip, Kim Deitch, Myke Feinman, Drew Friedman, Terry Gilliam, Phoebe Gloeckner, Mike Gorman, Roberta Gregory, Matt Groening, Rory Hayes, Jaime Hernandez, Mike Kazaleh, Krystine Kryttre, Rob Landeros, Jay Lynch, Mark Martin, Joe Matt, Victor Moscoso, Diane Noomin, Gary Panter, Harvey Pekar, Bill Plympton, Mimi Pond, Peter Poplaski, John Pound, Rich PowellSpain Rodriguez, Richard Sala, Dori Seda, Robert Sikoryak, Art Spiegelman, Jim Valentino, Reed Waller, Tim Wallace, Bill Watterson, Robert Williams, Skip Williamson and Jim Woodring. In Canada, he found followers among Chester Brown, Bernie Mireault and Rick Trembles. In Mexico, Ric Velasco is one of his disciples.

In Europe, his impact is also thoroughly felt. In the United Kingdom, he inspired Steve Bell, Hunt Emerson, Alan Moore, Roger Law, Bryan Talbot and Lee James Turnock. Among his French followers are Jean Giraud, Gotlib and Matt Konture. In the Netherlands, Steven De Rie, Flip Fermin, Evert Geradts, Gummbah, Frans Hasselaar, Gerrit de Jager, Maia Matches, Peter Pontiac, Eric Schreurs, Mark Smeets, Olaf Stoop, Joost Swarte, Theo van den Boogaard, Marijn van der Waa and Willem. Belgian admirers can be found among Luc Cromheecke, Thijs De CloedtKim Duchateau, Werner Goelen, Kamagurka, Willy Linthout, Ever Meulen, Erik Meynen, Philippe Moins, Wally Van Looy and Marc Verhaegen. He likewise inspired cartoonists in countries as diverse as Switzerland (Zep), Austria (Manfred Deix), Spain (Ceesepe, Max), Italy (Massimo Mattioli) and Egypt (Magdy El-Shafee).

In the last issue of Bijou Funnies (November 1973), Skip Williamson parodied Crumb's 'Mr. Natural' as 'Melvin Natural and Funky Feet'. In 1977, when Robert Romagnoli succeeded Crumb as the Village Voice cartoonist, he made a special farewell parody comic titled 'Mr. Neutral' (later reprinted in Weirdo issue #16, Spring 1986 too). Alain Voss spoofed 'Mr. Natural' in 'Parodies' (1984). In 1971, a 15-year old English boy, Viv Berger, made a collage comic in which he stuck the head of Mary Tourtel's sweet Rupert Bear character on panels from a sex scene in an Eggs Ackley comic. After being published in the British indie magazine Oz, the editors were charged with obscenity and corruption of minors. At first they lost the case, but in a retrial, the case was dismissed over too many legal errors.

Kees Kousemaker and Bob Crumb during a signing in Lambiek
Kees Kousemaker and R. Crumb, during Crumb's visit to Gallery Lambiek on 24-25 November 1995. 

Secondary literature and Crumb collections
A highly recommended overview of Crumb's career from 1958 until 1992 are the seventeen volumes of 'The Complete Crumb Comics' (Fantagraphics, 1987-2005). However, what Crumb made after that date has to be read in separate individual titles. A fine one volume retrospective is 'The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book' (Little, Brown and Company 1997), edited by Pete Poplaski. Certain comics by Crumb have been compiled in thematic collections. His work about the United States can be found in 'R. Crumb's America' (SCB Distributors, 1995), Comics by him and his family members in 'Crumb Family Comics' (Last Gasp, 1998). Between June 1978 and 1997, Crumb has additionally filled dozens of sketch books. Originally published in several volumes by Zweitausendeins, they were later reprinted by Fantagraphics. During restaurant visits in his French home village, Crumb often spent his time, before and after dinner, drawing on paper placemats. These doodles and sketches were kept by the proprietors, but they allowed him to publish them in books, presented in landscape format. Four volumes of 'Waiting For Food' were published in the Netherlands by Oog & Blik in 1995, 2000, 2002 and 2008. A collection of Crumb's book cover illustrations is available under the title 'The Complete Crumb Covers' (Cornélius, 2023).

Interviews with the artist are collected in books like 'The R. Crumb Handbook' (MQ Publications, 2005) by Peter Poplaski and Christian Monggaard's 'I Can't Do Pretty' (Barbar Bogor, 2020). On the official Robert Crumb website, Alex Wood has conducted a series of interviews titled 'Crumb on Others', in which Crumb gives his opinion about a variety of topics, including specific novelists, cartoonists, painters, musicians, film directors, actors, and politicians. A collection of Crumb's letters and cartoons sent by mail is found in 'Your Vigor for Life Appalls Me. Robert Crumb Letters 1958-1977' (Turnaround Publisher, 2008), and 'R. Crumb's Dream Diary' (Elara Press, 2018), is a collection of all the strange dreams he had over the decades and which he often instantly wrote down and sketched out minutes after awakening.

'Qui À Peur de Robert Crumb?' ("Who's Afraid of Robert Crumb?"). Poster for the 1999 Angoulême Comics Festival in France.


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