Robert Crumb: A Compulsion to Reveal

Christian Monggaard (2019)

From Fritz the Cat to Mr. Natural – meet the cult cartoonist Robert Crumb, whose artistic world is full of anti-heroes and demons from modern America and his own subconscious. In this rare interview, Crumb talks frankly about refusing to adhere to political correctness, and about his never-ending urge to unravel the layers of delusion in the world – as he says: “I’m still digging.”

“I was so alienated when I was young, that drawing was like my only connection to society. That was the only thing that I could see was going to save me from a really dismal fate of God knows what.” Crumb describes his social skills as a young man as being “completely nil.” At the same time, he was driven by his “fucked-up ego,” and he had to balance those two sides. Drawing became a way for him to deal with reality, and in the 1950s, where “being a comic-book artist was the lowest level of commercial art,” he pushed toward a more personal use of the medium: “At a certain point I decided I don’t want to be America’s best-loved hippie cartoonist. I don’t want that role. So I’ll just be honest about who I am, and the weirdness, and take my chances.” Consequently, Crumb alienated a lot of people with his often provocative content: “It was just too disturbing for most people, too weird.”

Crumb has an urge to question things and is acutely aware that he’s going to get hell for what he’s doing – even lose friends – but he is willing to take the heat for it. He feels that he plays with images, emphasising the word “play.” Nowadays, he argues, there’s a tendency to take everything at face value – including his artwork: “The artwork I did that used those images and expressed those kinds of feelings, I stand by it. I still think that that’s something that needed to be said and needed to be done. It probably hurts some people’s feelings to see those images, but still, I had to put it out there.”

Putting down anything that stands in the way of political correctness, he feels, becomes extreme and suppressive: “I can even lead to censorial policies in the government and stuff like that. They don’t realise that they’re playing into the hands of some very bad people.”

Robert Crumb is an American cartoonist. Crumb, a counterculture comic book artist and social satirist, has enjoyed cult status for his underground comic strips, full of anti-heroes. Among these is a wide range of popular characters including Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural. Much of his work has also appeared in Weirdo magazine (1981-1993), which he founded himself, and which was one of the most prominent publications of the alternative comics era. Crumb has received several accolades for his work, including his induction into the comic book industry’s Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame in 1991 and the Angoulême Grand Prix in 1999. Crumb was also among the artists honoured in the exhibition ‘Masters of American Comics’ at the Jewish Museum in New York (2006-2007). In 2012 a retrospective of Crumb’s work was exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. He has frequently collaborated with cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb, with whom he is married, and the couple have made a joint comic strip based on their life together through four decades. A collection of the comics, ‘Drawn Together’, was published in 2012.

Robert Crumb was interviewed by Christian Monggaard in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark in August 2019.

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