Robert CrumbRobert Crumb (who signs his work as "R. Crumb") is an artist, born on August 30th 1943, whose entire adult life has been dedicated to drawing comic strips and comic books. He never joined the mainstream comic book publishing industry; since the 1960s, he has been one of the founders and major participants in the field of underground comics.
As the flower power movement of the 1960s was getting into full swing, Crumb came to San Francisco and found a number of other artists who were interested in publishing small-press, independent comic books aimed at the audiences of the day. Along with such artists as Spain Rodriguez and Gilbert Shelton, Crumb published the first issue of Zap Comics in 1967. The comic series took the psychedelic counter-culture movement by storm, giving rise to a series of rebellious, adult-oriented comic books that found an audience with the hippies, rebels, and rock-and-roll crowd who didn't want anything to do with the mainstream superhero comic books of such publishing houses as DC and Marvel. Crumb, however, claims disaffection with the flower power movement, saying that he just wanted to "get in on some of that free love."
In the pages of Zap and many other esoteric comic books, Crumb created a number of characters that became icons of the anti-establishment, including "Mr. Natural" and "Fritz the Cat." Crumb's single-page comic strip "Keep On Truckin'" summed up the "free love" generation, and Crumb found his work to be in great demand. Janis Joplin hired him to draw the artwork for the cover of her album Cheap Thrills; while animation director Ralph Bakshi made a feature-length animated film of Fritz the Cat (the first animated film to garner an "X" rating), and the film was a box-office hit. Crumb disliked the film so much that he killed the fictional cat in his comics by having an ostrich-woman stab him in the head. Nonetheless Crumb became famous; his fame took him by surprise as much as anyone ... and he didn't like it.
One of the few anti-establishment figures who genuinely rejected the notion of "selling out" (he turned down an offer to illustrate an album cover for the Rolling Stones because he hated the band's music), Crumb rarely published his works in mainstream magazines. Over the years, he published a large number of small-press, independent comic books with similar titles, including Head Comix, Carload o' Comics, Uneeda Comics, Weirdo Comics, etc. (He published a promotion for the Church of the SubGenius in Weirdo, which contributed greatly to the popularization of the organization in the early 1980s).
Crumb's comic artwork has elicited a wide range of commentary from his readers and critics. A number of respected literary figures view his art as sublime, subversive satire, comparing him to Francois Rabelais, while other see his drawings as merely pornographic and misogynist. Crumb has admitted that he has an abnormal "fear of women," and a great deal of his work is indeed adult-oriented. A notorious issue of Zap Comics containing an illustrated satiric story by Crumb of a household demonstrating family togetherness by engaging in incest resulted in the prosecution of at least one comic book store on charges of obscenity.
A theatrical production based on his work was produced at Duke University, in North Carolina, in the early 1990s. Directed by Johnny Simons, and starring Nicholas de Wolff and Avner Eisenberg of Avner the Eccentric fame, the development of the play was supervised by Crumb, who also served as set designer, drawing larger-than-life representations of some of his most famous characters all over the floors and walls of the set.
The 1996 documentary film Crumb is an in-depth look at Crumb's life and artwork. The film was directed by Crumb's friend Terry Zwigoff, who had started it decades before it was released, then abandoned it, only to resume filming much later.
Crumb moved with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb (also a well-known "underground" cartoonist) and their daughter, Sophie, to the small town of Sauve, France.