Robert Crumb: My Characters Have a Life of Their Own
"I was a bad boy when I was young, but I probably would have been much worse if I haven't been able to draw those comics and foist them upon the public."
In this stage talk, legendary cartoonist Robert Crumb reflects on his artistic life “as a creepy weirdo.” Read more …
“There is an anti-pornography argument saying that men who look at pornography want to rape women. My defense is – when I am criticized for drawing that stuff – that I am an artist, and artists can’t be held accountable for what they put out on paper, but if someone wants to publish it and if someone wants to buy it, it is another matter. As an artist, you can’t be censored, and you have to get it out there, you are not hurting anybody, if you get offended by looking at it, don’t look at it, “Robert Crumb says about his work, which was often criticized for its explicit sexual content.
“When I was a teenager, I drew sex drawings and flushed them down the toilet, and I was so embarrassed that I didn’t show them to anybody for years. When the hippie times open everything up, you take the risk, the chance, and actually put it out there for the public. It is a risk because you don’t know how people are going to react to it. They say you are misogynist, racist, or antisemitic, and other people think it is funny, and it opens something in them up to a broader reality. You can’t please everybody.”
In recent years, Robert Crumb has experienced resistance against his work. “There are college students who see a couple of my drawings and put nasty things on the Internet about me. I am too old, and I don’t even understand where these kids are coming from. They grew up with the Internet. I don’t understand the mentality. It is a little bit scary. We don’t know where it is going. You have extreme political correctness on the one hand and on the other side, you have these assholes that want to promote racism and right-wing agenda.”
As a result, Crumb says, “I don’t draw women anymore, I try not to look at women, I try not to think about women, it is too much trouble”. He finds it a relief because when “I was young, the desire was so powerful, I was speechless. I am 76 years old, and it is a relief to be free of that.”
The character Mr. Natural was a response to Crumb’s religious upbringing. “I was brought up as a Catholic. I went to a catholic school, and experienced deep programming of the Christian religion and God and Jesus. I had to deal with all that stuff. Catholic shame is deeply embedded in my mind, and it started six years old”.
“I just lived my youth on paper, always drawing. In social situations, I was afraid of people, so I would just sit drawing all the time and carry a sketchbook everywhere I went. Crumb got letters “from creepy guys thanking me for liberating me from feeling they were the only creepy weirdo in the world. Well, there are lots of us, creepy weirdos”.
Robert Crumb met Aline, the love of his life, in November 1971. They drew themselves in the series called Dirty Laundry. “All I would do was to give a line, and then it poured out of her, with standard Jewish humor and great storytelling genes. Aline saved my great sorry ass and still is today. I don’t cope very well with the world — people who want things from me. Aline is tougher than I am. She can deal with the world better than I can. If I weren’t with her, I would be dead by now,” Crumb concludes.
Robert Crumb (b. 1943) 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 honored 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 has made a joint comic strip based on their life together through four decades. A collection of comics, ‘Drawn Together’, was published in 2012.
Robert Crumb was interviewed by film critic Christian Monggaard on stage at the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark in August 2019.
Camera: Jakob Solbakken & Rasmus Quistgaard
Edit: Signe Boe Pedersen
Produced by Christian Lund
Cover photo by Klaus Holsting
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2023
Louisiana Channel is supported by Den A.P. Møllerske Støttefond, Ny Carlsbergfondet, C.L. Davids Fond og Samling and Fritz Hansen
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