Mr. Natural. Artist: R. Crumb.


Medium: Comix
Published in: Underground newspapers
First Appeared: 1967
Creator: R. Crumb
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It was during the "underground comix" era of the late 1960s and early '70s that cartoonist R. Crumb

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… achieved fame. With the exception of Fritz the Cat, all of the major recurring characters he used during that period — Snoid, Schuman the Human, Eggs Ackley, etc. — were created during a few months in 1966, and began appearing in print shortly after. The best remembered of this batch is Mr. Natural.

Mr. Natural (first name Fred) wears only a smock and a pair of humongous shoes. His weight varies widely from one appearance to another. He looks a little bit like O.G. Wotasnozzle, and Crumb has acknowledged some debt in designing him to the protagonist of Gene Ahern's The Squirrel Cage. His background is obscure — sometimes he's said to be a former taxi driver from Afghanistan, sometimes an escaped convict, but usually, the issue isn't raised. He makes his living as a rather worldly guru, sponging off of any disciple who will give him a meal or, better yet, pay cash for his wisdom.

The first Mr. Natural page appeared in the first issue of Yarrowstalks (May 5, 1967), an underground newspaper published in San Francisco by David Auten and Brian Zahn. Two issues later, Flakey Foont first appeared in a Mr. Natural page, setting the stage for a long-running series of encounters. Flakey Foont is to Mr. Natural as Elmer Fudd is to Bugs Bunny — the guru has had other foils, but Flakey — insecure, confused, and always on a spiritual quest — is particularly vulnerable to Mr. Natural's strengths.

Mr. Natural's first national distribution came in Zap Comix #s 0 and 1, which came out in 1967 and are still in print. Three years later, the first of three issues of his own comic came out, and they, too, have been reprinted many times. In the mid-1970s, Crumb did a regular series about him in The Village Voice, but soon grew tired of doing the character on such a steady basis, had the guru tossed into a mental institution, and was done with him. For all we know, he may languish there yet.

Mr. Natural has never been the subject of a TV show, an animated cartoon, or a daily newspaper strip. But there's a tattoo parlor in Virginia named after him, and in 1993 he was made into a squeak-toy. Maybe lunch boxes and Underoos aren't too far behind.


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