R. Crumb. Artist: R. Crumb.


Born: 1943
Job Description: Cartoonist
Works in: Comic books
Noted for: Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, Zap Comix, "Keep on Truckin'", etc.
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Some people think the work of R. Crumb is inspiring. Some think it's disgusting. Some think it's both. One thing most agree on is that Crumb is among the most talked-about American cartoonists of the …

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… late 20th century. And practically everybody who knows anything about his work has at least one strong opinion on it.

Robert Crumb was born August 30, 1943, in Philadelphia, PA. Growing up, he was surrounded by comic books — among others, he has cited the Donald Duck comics by Carl Barks; Little Lulu, by John Stanley; and Pogo, by Walt Kelly, as having having helped shape his comics sensibilities from a very early age. Later on, he was strongly influenced by Mad magazine, mostly during the tenure of founding editor Harvey Kurtzman (Goodman Beaver). Years later, at Help! magazine, Kurtzman became the first editor to buy Crumb's work. Kurtzman (who is perhaps best known to the general public as the creator of Little Annie Fanny) remained a friend and mentor to Crumb, as well as a major influence on the younger artist's style.

Crumb didn't just read comics while growing up — he also made them. He and his older brother, Charles, started collaborating on what they called "Two-Man Comics" while Robert was still a very young boy; and when he was a little older, he started doing them by himself. Some of the themes and plots of these unpublished comics found their way into Crumb's adult work, as did at least one character — Fritz the Cat, which became the most famous of his creations when Ralph Bakshi (American Pop, Mighty Mouse) starred the character in America's first X-rated animated feature.

From 1962-67, Crumb put in an artist's apprenticeship at American Greeting Card Co., in Cleveland, OH (where, by the way, his boss was Tom Wilson, creator of Ziggy). It was there that he learned the skills necessary to physically prepare a drawing for publication. He also learned a soft, curvy, "cute" art style, vestiges of which remained with him for decades. It was also in Cleveland that he first met Harvey Pekar, who probably would not have created American Splendor had he not known Crumb.

In 1967, Crumb moved to San Francisco, where he promptly began his rise to fame. Mr. Natural first appeared later that year. Zap Comix debuted in '68. Snoids, Vulture Demonesses, Eggs Ackley and many other familiar Crumb characters started during this period. These publications at first made him a neighborhood celebrity in the Haight-Ashbury area, then brought him more wide-spread name recognition as the underground comix that carried his work achieved national distribution. By 1972, he was very well-known in the youth counter-culture — and that's when Bakshi's Fritz the Cat made it to the big screen, catapulting him into mainstream notoriety.

A great deal of Crumb's work concerns sex, and some of the sex in it is fairly bizarre by contemporary cultural standards — or by most other standards, for that matter. Crumb has also done a lot of autobiographical work — and very frequently, the two themes overlap. This has made him a subject of considerable controversy. Still, his popularity has grown over the years, to the point where his sequential art posters such as "A Concise History of America" and "Stoned Again" can found on the walls of many middle-class American homes — and practically everybody knows Crumb's "Keep on Truckin'" image.

Like most people who make their living as artists, Crumb has created and maintained a series of sketchbooks since his earliest days. Unlike most, he saw his work become so valuable that he was able to trade his sketchbooks for a villa in France — where he lives today.

Crumb is that rarest of artists — one taken seriously by elite critics, whose work nonetheless strikes a responsive chord with large portions of the general public. He still elicits controversy, and will undoubtedly continue to do so as long as his work remains in public view — which in his case, might very well mean centuries.


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Text ©2001-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © R. Crumb.