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3:AM Cult Hero: R. Crumb

(R. Crumb. Self-portrait. 1986.)

“I felt so painfully isolated that I vowed I would get revenge on the world by becoming a famous cartoonist.”

Robert Crumb did indeed became a famous cartoonist. He became famous and influential enough that his work has been exhibited in art galleries and influenced a generation of artists after him.

Crumb was born in 1943 in Philadelphia. His older brother Charles had an obsession with making comics. Robert credits this for his own devotion to art. Charles was also an artist, but was emotionally and psychologically troubled, eventually killing himself in 1992. Charles’ work received interest after the release of Terry Zwigoff‘s documentary Crumb.

Robert started his career at a Cleveland greeting card company, while drawing alternative comics (later styled “comix”) on the side. During this time, he befriended Harvey Pekar, who shared his love of 1920s jazz. Through Crumb, Pekar discovered the dramatic possibilities of comics, and the first several issues of Pekar’s comic autobiography American Splendor were drawn by Crumb.

Starting in 1965, Crumb began drawing Fritz the Cat for Help! and Cavalier. Fritz was like Crumb, except he had many sexual escapades that Crumb could only dream about. Ralph Bakshi made an animated film in 1972 based on the character – the first and only animated film to get an X rating.

Crumb eventually married and moved to Haight-Asbury when the hippie scene was at its peak. He started the legendary Zap Comix in 1968. The first issue introduced his character Mr. Natural and the famous Keep on Truckin’ – a reference to a 1920s dance move.


Crumb was pigeonholed by critics early on as having a fixation with the female form – many of his drawings were sexual fantasies and he has been criticized as being sexist in his depictions of many of them. As time moved on, his women were less sexually exaggerated.

Terry Zwigoff’s documentary Crumb came out in 1994. It focused on Robert and his brothers Charles and Maxon. It was hailed as one of the best documentaries of the last 25 years. It was not nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and the furor that resulted – along with the snubbing of another acclaimed documentary that year Hoop Dreams – caused the Academy to change its documentary nomination process.

Most of Crumb’s recent work can be found in the pages of either The New Yorker or Mineshaft Magazine. The latter has reprinted works of the late Charles Bukowski, whom Crumb collaborated with in the early 1980s.

MORE: Official site / Crumb Museum / Mineshaft Magazine / Paris Review: R. Crumb, the Art of Comics no. 1. Interviewed by Ted Widmer. Summer 2010 / Conversation with Francoise Mouly / G2 in Crumbland / “No Girls Allowed! Crumb and the Comix Counterculture” / “R. Crumb” Salon, May 2000 / Comic-Art.com biography

First posted: Monday, December 13th, 2010.

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