R. Crumb's weirdest drug trip

 Files Crumboncrumb Type

Over on his website, Robert Crumb has been writing about significant events in his life. Recently he wrote about a long-lasting "weird psychedelic drug" he had taken in the 1960s, and the effects it had on his art.

A whole new thing was emerging in my drawings, a sort of harkening back, a calling up for what G. Legman had called the "Horror-Squinky" forces lurking in American comics of the 1940s. I had no control over it, the whole time I was in this fuzzy state of mind; the separation, the barrier betwixt the conscious and the subconscious was broken open somehow. A grotesque kaleidoscope, a tawdry carnival of disassociated images kept sputtering to the surface... especially if I was sitting and staring, which I often did. It was difficult to function in this condition, I was certifiably crazy, I sat staring on the couch at Marty's apartment, or on long aimless bus rides around Chicago. These jerky animated cartoons in my mind were not beautiful, poetic or spiritual, they were like an out-of-tune player piano that you couldn't shut off... pretty disturbing... this strange interlude ended as abruptly as it had begun in the next time I took a powerful dose of LSD in April '66. My mind suddenly cleared. The fuzziness was gone, the fog lifted. It was a great relief... a weird drug, that was. But what the heck -- "minds are made to be blown."

And what a boon to my art! It was during that fuzzy period that I recorded in my sketchbook all the main characters I would be using in my comics for the next ten years; Mr. Natural, Flakey Foont, Schuman The Human, The Snoid, Eggs Ackley, The Vulture Demoness, Shabno The Shoe-Horn Dog, this one, that one... which is interesting. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, like a religious vision that changes someone's life, but in my case it was the psychotoic manifestation of some grimy part of America's collective unconscious.

Crumb on LSD, the creation of his most famous characters, and his move to San Francisco in 1967

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  1. “This article originally appeared in The Complete Crumb Comics – Volume 4 (1988, Fantagraphics)”

  2. Crumb has done several strips about his time in San Francisco. ‘I remember the Sixties’ is pretty good. It chronicles several of his acid trips, like the bad trip where he thought he had gone to hell, & everyone around him were demons & devils. Or the time he saw the celestial lights, then came down, listening to the bus go by & wondered now what?

  3. What Crumb doesn’t mention is that schizophrenia runs in his family. His older brother suffered from it, and it seems that his mother also did (although never diagnosed?) I suspect Crumb’s freakier experiences, including the one described, were from LSD + latent mental illness, not from psychedelics alone. Don’t try this at home kids, at least not with the hope of becoming an inspired artist.

  4. If LSD led to being an inspired artist, there would be so many of us!

    Reminds me of “Will I be able to play the piano after this op, doc?”

    “Can you now?”

    “Nope”.

    Thanks for the link… just spent a happy hour or so on the site. Will probably dream of GURL!

  5. I’m reminded of the chapter in “The Man who Mistook His Wife For a Hat” by Oliver Sacks, where the med student suddenly becomes “dog-like” after ingesting lots of drugs; he wakes up after a trip and has increased sense of smell and hearing and sight, including the ability to be able to draw from life when before he couldn’t. Unfortunately he also cannot think abstractly, with mathematics and concepts like “next week” being completely incomprehensible to him. Thankfully this only lasted for a few days, as it made his studies impossible, but if I were in the same position I would immediately take advantage of it by drawing and exploring the world with my new enhanced senses, similar to how Crumb took his freaked out state of mind and managed to create his best characters.

  6. Reminds me of Kim Deitch’s Boulevard of Broken Dreams, wherein a young cartoonist (and, if his intro is to be believed, the author himself) smoked and/or lit incense from a mysterious talisman-like pipe and became engulfed in hallucinogenic cartoon spirits and landscapes that became a very real part of his life, inspiring his most successful artwork.

  7. Shocked by how quickly people leap upon any reference that drugs might just be useful for people.

    Remember, LSD was legal until Gov.Reagan outlawed it in 1966.
    Seems that some people still get all uptight when others intimate that non-pharma drugs did them some good.

    I was expecting a discussion about Crumb, not anti-drug polemics.

  8. I mean, lots of artists were and are heavy drinkers, and many may be inspired while drunk – like dylan thomas, for eg – but people don’t jump up and call them liars, and say that their drinking had nothing to do with their art.

    Art comes from the whole person: and of course we are not all artists, nor does Crumb anywhere claim that HIS experience could, far less should, be replicated by others.

    Artists ought not need to be exemplars of virtue, although that seems now to be a desired – nay, required – quality for some critics in modern America.
    No. They are simply artists. As such, their work is to be judged not by how they have made their art, or by what inspired them, or by what they had eaten or drank or smoked or injected while being inspired or working, or by how they treat other people, but by the art itself.

    And good art will never need any defense from me.

    I was momentarily taken aback by the attack upon Crumb from ahaarchive (who disingenuously then claims that he thinks Crumb is a great artist, apparently despite the “horseshit” which he had just vehemently accused Crumb of spreading) and his ham-fisted anti-drug trolling( or is it anti-hippie? and where would Crumb be now without the hippies, ahaarchive? )
    NOBODY made the statements which he attributes to Crumb, except ahaarchive himself.

    And I ought to know better than to feed trolls.

  9. Groucho Marx, imitating Otto Preminger when they were both on acid, as related to Dick Cavett: “I zaw tings but, I did not zee my ZELF!”.

  10. Seriously, now — am I the only person to have noticed “LSD art”? Not among artists, though I’m sure I’ve seen many examples, for example on the sidewalks of San Francisco in the late 60’s. But in the doodles and sketches of friends who took a lot of acid…I remember noticing these very ornate, almost obsessively-elaborated doodles produced by several friends and acquaintances (each in their own style), and also noting that they were experienced acid users.

    Has no one else noticed this?

  11. You can look at a disposable pen and see something in it that inspires you to great art. People have been inspired to great art by looking at flowers, or by tripping over a dead dog. Heck, if there’s an itch on your nose in the wrong mood or on the wrong day (or rather the ‘right’ ones as it were), even that can inspire you to great art.

    In other words, (1) it’s not your experiences. It’s what you make of them. And (2) therefore, to claim it is impossible to derive valuable artistic inspiration from an experience drugs, is to put drugs in a class all on their own, somehow different from every other stimulus or possible observation known to humanity, ALL of which, I mean EVERY SINGLE ONE of which, are capable of inspiring the right person to express something great — except apparently drugs.

    So those of you saying that it is impossible for a drug to bring creative inspiration to anyone are living in a fairytale nonsense world in which there are magic evil things that are instrincally evil and from which no good can ever spring. That isn’t the real world folks, and those of you who see it that way really need to open your eyes and see the plain any-input-will-do-ness of the human brain that is sitting right in front of you.

    If reading these paragraphs doesn’t help you see this truth, maybe take some drugs. Or eat a tub of ice cream and go on a balloon ride. I guarantee that there is something out there that is capable of enlightening you. I really don’t care what it is — nor should you when it comes to others.

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