Integrative Arts 10

Underground Comix and R. Crumb

Robert Crumb and the Underground Movement

Crumb's creation Mr. Natural

Robert Crumb was born in Philadelphia, PA on August 30, 1943. Though he never studied art nor had any formal teaching, he began drawing at an early age. While still in his early teens, he and his brother drew single issue comics for fun. Among these was "Fritz the Cat" which Robert would later draw for Harvey Kurtzman's "Help" magazine.
In 1962, Crumb's family moved to Cleveland and Robert went to work for the American Greeting Card Company.He married his first wife, Dana, in 1964 and began doing work for other entities, including the aforementioned Help magazine, where he worked with/for one his greatest influences, comic artists and Mad co-creator Harvey Kurtzman. Many artists who later became part of the Underground Comic Counter-Culture with Crumb also worked at Help.
Also during this period, Crumb began to experiment with drugs, resulting in some bad experiences with LSD, but these "bad trips" only led to Robert creating some of his most enduring characters, including the pop icon< "Mr.Natural". During this time he was doing illustrations and strips for New York's "East Village Other", a Greenwich Village newspaper.
He moved to San Francisco in 1966 and almost immediately began interaction with many other blossoming artists including Rick Griffin, Spain Rodriguez, S.Clay Wilson and Victor Moscoso. It was not long before their creative minds were tapped by San Franciscan's Don Donahoe and Charles Plymell and "Zap Comix" #0 was published in 1967. A smash hit, Crumb and the other artists became overnight sensations.
But sometimes the noteriety landed on the artist negatively. In 1969 Crumb's "Joe Blow" story which appeared in Zap #4 resulted in a number of obscenity arrests in New York City and elsewhere because the story dealt with incest.
In 1970 Crumb sold the film rights to Fritz the Cat to film animator Ralph Bakshi and was released as an X-rated film to international acclaim, and another Fritz movie was made, but Crumb is known to have voiced his displeasure with both films, and disowns them.
Also in the early seventies, Crumb along with several friends (including Terry Zwiggoff, the producer/director of the recent film on Crumb's life) founded a jazz band and called it "the Cheap Suit Serenaders".
Unfortunately the seventies were also some of the most difficult times for Crumb. In Zap #1 which was published in 1968, Crumb created a six panel cartoon which ended with a big-footed character with his foot out saying "Keep On Truckin'". This had become a popular image of the hippie counter-culture and Crumb collected royalties for years, but a suit emerged challenging Crumb's copyright which hads never been registered and in 1977 a federal judge ruled that Crumb had let the image fall into the public domain, freeing pirates from any further royalty payments to Crumb.
Then he was smacked with an I.R.S. tax bill for $30,000. (some have said his accountant and his wife....), he divorced his wife Dana, and was forced to move to Paris, France until he could pay his tax bill.
Then in 1978 he met and married Aline Kominsky, a cartoonist with whom he created "Weirdo" magazine, and moved back to California.
In the middle eighties Robert's career took a turn when he became recognized as an international cult hero, drawing appearances in Newsweek, People and other magazines, and appearing on BBC-TV. His work was featured in the New York City art gallery "Psycadelic Solution" and in 1990 the Museum of Modern Art, in New York City, included his work in an exhibit called "High and Low" which also featured work by other cartoonists, including George Herriman.
Becoming disillusioned with living in the US, Crumb moved permanently to France in the late eighties where he lives happily ever after in a home he bought with six notebooks filled with his work.
Robert Crumb has become an icon of popular culture since breaking onto the scene with Zap #0. His crude "bigfoot" style, influenced by Kurtzman, George Herriman, E.C. Segar, Cliff Sterrett, Bud Fisher and comic great Basil Wolverton, infused with overt sexual release in contrast with his own self-repression have in them an insightful view of the American psyche of the late fifties anbd early sixties era. Crumb is one of those partially responsible for the lifting of previously unchallenged theorum of the "Father Knows Best" era.
Throughout the decades since, he has been hailed as an anachronist and an anarchist, a genius and a revolutionary. He is one of the best.

Robert Crumb and the Underground Movement
Our final stop on this quick overview of style and ideology in comic book art takes us underground into the world of Robert Crumb. Owing what he called his "Big Shoe Style" of design to an earlier caricaturist of the grotesque, Basil Wolverton, (figure 18) Crumb took his radical and sometimes purely expressionistic style (figure 19) to task against the dominant ideology of the 60’s developing such devices as the bouncing meatball as a parody lampooning members of our society that spend their entire lives in search of the quick fix instead of putting their efforts into an honest self-appraisal. Artistically speaking Crumb’s images would become ghastly distortions bordering on pure abstraction. In the figure 19 just as an expressionistic director is concerned with revealing thematic content instead of portraying reality, Crumb was seeking the inner meaning of our cultural icons through parody. Here in his highly controversial Joe Blow comic series he makes a vicious statement against what he perceived as the hokey and dishonest "hey, let’s be a family!" attitude. Crumb alludes to the typical American family as having an incestuous sub-text. This was a very common theme for the man who created the first X-rated animated feature Fritz the Cat.

A Guide to Underground and Adult Comix

Follow the Links to Topic Pages

Comic Strips Lead to a New Form

Golden Age Of Comic Books

EC Horror Comics

The Comics Code of Authority

Mad Magazine

Silver Age of the Mainstream

Robert Crumb and the Underground Movement

The Post Modern Graphic Novel

Bronze Age of the Mainstream

Contemporary Comics

What's Next?

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