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Creator / Robert Crumb

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Crumb, with a pair of female fans.

Robert Dennis Crumb (born August 30, 1943) is an Underground Comics creator best known for Zap Comix, "Keep on Truckin", Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural and the album cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills (1968). He began his career working for Topps and the American Greetings corporation; there, he drew several of the earliest Fritz the Cat comics and the graphic novel Oggie and the Beanstalk. He had some work published by Harvey Kurtzman in Help! magazine, but experiences with LSD led him to create some of his best-known comics, which he either published himself or submitted to other underground publications.

Some of this work earned him a lot of criticism from other underground cartoonists and social commentators. Works depicting Blackface-inspired imagery and use of the N-word earned Crumb false accusations of racism, even though the comics were actually a satire of racism, not racist work in of itself. Harder to deny, however, was the misogyny: his comics frequently featured women being beaten up and raped, and even enjoying being sexually assaulted. Crumb commentators have associated this viewpoint with Crumb's then-unhappy marriage, noting that after remarrying and having a daughter, Crumb has drawn significantly more feminist-themed material since the 1980s.

Became famous again in the 1990s as the subject of the critically-acclaimed biopic Crumb, which is similar in many ways to American Splendor, the semi-autobiographical adaptation of the life of fellow underground cartoonist Harvey Pekar, which Crumb also contributed to. Crumb is a character in the movie adaptation of American Splendor, played by James Urbaniak. Other artists heavily influenced by Crumb include Bill Griffith, Larry Gonick, and (early) Art Spiegelman.

Crumb's earliest comics could also be considered an early example of Furry Fandom, being that he and his brother mostly enjoyed reading Funny Animal comics and drew these kinds of comics as children.

He also illustrated album covers, the most noteworthy example being Cheap Thrills (Big Brother and the Holding Company).

Most recently, Crumb illustrated a comic book adaptation of the Book of Genesis. In his notes in the back of the volume, the agnostic Crumb points out with some pride that his comic book version of the Book of Genesis contains the whole Book, while most Christian comic book versions heavily abridge it.

