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

Charles Crumb was a mid- to late-20th century American comics writer and artist.  As the older brother of legendary underground artist Robert Crumb, he pushed his year and a half younger sibling to illustrate comics based on his scripts. Later he also introduced him to more intellectual, philosophical and mystic literature. It has often been argued, even by Robert Crumb himself, that without Charles he might have never become a professional comics artist. Charles also drew comics on his own, but his mental problems kept him from ever publishing them. He lived under heavy medication at his mother's home, fighting his repressed pedophiliac neuroses. At age 50 he committed suicide. The awarded documentary 'Crumb' (1994) has brought posthumous interest to Charles' previously unpublished comics. 

Early life
Charles Crumb was born in 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was a huge fan of Mad Magazine, Carl Barks and Walt Disney. A family trip to Disneyland in 1955 was the "happiest day of his life", as he later confessed to Robert. He actually wanted to be the next Disney and therefore forced Robert to produce dozens of comics. Charles came up with the stories, while Robert drew everything out. They not only made black-and-white stories, but even entire magazine issues. Most were imitations of the 'funny animal' stories they liked. Charles invented his own anthropomorphic animal characters, Fuzzy Bunny, Donny Dog and Fritz the Cat. Others were Mad-style parody comics, which the 16-year old Charles and 14-year old Robert self-published under their own magazine title FOO. But the majority of their comics were fanfiction based on Disney's live-action film 'Treasure Island' (1950). Charles and his siblings loved the film, but his fascination went into obsession. Charles kept playing pirate stories and creating 'Treasure Island' comics, months (!) after they'd seen the picture. He even dressed up as pirate Long John Silver, actually walking around in the streets in this outfit. Charles had a disturbing interest in the bond between Long John Silver and the boy Jim Hawkins. In some of their self-created 'Treasure Island' comics a slumbering pedophiliac undertone can be detected. 

While Robert was usually the illustrator of his comics, Charles was actually a capable cartoonist too. He drew some comics of his own, which reflect his mental issues to even darker degrees. The artwork often features strange, painstaking concentric lines. They turn up in characters' clothing, but also in tree trunks. In some panels his characters just gaze into space. Charles saw Fuzzy Bunny as his alter ego. He often lets the rabbit hold long monologues in ever-growing speech balloons. In some panels these balloons nearly take up the entire panel. As the stories continue the speech balloons eventually drown out the drawings and just evolve into pages and pages of written sentences. 

Comic art by Charles Crumb

Adulthood & mental illness
As a teenager Charles became more intellectual and sophisticated in his taste. He lost his love for Disney, whom he now saw as a corporate sell-out, though remained a fan of Barks and Mad Magazine. Charles started reading more adult novels and became interested in Buddhism and mysticism. Since they were so close together Robert adopted these lines of thought as well. 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 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."

Meanwhile, since the late 1960s, Robert Crumb had found fame and success as a underground comix artist. One of the characters he and Charles created together, Fritz the Cat, became the star of Robert's first comics series. Robert and his other brother Maxon often tried to motivate Charles to get more out in the open. He actually wanted to leave home himself, but after his father's death his mother didn't want to be alone. Her domineering personality and his own fear of the outside world prevented him from ever moving out. In 1992 he committed suicide by taking an overdose of pills. He was one month ahead of celebrating his 50th birthday. According to Robert the first thing his mother said to him was: "How could he do this to me?!" 

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

Fuzzy the Bunny
Charles' artwork was never officially published during his lifetime, but he is credited as co-creator of two 'Fuzzy the Bunny' stories, drawn by Robert Crumb, which 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 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 said to Robert. Charles had no involvement whatsoever in actually writing or drawing this story. Readers at the time, who knew nothing about Crumb's family, read it as just a "twisted funny animal comic". 

Foo by Charles Crumb

Legacy
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 Crumb referred to his brother's death in the 15th issue of Zap Comix, 2005. 

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

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