Indie Classics: Crumb
Comic books are a common collector’s item and can even become an obsession, but it’s not as common to learn about the man behind the drawings. The documentary Crumb chronicles the life of Robert Crumb, a famous cartoonist/artist. It is through interviews with his mother, two brothers, wife, and ex-girlfriends that the viewer learns about how he grew up and his life. This makes it easier to understand the way Crumb is and explains his choice of drawings. It is an entry into Crumb’s subconscious that streams from his pen and reveals his life.
It was necessary to find a director that could match Crumb’s strangeness in order for this film to work. And what better guy than Terry Zwigoff? His love for comic books began in the early 1970s in San Francisco. During his mid-twenties he learned how to play the cello and joined Crumb’s string band, R. Crumb and his Cheap Suit Serenades. They went on to win the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Crumb.
Crumb’s cartoons are extremely sexual. On screen he is uncomfortable and awkward, but somehow it works. He is a creep. Although, it becomes apparent that he is really just honest. He does not candy cote a thing.
Crumb’s interest in comics was started by his brother Charles. Who used to collect and draw his own. He is now highly medicated and still lives with their mother. Charles is even more awkward than Robert and is completely detached from the human race. The documentary is a comedy and I was constantly laughing. But I heard these stories and was shocked at the lives they have lived and the constant torment that is running through their existence.
The way Crumb would talk about sex and his artwork were quite graphic. Not only would his words create visual pictures but he would show comics talking about his experiences. A slide show of his artwork would be shown while a story was being told, and many of the art pieces would create word vomit. Without even realizing I would be pointing at the screen, talking to myself, and say, “look at that” or “oh my gosh!”
There is a large debate about what pornography does for a woman’s image. It would be understandable for a woman to be offended by Crumb’s comics. At the same time, the women he draws are voluptuous and powerful. The question if these cartoons dehumanize and demean women depend on your own views of sexuality. Personally, I found it enlightening to see large women and real curves, instead of a women with the body of a twelve year old boy.
It is obvious that Crumb draws for himself and not for recognition, consider he makes fun of his fans. There is really no understanding the mind of Crumb, or any of his family members for that matter. The interviews with his brothers made me shake my head with disbelief and wonder. The strangest part is, Robert seems to be the normal one of the family.
The strangeness, awkwardness, and graphic sexual obsession collectively work together to create the character of Robert Crumb. It’s from the people of his past and the people around him that make it easier to understand the man and the mind behind the drawings.