“why bother?”:infiltrating the subconscious

Robert Crumb and the visual language of post modernity. The human experience thudding along; our shared autobiography…

Art Chantry (art@artchantry.com):

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.

AC:that level of blanketing popular culture like crumb has. it's that territory where Crumb has infiltrated our subconscious to the point the he has become a part of our human experience (it's so... hard to describe.)The only cartoonists that have achieved the same level of , what do you call it? "art"? (not ecompassing, enough...) well, the only other two I can really compare Crumb to is charles Schultz and Matt Groening. Pettibon is great, but he's really not in that league....and I have to mention groening in the same breathe, too. imagine the world of the last twenty years without our shared experience of the simpsons. can't be done. they've become us. I imagine the reruns will outlive all of us.

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.

AC:bob - not many folks realize that when crumb did that "trucking' image, he was satirizing an old dance from the 1930's called (duh) 'trucking". it's that dance you see in old period movies of flappers kicking their legs up and sticking one... finger in the air and twirling it around in a circle. that was 'trucking'. so, when crumb did that, it was a single panel in a larger page strip or various folks dancing old archaic dance steps to a little set of song lyrics. the whole mass marketing of that image sort of happened totally out of context by pirates exploiting his work. i doubt he ever got a dime. it was orignally totally outside of his permission or control. bootleggers. also check out a dance called 'the big apple'. it's very similar in appearance. click on image...

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.

AC:the various stories i heard about crumb's move to france was basically two-fold. 1) he was hounded by the IRS over unpaid taxes (he's a hippie, duh!) and they began to confiscate his possessions (including his legendary cherished 7...8 collection). 2) so, he was offered a trade by a really rich collector guy. he was offered - for a set of his notebook/sketchpad diary thingies - a "villa' in france (actually more of a large house in a small town). so, he became an expatriate through that. i guess there is no love lost between the government and crumb. too bad. i think of robert crumb as literally being hounded out of the USA. click on image

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.

AC:another great story about crumb is that he may be the only person ever to sue a record company over ripping off his artwork and WIN! i tried it once and it seems that the record biz has operated so dreadfully for so many generations that i...t's become an "industry standard" that you have to fight to disprove in court - very expensive i found out. so, when crumb did "cheap thrills", he never got his art returned. record companies NEVER return original art. never have, never will. it's ALWAYS been that way. record companies ASSUME they always have total claim to everything - contracts or not. so, decades later the record company was cleaning out it's vaults and put up for sale the original drawing for 'cheap thrills' (originally it was meant as the back cover, but the record company nixed that and used it as a front. the original front cover had never resurfaced) when it showed up in sotheby's, he went after the record company and the auction house to reclaim his 'stolen' property. because current copyright law and standard business practices protects artist's original art as their property now (professionals only sell usage rights, not object rights), he was able to actually win it back. so, he may be the only visual artist to ever win a suit like that. he opened the door for all of us to protect ourselves a little better. he used his enormous fame and clout to win that fight for himself and helped us out in the process. that how this shits works. click on image

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…

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