« Maybe we could find some way to send barges of trash to the sun and incinerate it all. Hey, it’s an idea. It’s an idea! » — Adam West
Lately, I’ve noticed that crusty ol’ Bob Crumb is being pilloried… well, more than he usually is. It appears that some members of the, er, younger cartooning generation are taking offense, in the most tone-deaf, irony-deprived and contextually-clueless way imaginable, to a half-a-century old, utterly static, wafer-thin and inaccurate idea of his work. « …old white cartoonists of the most explicitly homophobic, anti-feminist, racist, and controversial comics of 70s/80s ». Funny, I’d say that comment itself is more than slightly racist (not to mention ageist). Guess it’s open season on some targets.
Ah, but it’s a waste of time, saliva and ink trying to convince zealots of any stripe of anything. I don’t enjoy all of Crumb’s work myself, but when a particular piece doesn’t grab me, I just move along. But the medium would be much the poorer without his (in no particular order and just off the top of my head): A Short History of America, Introducing Kafka, Heroes of the Blues / Early Jazz Greats / Pioneers of Country Music card sets, his collaborations with Harvey Pekar in American Splendor, most of his Weirdo pieces, his album covers, « Ode to Harvey Kurtzman », Stoned Agin, his American Greetings cards, and… I’ll be here all night if I keep this up.
I was going to feature what’s possibly my all-time favourite Crumb story, « The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick » (Weirdo 17, Summer 1986), but lo and behold, it’s already available in full on the philipdick.com site… but as there’s no dearth of first-rate picks, here’s another comics essay from the pages of Weirdo (no. 6, Summer 1982). Please note how fair-minded and even-handed Crumb is here: I’m certainly guilty myself of a couple of the attitudes and behaviours depicted, but since the author’s challenge is so unflinchingly honest, his criticism becomes food for thought. He’s not interested in flattering the comfortable, including, most of the time, himself.
I’ll leave you with some sage words from Alan Moore, who describes the circumstances of his love affair with Angelfood McSpade: « Firstly, and more obviously in the case of this particular image, there was the open sexuality. Not having led a terribly sheltered life, I was familiar with the images of sex to be found in the neighbourhood magazine racks, ranging from Playboy to the Fry-the-Krauts-on-Passion-Bridge ‘Men’s Sweat’ periodicals of the day, to the soft-core titillation of homegrown products like Parade. Judging from the drawings and photographs that graced these magazines’ covers, sex was something that was deadly serious, not to say faintly miserable, smothered as it was in commercial gloss and the self-conscious poutings of the ex-stenographers staked out across the centre spread.
Angelfood was different. She was wearing, in addition to the grass skirt, a big, pleased-with-herself smile rather than the slightly-concussed ‘Just Raped’ look that her cover girl contemporaries were starting to adopt. It was my first taste of the sexual openness of the psychedelic movement, and though it bears little relevance to my overall impression of Crumb’s work, it requires mention in these terms for the personal impact that it had upon me. This is not to say that its effect in other areas was not equally as marked. Sexuality aside, this drawing was subversive.
For one thing, it was subversive in the way it commented upon race. Many cartoonists since Crumb have referred back, ironically, to the stereotyped image of black people that dominated the cartoons of the past, but this was the first time I’d seen it done: the first time I’d seen a cartoon depiction of a Negro so exaggerated that it called attention to the racialism inherent in all such depictions. » (excerpted from “Comments on Crumb”, Blab no. 3, Fall 1988, Kitchen Sink.)
p.s. This was our 200th post… thanks for your interest and support!