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 comic writer and artist. As the older brother of legendary underground artist Robert Crumb, he pressured his year and a half younger sibling to illustrate comics based on his stories. 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 comic 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 49 he committed suicide. The awarded documentary 'Crumb' (1994) has brought posthumous interest to Charles' previously unpublished comics. 

'Treasure Island' strip by Charles Crumb.

Early life
Charles Crumb was born in 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but at age 12 he moved with his family to Milford, Delaware. His father was a World War II veteran, who worked as a trainer of supervisors. A strict, conservative man, he would often beat his sons. Crumb's mother had suffered an abusive childhood and took amphetamines, which gave her paranoid mood swings. The couple often fought. Growing up in such an environment had a devastating effect on their five children. Only the oldest child, Carol, had a conventional life and career as an adult, working for a pharmaceutical company. The youngest child and second daughter, Sandra, was overly belittled by her mum and later became, as Robert Crumb described it: "a staunch lesbian with an irrational hatred for men". Robert Crumb grew into a deeply neurotic person with sexual fantasies which often repulsed him afterwards. Youngest brother Maxon spent his adulthood as a celibate hermit. But at least Robert and Maxon found a way to earn money with their art. In Robert's case with comics, in Maxon's as a graphic artist and painter. 

Cover illustration for Foo, 1958.

Charles was arguably the worst mental case. He suffered from an overactive imagination and repressed pedo/homosexual tendencies. He was severely bullied at school, which according to Robert Crumb, contributed to his mental problems. He turned into a social outcast and stayed a lifelong virgin. Charles 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, and Robert drew everything. They filled entire magazines with their black-and-white stories. Most imitated 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 in their own magazine Foo. While they tried to sell copies of Foo door-to-door, they barely made money. 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 himself was a capable cartoonist too. He drew some comics of his own, which reflected his mental issues to even darker degrees. The artwork featured strange, painstaking concentric lines, that turned up in characters' clothing as well as tree trunks. In some panels, his characters just gaze into space. Charles saw Fuzzy Bunny as his alter ego. He lets the rabbit hold long monologues in ever-growing speech balloons, that sometimes take up the entire panel. As the stories continue, the speech balloons eventually drown out the drawings and just evolve into pages and pages with written sentences. 

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 he remained a fan of Barks and Mad Magazine. Charles started reading more adult novels and became interested in Buddhism, philosophy and mysticism. He grew critical of corporate thinking, commercialism, religion, U.S. politics and so-called traditional values. Since they had such a close bond, Robert adopted these lines of thought as well. 

Comic art by Charles Crumb
'Fritz the Cat & Fuzzy the Bunny' story by Robert and Charles Crumb, late 1950s.

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. 'The Adventures of Fuzzy the Bunny', (Zap Comix, issue #5, May 1970) stars Fuzzy the rabbit and Donny the Dog. They find a magical lamp in their attic, which kicks off a series of wild, naïve adventures set in exotic places. The tale is rather childlike, because Crumb basically took a story he and Charles made as kids and redrew it in his mature style. Apart from the graphic look, he left lay-out, dialogue and story unaltered. 'Nut Factory Blues', published in XYZ Comics (June 1972), was named after an old blues record from 1931. Donny visits 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. Readers at the time, who knew nothing about Crumb's family, read it as just a "twisted funny animal comic". While Charles was co-credited on both these stories, he had no direct involvement. 

Robert Crumb gained success in the mid-1960s as a cartoonist with 'Fritz the Cat', a character co-created with Charles. Charles on the other hand studied at Delaware State College, but was so unmotivated to get "a real job" that he dropped out after only a year. In 1971 he became a phone sollicitor at the Philadelphia Enquirer. After six months he attempted suicide by drinking furniture polish. Interviewed by Jacques Hyzagi for The Observer (14 October 2015), Robert Crumb recalled that they "had to pump his stomach." Charles was brought to a mental institution, where he was given strict medication. 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." Charles was ordered to take these pills for the rest of his life. Out of precaution he stayed at his parents' home. On one hand he was glad, because he still struggled with deliberately suppressed pedosexual desires. Never leaving the house was one way of never getting into trouble. But at the same time, he developed severe agoraphobia. Robert and Maxon often motivated their brother to go out more. One time, Disney's 'Treasure Island' was playing in a movie theater in town and Charles desperately wanted to see it again. Robert and Maxon offered to accompany him, even bring him back home afterwards, but he just couldn't bring himself to it. 

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

Final years and death
In 1982 Charles' father, Charles Crumb Sr., fell seriously ill. In his final months, Charles nursed him, which gave him deep satisfaction. Not only could he now "control" his strict father, but for the first time they actually felt more respect and warmth towards each other. When his dad passed away that year, Charles' mother forced her son to stay with her. She simply didn't want to live alone. Their house gradually became filthier and filthier, because none of them cleaned anything up any longer. At this point Charles really wanted to move out. But his mother's domineering personality kept him at home. At the turn of the 1980s into the next decade, he and Robert were interviewed for Terry Zwigoff's documentary 'Crumb'. This was one of the final times that Robert and Charles met. In February 1992, Charles commited suicide by taking an overdose of pills. He was one month ahead of celebrating his 50th birthday. According to Robert Crumb, the first thing his mother said to him was: "How could he do this to me?!"

When Crumb phoned Terry Zwigoff to tell him the bad news, he acted rather laconic about it: "Well, he was good as dead anyway." But film critic Roger Ebert once met somebody who stayed at Crumb's house when he was informed his brother was dead. He told Ebert: "He acted like he didn't care, but then I heard him all night long. He went up to his studio and he was pacing all night. Charles was the guy he was closest to in the entire world; the one who really shaped his whole sense of humor and his art. It was a big, devastating blow to him. And yet, he was right: Charles was sort of dead already." After Charles died, his mother destroyed all his artwork, writings, journals and comics. 

Foo by Charles Crumb
Cover illustration for Foo, issue #5, January 1959. Note Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the centre left border and Harvey Kurtzman holding issues of Mad, Trump and Humbug in the right lower corner. 

Charles Crumb and his work received posthumous attention after the release of the award-winning documentary film 'Crumb' (1994), directed by Terry Zwigoff. 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. 

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