by Art Chantry:
ok, i gotta thing or two to say about this classic piece of american graphic design here. to begin with, it has NOTHING to do with ‘trucks’. when robert crumb drew this (i think it was in zap comix issue #1), it was a single panel (the last one) on a full page comic strip that did a humorous poke at a silly old dance from the 1920-30′s called “truckin’”. it’s that dance you see with people sorta hop skipping around slightly hunched over (or leaning back) with one finger sticking up in the air (usually twirling it). you’ve seen that in a thousand old movies. that dance is called “trucking”. yes, it’s a ‘pop’ dance step.
crumb has always been deeply inspired and in L-U-V with the past. his fashion, his music, his ideas, even his drawing style are all rooted in a nostalgic seedy past that is little remembered except by people like him. when he presented that comic strip in ZAP #1, it was just another little parody/tribute to something he found humorous and that he loved. the idea that a last panel in that strip would be picked up and bootlegged FOREVER came as a total surpise to him. i’m also sure he never saw a single penny in royalties, either. once these things go out of your hands and go crazy, there is no more controlling it. you just have to stand back and let it BE.
the idea that this became a period icon for the likes of average people from ‘fake middle class hippies’ to ‘staunch redneck truckers’ is nothing more than a phenomenon of our age. it’s on cheap tshirts, cheap posters, cheap patches, cheap baseball caps, cheap lighters, cheap mudfalps. it’s sorta crazy how far this image traveled. i think it may also be why crumb initially became the superstar he is today.
everybody saw this and it was his calling card (like it or not) into the mainstream popular culture. i doubt crumb would be noticed and collected by fine art museums today if this little panel hadn’t gone culturally viral like it did. he’d just be another smart obscure cartoonist out there. because of this thing, we all knew WHO he was from almost the very beginning of his art career.
one of my pipe dreams in my own career was to design the next ‘happy face’. that is, i wanted something i designed to ‘go viral’. i was never quite able to pull that off (it’s like having a hit record). i was able to make a particular graphic style go viral (thanks to the cultural explosion of grunge – which i surfed like a pro). but, i never had the “hit” iconic image. very very few people ever do.
milton glaser has his “i *heart* ny”. john pasche has his ‘rolling stones logo’. harvey ball has his “smiley face”. warhol has his “soup can”. you can make quite a list. and crumb has “keep on truckin’”. poor bastard.
i wish i had that.