Robert Crumb on the famous and infamous

Here's a 3-part series on Robert Crumb's comments on dozens of "the famous and infamous," compiled from a large number of interviews. I find it fascinating and I often (but not always) agree with him.


Robert: "I love Burroughs also; a great writer. But his best writing is his straight-ahead prose. He wrote all this crazy fantasy stuff, which I think he was encouraged to do by this other beatnik writer, Brian Gyson, who, for some reason Burroughs admired. Gyson was, I think, a jive-ass, bullshit kind of guy. Burroughs, I think he lacked confidence in his own writing, because when he wrote straight prose it didn’t sell well. When he wrote Junky, and that came out, it didn’t sell well in the beginning. And then he wrote this other book, Queer, around the same time in the early ’50s and he couldn’t even get that published. That wasn’t published until the 1980s. And Queer is a great book. Both Junky and Queer are great. They’re both written in this very dry, prose style. And his little thin book called the Yage Letters, which were letters he wrote back to Allen Ginsburg while he was in South America looking for this psychedelic Yage plant. That’s a great book; great stuff. But the problem is, there’s not enough of that, not enough of his straight-ahead prose. He just didn’t think it was any good because he either couldn’t get it published or it didn’t sell. So then he wrote this gimmicky thing called Naked Lunch, which is mostly fantasy stuff and not very interesting to me, and that sold well. He made his reputation on Naked Lunch.

201203210950GARRY TRUDEAU

Robert: "I never could get interested in that comic strip. What’s it called? [Doonesbury] I can’t remember the name of it. I just never could get interested in it. I could never read one of his strips to the end. Those sleepy-eyed characters, I just found the drawing style so annoying I couldn’t even read it. It just puts me off."

Crumb on Others


  1. Well, I cannot agree more about Gary Trudeau. I respect the reputation of Doonesbury and I mostly agree with his political message, but… boy are his panels overly-busy and unpleasant to read.

    1. Everybody looks stoned in his comics, like the characters are all too cool for the story. That annoys me.

      Also, he’s not funny.

  2. Crumb’s got two strikes there. Can you come up with someone else he doesn’t like so we can get him out of the game permanently?

    Funny, I never liked Crumb much. Davey’s comment about the characters being too cool for the story is Crumb’s trademark, after all.

    1. I don’t know if Davey expressed his point as well as he would have wanted to (and I am sure he can do it himself), but I also happen to find the way that Trudeau’s characters have these half-shut eyes that make them look somewhat divorced from what they are saying. I wouldn’t classify it as “too cool,” but more like “can’t be bothered.”

      R. Crumbs characters indeed act too cool, but look so much better and show much more passion acting cool than the Doonesbury characters do on a daily basis.

      I have read some of the Doonesbury trade paperbacks (because, frankly, comic strips like his are difficult to enjoy when you read them on a daily basis.) and… again… I respect the work, but also find it unappealing and off-putting at the same time.

    2. Crumb’s characters “too cool”? Maybe in his 60s stuff, but for years most of his character-based strips have been about weirdos, outcasts and neurotics…

      1. None of Crumb’s characters are cool. To think otherwise showsa massive misreading of Crumb. I keep thinking of Flakey Foont. He’s us uncool as humanly possible. 

        1. None of his characters are “cool” in a very mainstream way, but some of his 60s characters are pretty self-assured and tend to come out on top in their “adventures”, like Mr. Natural or Eggs Ackley or some (not all) of the Fritz the Cat stories…even the Snoid is pretty successful at what he does, or at least was in his earlier stories.

    3.  You ought to read some of his work. I don’t think you’d arrive at that conclusion. All his “cool” characters (Mode O’day, hipster record company execs, etc.) are cool in their eyes only.

  3. Interesting read, I like the part early on about Kubrick and “Lolita”, They couldn’t decide whether to make him (Humbert Humbert) sympathetic or a heinous villain.

    Well I think that’s kind of the point with Humbert, isn’t it?

    1. Exactly. Many of Nabokov’s readers can’t decide that either. Much to Nabokov’s satisfaction, I’m sure.

  4. That is a horribly designed website.  It’s an interesting read, although I don’t know much about Crumb really.  But damn that site is messing with my eyes.  I’m going to have to copy the text and read it elsewhere.  

    1. I’ll grant you that. It is a very 90s-era site design.

      I love how a lot of people who grew up during the 50s and 60s are decidedly anti-Ronald Reagan. I couldn’t agree more with these people. 

      1. Yeah, going to red to white is messing with my optics.

        Finally someone who I agree with about Dylan and someone who knows about the issue of the Untouchables regarding Gandhi. 

        Two strange things though. I thought he’d get asked about Bill Watterson and he’s only seen George Carlin on DVD. 

