Fuzzy the Bunny by Charles and Robert Crumb
Fuzzy the Bunny, by Robert & Charles Crumb (Zap Comix #5, 1969)

Charles Crumb was the older brother of legendary underground artist Robert Crumb. It was Charles who pushed his year and a half younger brother into making comic art. But he has also made comics himself, although his mental problems kept him from ever pursuing a professional career. Later, as Charles and Robert became more socially reclusive it was again Charles who introduced his brother to more intellectual, philosophical and mystic literature. This too would shape the content of many of Robert's later more adult comics.

Charles Crumb was born in 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. When he and Robert were 16 and 14, respectively, they self-published three comic books under the title FOO, which contained parodies of the brothers' favorite horror and funny animal comics. An avid fan of Mad Magazine, Carl Barks, Walt Disney and especially Bobby Driscoll, the child star of the film 'Treasure Island' (1950), most of Charles' early comics were variations on this film. He was so obsessed by 'Treasure Island' that he actually dressed up as pirate Long John Silver and kept playing storylines based on this film even months after the boys had seen it. This obsession is also notable in Robert and Charles' self-created 'Treasure Island' comics, which have a psychologically twisted and sexual undertone. The relationship between Long John Silver and the boy Jim Hawkins in these comics has a slumbering pedophiliac disturbingness to it. When Charles was 12 years old his family visited Disneyland, which he claimed was the "happiest day of his life." He actually wanted to be the next Disney and therefore had Robert produce dozens of comics as a child. Most of the time Robert drew, while Charles invented storylines. But Charles also pencilled his own 'Treasure Island' fantasies and funny animal stories, the latter starring their own self-created characters Fuzzy Bunny, Donny Dog and Fritz the Cat. These comics often feature strange, painstaking concentric lines, while characters sometimes just gaze into space. Many of Charles' own comics rely heavily on text, with ever-growing speech balloons until the drawings are completely ommitted and just evolve into pages and pages of written out lines. 

Comic art by Charles Crumb

Adulthood, mental illness and suicide
As a teenager Charles remained a fan of Barks, but started to resent Disney's corporatism. His tastes became more intellectual and his interests shifted towards Buddhism and mysticism. Since he and Robert were so close with each other Robert started adopting these lines of thought too. Charles went to Delaware State College, but was so unmotivated to get "a real job" that he dropped out after only a year. For six months he worked as a phone sollicitor at the Philadelphia Enquirer. It depressed him so much that he made a suicide attempt in 1971. He was put under medication for the rest of his life, while staying at home with his mother. Charles simply couldn't bring himself to every move out and claimed he wanted to restrain himself from his "homosexual pedophiliac tendencies", In an interview posted on Crumb's official website ('Crumb on Others, Part 8') Robert Crumb claimed the medications "basically destroyed his life. They were strong medications, strong stuff, which kept him in this stupor. And he got fat and lost his teeth, it was awful." According to him Charles actually wanted to leave home, but his mother discouraged him because she didn't want to be alone. In 1992 he committed suicide by taking an overdose of pills. According to Robert the first thing his mother said to him was: "How could he do this to me?!" 

Fuzzy the Bunny
Charles' artwork was never officially published during his lifetime, but he is credited as co-creator with Robert of two 'Fuzzy the Bunny' stories, that were published in Zap Comix and XYZ Comics. The story from Zap (published in 1969) is rather childlike. It stars Fuzzy, a rabbit, and Donny, a dog, who find a magical lamp in their attic, which kicks off a series of wild, naïve adventures set in exotic places. Robert based it on a story they had made in childhood and redrew it as an adult in his more mature and professional drawing style, without changing anything about the content or lay-out. The story in XYZ Comics is named 'Nut Factory Blues' (1972), after an old blues record from 1931. It involves Donny visiting Fuzzy in a mental hospital. Robert drew it after visiting Charles in a mental institution in Philadelphia. Much of Donny and Fuzzy's conversations in the comic were taken directly from things Charles had written or things he said to Robert. Apart from inspiring this therapeutical story, Charles had no involvement whatsoever in actually writing or drawing this story. Readers at the time, who knew nothing about Crumb's family, read the story as just a "twisted funny animal comic". 

Fuzzy the Bunny by Robert and Charles Crumb
Fuzzy the Bunny in "Nut Factory Blues" (XYZ Comics, June 1972)

Charles Crumb and his work received more posthumous attention after the release of the award-winning documentary film 'Crumb' (1994), directed by Terry Zwigoff and produced by David Lynch. The film was officially about Robert Crumb, but also delved deep into his family history. Charles (who was still alive during filming) was interviewed and discussed too. Charles' work has been exhibited and featured in later collections like 'Fandom's Finest Comics' (1997) and 'Crumb Family Comics' (1998). Despite his troubled life and equally troubled artwork, Charles Crumb will go down in history as the man who had the most significant influence on Robert Crumb's artistic career. Even though Robert was more or less forced to draw out his brothers obsessions it was still beneficial to him in the end. It honed his graphical skills and showed him the potential of comics as a means of personal expression. His fame has also helped to keep Charles' own artwork under public attention, a dream Charles was never able to realize during his lifetime. Robert has gone so far to state that he would never have gone into drawing comics if it weren't for Charles. 

Foo by Charles Crumb

Series and books by Charles Crumb in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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