Robert Crumb and the visual language of post modernity. The human experience thudding along; our shared autobiography…
Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
It’s a sunny Saturday and I want to work in my yard and also I need to do a poster for a bunch of aiga people in another city. what to do? Two big desirable projects staring in my face, waiting for me to make up my mind. Whenever I get faced with a choice like this,I always (being a designer and all) start looking for another option – that third or fourth choice floating out there. So, now,I’m writing one of these damned essay things. You lucky dogs.
People always get all gooey and misty over Robert Crumb. Granted, the guy is a genius, a visionary, and icon, blah blah blah. All of it’s true and the guy is one of the most important visual language practitioners of the last half century.
I sometimes like to think about why he’s so dang good and why almost all of his original contemporaries cartoonist “pals” never reached his astronomical levels of achievement.Ii mean, the talent originally surrounding him, literally riding his coattails, is like a who’s who of the underground elite superstars. So much astronomical talent, the names cross over everywhere into so many different mediums.Those original underground cartoonists were a powerful bunch of people.
They were the first direct incarnation of the “old world American trash culture” people (like von dutch, ed roth, george barris, bikers, surfers, kooks, pimps, addicts, the poets, all the painters and psychedelic mavericks and actors and the writers and the whole works) into the baby boom generation. these guys were part of that vanguard we generally lump into the category called “the 60′s”. But, it was the first personalized manifestation of the pop culture of the baby boomers.
Even with all that going for them – they literally got to set the standards, build the mold for the next several generations of follow, even with all that – Crumb stands taller than all the rest put together. Why is that?
I have a couple of theories, all lame. One, he could draw like a mofo. Ever watch him? I’ve met very very few ‘drawers’ like him in my lifetime. He’s one of those guys who can literally place a pen on a piece of paper and just start moving it around. When he lifts that pen, the drawing is done. No white out, no changes, nothing. DONE. I’ve probably met only three or four people ever who can do that. It’s like a performance.
And the guy never stops drawing. It’s as if he’s cursed with another entity inside that is a ‘drawing demon’ or something. He draws when he talks, draws when he walks,
s when he eats, draws when he sleeps (i’ll bet). It’s sorta crazy, but he does it. A constant line of imagery coming out of that pen. If you took all that ink and stretched the images out into a single little black line, how far would it extend at this point? To the moon? to Saturn? To the stars? It’s really amazing to contemplate.
Ok, but that’s not all that unusual. Lotsa obsessive scribblers out there. However, Crumb seems to be scribbling his actual thoughts, his ideas and feelings all the time, as he actually experiences them, like a human camera. It’s as if he actually lives his life as a cartoon and his physical human reality is second. I know that’s ridiculous, but psychologically, I think there is a little truth in it.
The guy is about what it’s like to be alive, the events, the thought and feelings, the dreams, the fantasies, the detached self- observation, the snide observations.It’s the walking breathing fucking puking reality we all share, but it’s in his cartooning right there for all of us to identify with. No matter how absurd and silly the ‘stories’ become, the human experience is still there, thudding along. We all love it.It becomes our shared autobiography somehow. We identify with Crumb. He is us, now.
How many of those other ‘underground cartoonists’ from that era can even come close to making the same claim? It gets hard to even remember what Crumb’s cohorts and contemporaries even did, when you start examining Crumb’s work. It’s so powerful that he virtually erases his competition. It’s the mark of a level of mastery that is rarely achieved, maybe a few in a generation. Robert Crumb has easily shambled into that level.
This little comic cover is from early in his career (first image ). He did a number comic books that were created as one-off collections, all with different old school titles that appear like real old skool comic books titles. ‘despair’ is my absolute favorite of these fake “comic book” titles. It looks just like a comic book they had in the post war era and earlier. Crumb was forever riffing on our own pop culture memories to tweak the response. It’s ironic and it’s satiric and it’s stoned.
But, it’s the attitude of the bored middle class twits on the cover that has forever held my attention, making this my single favorite Robert Crumb image. “let’s see if there’s anything on…”. “why bother?…” that’s so profoundly funny and disturbing and so absolutely nightmarishly real. how many times have it had that exact same conversation? “hey, THAT’S ME!!!”
here, gimmee another toke…