        1. I haven’t read a lot about this but I get the impression Gandhi’s views on the untouchables may have evolved over time. Gandhi’s wikipedia article mentions in the Negotiations section that in 1924-25 he refused to support a campaign to allow untouchables to pray in temples, but I’ve also read that later in the 30s he campaigned to end the rules associated with “untouchability”, including the rules about temples…see the “Root and Branch” section of this article which quotes him saying “What I want, what I am living for and what I should delight in dying for, is the eradication of untouchability root and branch…. My life I count of no consequences…. My fast I want to throw in the scales of justice and if it wakes up caste-Hindus from their slumber, it will have served its purpose.” And also: “In his speech at Karaikal, Gandhi told the crowds that untouchability was completely inimical to the message of the Rig Veda. Its Mantras, he said, gave the lesson that there was one God and that He was supreme. All beings were born out of the Supreme Spirit. Untouchability as practiced, is contrary to this Divine Truth.”

          1. I have always found it difficult to accept the saintly image of Gandi after seeing that he wrote the following paragraph discussing the superiority of Indians over black South Africans:

            Clause 200 makes provision for registration of persons belonging to uncivilized races, resident and employed within the Borough. One can understand the necessity of registration of Kaffirs who will not work, but why should registration be required for indentured Indians who have become free, and for their descendants about whom the general complaint is that they work too much?

      2. I love how a lot of people who grew up during the 50s and 60s are decidedly anti-Ronald Reagan.

        That would be the hippies.

    2.  What makes web design so hard?

      I understand that it is difficult, I’m certainly no good at blog layouts, but this is only a web page dedicated to a legend in visual and print media.

  5. Entertaining read, but black text on a 255 RED background?  I think I might be half blind now.

    1. After reading all 3 parts on Crumb’s site I was stunned when I went to another page. I had to get up for a minute.

  6. Bring back the proletariat rock that scares the middle class!! Great read. Love me some Crumb.

  7. Couldn’t get through more than a couple of sentences before the background color caused me physical pain.  I don’t mean that in a design snob way, like it offended my aesthetic sensibilities or something — I mean literal, actual physical pain in my eyes.  Ugh.

  8. It would be certainly be one of the high points of my life if R. Crumb would draw my portrait in his comic book style (as opposed to his more lifelike renderings). Years ago I drew characters for posters and newspaper ads imitating Crumb’s style, with a hint of old Disney toons thrown in. Crumb was simply my favorite. It is phenomenal to see him just sit down and quickly render a scene.

  9. <3 Crumb.

    Somehow he seems the quintessential 20th century artist to me; dated site style merely cements that view.

    …+1 Crumb on Warhol. Duchamp might have had something to say…

  10. Crumb has a much stronger (and classic) drawing style than Trudeau. Trudeau’s drawings are more like an “every man”or college newspaper’s cartoonist’s. Crumb celebrates the outcasts as noted by others here. Trudeau’s strips are up to the moment socio/politico commentaries, always were, and right in the face of the right wing. Note: his column last week about what women in Texas would experience when they want an abortion was banned in many newspapers across the country. So much for freedom of speech.
    Let’s not argue about who is the better cartoonist. They’re both great and for different reasons. Neither are funny per se  (and it’s been a long time since that was the criteria for good comics) but both are thoroughly engaging, masters of their genres. Both should be enshrined at the Smithsonian.

    1. As a syndicated political cartoonist, having a visual style particularly worthy of merit is optional for Trudeau. 90% of it is just getting the point across, and to a deadline.

      I guess some folks miss that.

      1.  You are correct, sir. Trudeau himself would be the first to admit his art sucks, that it’s the content that matters.

    2. I really disliked South Park when I first saw it.  I thought it was terribly drawn. After hearing repeated quotes and bits of dialogue I realized I was judging it for what it wasn’t. I still don’t watch South Park, but I love the humorous tidbits I often hear they did.
      I consider Robert Crumb’s style to be the pinnacle of what some of the best old cartoons expressed. His is a complete and highly recognizable style. It never fails to tickle something inside of me. I enjoy perusing his art for the subtleties he is so damned good at rendering. The film “Crumb” is a must-see!

  11. Finally someone (and some people) who share my feelings for Doonesbury. I have no comment on the literary content or even the characters, but I’ve always felt the drawing style looks like it’s trying to be really really clever and self-aware, like every person in the Doonesbury world are rolling their eyes, 24/7, at how the universe and everything in it is “just a bunch of bull”.

  12. Some of his comments are interesting.

    And some are just repeating “I liked his early stuff but then he got commercial” over and over and over and over and over and over and…

    Robert Crumb was into being into things before they were trendy before it was trendy.

  13. Ha! Crumb seems to be the proto-hipster. Everyone´s stuff he was into he became uninterested in when they became popular.
    “You know I was really into the Beatles when they still played that underground rockabilly stuff that fifty other English bands played at the same time, but then they became too mainstream for me.”

    Also, looking at that webdesign is like holding your breath and going into a room without oxygen. You can only take it for a while and come out exhausted.

    Still love Crumb.

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