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Monday, February 10, 2014

The Many Faces of R. Crumb (NSFW)

One of my favorite early Crumb works is 1972's XYZ Comics. In it Crumb is in full flower, allowing his mind (and pen) to go wherever it chooses. Sure many of the comics are absurd, though with the absurdness are occasional insightful strips touching on the profound.


One such strip is "The many Faces of R. Crumb"  an absurd collection of self observed personalities. The really interesting thing about it is how much I can identify with many of these characters.

Also in XYZ Comics is a take off of the famous "Keep On Trucking" T shirt that became a huge phenomenon in the early 70's and a curse for Crumb. 
"Keep On Trucking" was a 1 page comic that appeared in Zap #1 (1968) and became hugely popular on t-shirts, patches and belt buckles. About it Crumb said, "I became acutely self-conscious about what I was doing. Was I now a "spokesman" for the hippies or what? I had no idea how to handle my new position in society! ... Take Keep on Truckin'... for example. Keep on Truckin'... is the curse of my life. This stupid little cartoon caught on hugely. There was a D.J. on the radio in the seventies who would yell out every ten minutes: "And don't forget to KEEP ON TR-R-RUCKIN'!" Boy, was that obnoxious! Big feet equals collective optimism. You're a walkin' boy! You're movin' on down the line! It's proletarian. It's populist. I was thrown off track! I didn't want to turn into a greeting card artist for the counter-culture! I didn't want to do 'shtick'—the thing Lenny Bruce warned against. That's when I started to let out all of my perverse sex fantasies. It was the only way out of being "America's Best Loved Hippy Cartoonist."
There was a time where I didn't understand the appeal of R. Crumb at all. His cartoons just seemed so weird and pointless. I didn't understand what all the praise was about. Then one day, after reading XYZ Comics, I had a little revelation. I thought about Ed Everyman and how it spoke of the modern American condition, how our lives are so mundane that maybe someone walking in on you while you are on the toilet could be the most exciting and eventful thing that happens to most people in an ordinary day. Crumb was speaking about us, and our condition. It was satire at it's best.Then strips like The Many Faces Of R. Crumb took on much greater significance for me. Now I just really love looking at his art and enjoy his creativity and freedom of expression but I still think that XYZ Comics is one of his best works.


1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one originally turned off by Robert Crumb. I'm not entirely sure why. There's just a certain grotesque quality to his line, something sleazy that I always found repulsive. Now I see it as his charm, which might be even more odd. Love your point about Crumb's use of the mundane.

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