R. Crumb provides examples of these tropes:

  • Amazonian Beauty : One of his many specific fetishes
  • Art Evolution: Crumb's art style has become more realistic over time.
  • Art Shift: After Crumb began using LSD.
  • Author Appeal:
    • Crumb explains his ideal female body type here.
    • Crumb's work is highly personal and deals with many of his own interests, including his love for 1920s and 1930s music and his own sexual fantasies.
    • Crumb draws a lot of pornographic scenes, but he does it mostly to please himself, so many scenes will feature huge women with heavy thighs and thick legs and/or furry cartoon characters.
    • Among his non-sexual interests include classic cartoons and comics, blues and jazz music.
  • Batman Gambit: Mr. Natural uses this, making people even angrier because they realize how predictable they are.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: One of his many specific fetishes.
  • Black Comedy: His comics frequently utilize this type of humor, most notably in Fritz the Cat.
  • Blackface: This imagery is frequently satirized in Crumb's work, which was ironically accused of being racist itself, even though the intent was actually to mock racism. Considering American Splendor and his more realistic portrayals of African-Americans (including portraits of blues musicians he admired), Crumb did not use blackface imagery outside of his satires (including "Angelfood McSpade" and the parody ad for "Nigger Hearts").
  • Black Jezebel Stereotype: Angelfood McSpade, one of his most notorious creations, may be the trope codifier, being a black woman with large exposed breasts, large buttocks, and almost no clothing save for some jewelry and a skirt made from palm leaves. The narration regularly describes her voracious sexual appetite, and claims that she has to be confined to "the wilds of darkest Africa" because civilization would collapse if she were allowed to run free. Crump had a Parody Retcon in 2004 claiming she was a criticism of the stereotype, but the fact that he retired her in the 1970s really didn't help.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Crumb is very fond of the 1920s and 1930s, generally hating most aspects of pop culture after the 1940s. a theme that can be found in his work as well. Music of the 1950s onward is the biggest example, recounting that he "fell asleep" at The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix concerts, and thought that certain modern blues musicians would be more appealing to him if they played acoustic guitars, finding the sound of the electric guitar to be intolerable. The love for the early 20th century didn't him from making comics that probably would have gotten him arrested then however.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Flakey Foont
    • Angelfood Mcspade too, hell, most women in his work.
    • And let's not forget Crumb himself.
  • Comic-Book Adaptation: Crumb has drawn comics about a variety of topics, including biopics of Franz Kafka, blues singer Charlie Patton and the Book of Genesis.
  • Creator Backlash: With "Keep On Truckin'", and later Fritz the Cat.
    • Though one of his most famous works is the album cover to Cheap Thrills by Janis Joplin's band Big Brother & the Holding Company, Crumb dislikes the band's music, and rock music in general.
    • He wasn't particularly thrilled with the Crumb documentary either, despite its enormous acclaim.
  • He Also Did: Crumb also founded a retro-based band, the Cheap Suit Serenaders, which plays 1920s jazz, blues, country, Hawaiian and pop songs, although he hasn't played with them since the late 70s. (Another known member of the band, Terry Zwigoff, later directed the documentary Crumb, and some mainstream films like Ghost World, Art School Confidential, and Bad Santa.)
  • Darker and Edgier: His work in the late 50's and early 60's certainly wasn't family friendly, but it wasn't nearly as confessional, perverse, unsettling and graphic as what he drew into the late 60's and 70's.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: Most of his work is in black-and-white.
  • Dirty Old Man: He still was pretty horny throughout most of his senior years, although he's tried to be less so recently.
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: A recurring theme in many of his funny comics, where the male often takes advantage of sleeping women to get his away. In most cases they don't even notice or care.
  • Dysfunctional Family: As seen in the documentary Crumb, Robert Crumb is easily the most normal, socially gifted, and level-headed of the Crumb brothers. Think about that for a moment.
  • Everybody Has Lots of Sex: In Crumb's comics, All Men Are Perverts and All Women Are Lustful.
  • Everybody Must Get Stoned: Many of his best-known Underground Comics were created under the influence of LSD use, which significantly affected his art style.
  • Fan Disservice: Some pornographic scenes he draws are examples of Black Comedy Rape and even I Love the Dead, all done more to shock his audience than anything else. It's a wonder whether anyone except himself ever got aroused reading this stuff. He's openly admitted to illustrating it mainly because he had incredibly disturbing desires that he was afraid to discuss with other people.
  • Follow the Leader: Though not the first adult comic strip artist, nor even the first underground comics cartoonist, Crumb did become the most famous one in his field, inspiring countless graphic artists and cartoonists to draw whatever they damn well pleased. An entire industry of sex comics, politically subversive counterculture comics and autobiographical graphic novels can be directly attributed to them.
  • Furries Are Easier to Draw: Mostly enjoyed and drew only Funny Animal comics when he was younger, and claimed that Fritz allowed him a certain degree of separation from reality that he couldn't get with humans. He eventually lost interest in this and rarely, if ever, drawn anthropomorphic characters these days.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Many of Crumb's comics were blatantly misogynistic, depicting abuse, assault and rape of women. His portrayals of women got better in the 1980s, however.
  • Hermit Guru: Mr. Natural.
  • Honor Before Reason: Crumb has refused many commercial offers, despite sometimes needing the money, because he detested "selling out" and only took illustrating jobs he personally liked.
  • Iconic Outfit: If Crumb as a person shows up in another cartoonist's work, he is usually depicted as wearing his straw hat, his round glasses and carrying around a banjo.
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Despite otherwise being very heterosexual, he referenced being sexually attracted to Bugs Bunny when he was younger.
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: "Cheezis K. Reist in: Hamburger Hi-Jinx", in which an Angel Unaware learns about the Circle of Life from a talking hamburger and relish.
  • Journal Comic: Dirty Laundry, which he co-wrote with his wife.
  • Kicked Out of Heaven: He once drew a comic strip where Mr. Natural is hit by a car and then goes to Heaven where he meets God. Natural is however not very impressed and finds the whole concept "corny". Thus God lets one of his angels kick Natural back down to Earth.
  • Lighter and Softer: Crumb's work has been significantly less politically incorrect since his second marriage and especially since the birth of his daughter, featuring far more sympathetic depictions of women and virtually no tongue-in-cheek satires of racism. When he moved to France in the early 90s, many fans complained that Crumb was "too happy" to produce anything interesting any more.
  • Loveable Sex Maniac: He openly admitted that he started drawing because he couldn't access pornography.
  • Male Gaze: Most of his work from the 60s and 70s can be summed up as "all of the sex that R. Crumb wishes he was having."
  • My Country Tis of Thee That I Sting: Criticized the U.S.A. several times, most notably in "Why I Hate the U.S.A."
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Mr. Natural and his friends are the ur-example. Especially as they were stereotyped as such in R. Crumb's comics before anyone outside San Francisco knew what a hippie was.
  • Nonstandard Character Design: Aline Kominsky-Crumb would draw herself in Dirty Laundry, while almost everything else was drawn by Robert. This led to an in-comic argument over her art skill. In a few Dirty Laundry stories, their daughter Sophie drew herself as well. (Also counts as Shared Universe.)
  • Parody:
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Even if you've never heard of his work, you've seen "Mr. Natural" and his famous motto, "Keep on Truckin'!!" and other big-footed Crumb characters on the mudflaps of hippie truckers and bikers everywhere. Fritz the Cat is also well known to many people, mostly thanks to the movie adaptations which Crumb hates to these day.
  • Rape as Comedy: Another controversial theme in his comics.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Outside of his parodies, LSD-inspired comics and Funny Animal work, Crumb is best known for autobiographical material drawn people and events in his real life. Crumb also drew some of the artwork for Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, which is in the same vein, although not quite as grotesque as Crumb's often-disturbing depictions of his sexual history and fetishes.
  • Reclusive Artist: Moved with his second wife and daughter to a remote village in France in the early 90s, rarely, if ever, returning to the United States or making public appearances.
  • Signature Style: Incredibly detailed and crosshatched, yet somewhat exaggerated art with a lot of obscene content and disgust at modern society.
  • Straw Misogynist: His earlier comics did not portray strong female characters nor sympathetic portrayals of women. After his second marriage though and especially the birth of his daughter, his comics became much more respectful and sympathetic of women characters.
  • The '60s: Icon of the 1960s and 1970s, but broke into mainstream attention again with the movie Crumb.
  • Surreal Horror: Most of what he drew early on made very little sense, with extremely vulgar content and confusing imagery and plots.
  • Torch the Franchise and Run: He hated the animated Fritz the Cat film so much he killed the character off and refused to use him ever again! Didn't stop a sequel happening though...
  • Underground Comics: Considered by many to be the Trope Codifier.
  • Write Who You Know: Many of the characters in Crumb's comics, particularly his autobiographical work, are drawn from his actual friends and family.
  • Zeerust: Many of Crumb's early comics are drawn in a style deliberately imitative of old 1920's-1930's era comics and advertisements, right down to the racial caricatures.