Robert Crumb (1943)

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Robert Crumb, one of the “founders” of the underground comic movement and very important for the evolution of comics. Totally independent , a very personal style and a free spirit in thoughts and subjects, he introduced , sex and drugs into comics.

Robert Crumb was born in Philadelphia in 1943. As a kid, he started drawing homemade comic books, together with his brother Charles, for the amusement of himself and his family. One of the characters he invented back then was Fred the Cat, named after the family’s pet. Eventually, Fred became Fritz the Cat, one of Crumb’s best-known characters.

Crumb left home in 1962, getting a job as a greeting card artist in Cleveland, Ohio. At the same time, he continued his comics, sending one to the public gallery section of Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! Magazine. Encouraged by Kurtzman, Crumb moved to New York to work for Help! Unfortunately, this magazine folded just after Crumb returned from an eight-month stay in Europe. Crumb stayed in New York for a while, making comics trading cards for Topps Gum, among other things, and then returned to Cleveland.

In January 1967, Crumb moved to California, where he did some comics for a magazine called Yarrowstalks. His work was so well received they asked him to do a whole comic book, and soon the first issue of Zap was ready. The publisher however disappeared with all of the original artwork. Crumb, who had not only saved xeroxes of his work, but was already halfway with the next issue of Zap, found Don Donahue and Charles Plymell willing to publish it. And so the material for the second Zap comic was published as Zap #1, after which the older material for the first issue was printed as Zap #0. All of these have become collector’s items.

Zap Comix 1 by R. Crumb

Zap Comix became a success, and soon other artists, like Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso and S. Clay Wilson, started contributing their work. Interest in Crumb’s work resulted in ‘Head Comix’, a collection of his comics published by Viking Press, and a ‘Fritz the Cat’ book by Ballantine. Crumb also contributed to other publications from the underground movement, such as the East Village Other. When animator Ralph Bakshi turned to Crumb to make Fritz the Cat into an animated movie, Crumb eventually agreed, but soon became exhausted with the pressure and left it to his wife, Aline Kominsky, who signed the contract. Crumb hated the film so much that he killed off Fritz once and for all in a strip in The People’s Comics.

The end of Fritz the Cat

In the early 1990s, Robert Crumb and his family moved to France, where they still live today. The creator of unforgettable characters such as Mr. Natural, Mr. Snoid, Angelfood MacSpade and Devil Girl still has a tremendous production, which has been collected in many books. He has worked on a series of comic books with Charles Bukowski in the 1980’s, produced a book on Kafka with David Zaine Mairowitz and also illustrated several issues of Harvey Pekar’s ‘American Splendor’ series. Crumb’s daughter Sophie eventually also turned to comic art.

Crumb is also a talented musician. He plays banjo and mandolin, and has performed with R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders and Eden and John’s East River String Band. He has also illustrated a great many album covers, including ‘Cheap Thrills’ by Big Brother and the Holding Company and the compilation album ‘The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead’.

There are some very nice Crumb titles available at www.ftn-books.com including the rare Point d’Ironie title Flesh and Blood

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