Robert Crumb comments on celebrities and artists

It's interesting to learn what Robert Crumb thinks about notable people. "Crumb on Others, Part Five," compiled by Alex Wood, was just published on Robert Crumb's website. (The black-on-red text is awful; thank goodness for Instapaper.)


Robert: Peter Max [laughs]... he's a totally fucking jive character. I read an article about him about ten years ago and he was doing these really bad, sloppy paintings, knocking 'em out as quickly as possible and trying to sell them based on his name. But you know, in the psychedelic era, his stuff was all over the place. He was way better known than I was, back in like '68, '69, '70 period. Yeah, Peter Max capitalized on the whole psychedelic art scene in that period; completely jive character. I wonder if he's still alive.


Robert: Seeger… he's a saint. Pete Seeger's a fucking saint, but I never found his music very interesting. You know, musically he can play the banjo, but he's so political, so deeply, vehemently political — and I agree with his politics completely — but it made his music political; the message was more important than the quality of the music to him. He's a literary musician, you know? But he dedicated himself to getting out there an playing these left-wing, rousing songs to labor unions and strikers, it's amazing they never put him in jail. Well, actually, I think he was in trouble for a while but he never went to jail. Is he still alive? I think he is. I think he's still going! I know someone who recently talked to him and I guess Seeger is very inspirational. He's still very lucid and he talked about the old days. You know, he started all that political campaigning in the '30s, and he started very young with that. He's from an upper-class family with money. I think it was the Seeger family whose maid was Elizabeth Cotton, and one day they found her playing guitar and singing and they went, "Oh my God! This woman is a talented singer/musician!" Somebody, years ago, gave me, as a gift, a huge box set of ten LPs of all of that left-wing folk music done by the folknics, not by the real folk, but the folknics of the '50s and early '60s: the Almanac Singers; Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. It's just totally uninteresting. Real country hillbilly music by deeply ignorant, racist people is much more interesting than that stuff. As I said, I agree totally with their politics, but musically it's really uninteresting. The whole folknic scene, even when it was happening in the late '50s and early '60s, I was never moved by it. I preferred rockabilly. [laughs]

Crumb on Others, Part Five


  1. Dear Robert Crumb,

    While your work has been very groundbreaking on many levels, it is time that you get to know some women artists, musicians and writers. It is sad that the few women you talk about are either fellow artists you are dismissive of (ie Lynda Barry), while the woman that rated the most attention and commentary is a deceased pin-up model (Bettie Page).

    This may have as much to do with the person that you are in conversation with, but as a non-male reader it is disappointing.

      1. Right, because any person, who is actually interested in a range of experiences/expression, whose mind was opened way up via art, music, counter-culture and psychedelic drugs from the 1960’s onwards, is going to become a boring person for actually considering women as… people ? People who do stuff like make art, music, comics, write, like all the other dudes he had a positive opinion about ?

        WTF, dude ? 

        1. Boring = Basing your personal interestst and tastes under the premise of achieving a gender balance.

          You don’t seem to know Crumb very well if you think he doesn’t consider women as people.

          1. You don’t seem to know Crumb very well if you have never pondered some of the very overt issues Crumb had with women in his comics, and in his personal life (see: Crumb documentary, see:comics by his wife, Aline Kominsky Crumb).

            Crumb’s neuroses and opinions about many things have always been very out there for the world to see, which have made his comics interesting AND problematic.

            Just because you personally do not see an issue does not mean it does not exist.

    1. It’s pretty clear that the interviewer threw names at him, this isn’t Crumb deciding who he wants to talk about. He doesn’t know Lynda Barry and doesn’t care for her drawing style, whaddya want him to go on about? (I don’t know why that made the cut; there were probably a dozen other names where his answer was “I don’t really know anything about that person” that got edited out.) He’s hardly “dismissive” of Trina Robbins; he actually comes off as quite respectful towards her as a nemesis of sorts. And he talks more extensively about Janis Joplin than Bettie Page.

    2. … as if Crumb would actually read something like Boing Boing, and then tell us what he thinks of it.

      Which I’d rather not know.

    3. It’s always frustrating when you fall into the very group that is the object of dismissal by someone you respect.

      “…while the woman that rated the most attention and commentary is a deceased pin-up…”

      I like how you use the word “dismissive” in the same sentence as this. 

      Bettie Page lived her life with bravado and deserves any attention she  gets, port mortem from an underground comics pioneer or otherwise. 

      1. Look, Bettie Page was a great model, whose legacy lived on through her photos. BUT – her story/history was super tragic, with the period when she modeled seeming the only exception(childhood sexual abuse, then later serious mental illness for many years during which she stabbed a couple of people and was institutionalized, then poverty, until finally a person who had been profiting from her images tracked her down to do the right thing when she in her 80’s). 

        Crumb was mostly talking about how great her body was, which is not the same thing as talking about another’s artistic or musical ability.

  2. His comments have, for me, the same effect of the film “Crumb”: a letdown.  He’s undoubtedly a brilliant artist, but outside of his field and his certain narrow interests, he’s a bit of a bloviator.  I mean, he’s not raving like Ted Nugent, but this is his take on the 20th century dictators:

    “Now, people have this knee-jerk reaction that Hitler was this inhuman monster, but he’s really only the result of the social forces of the time. As was Mao, and Stalin, as was Pol Pot.”

    1. Then again, it does make the very important point that Hitler was a real human, from a background and with a political path that doesn’t seem impossible today. It’s much too easy to dismiss him (and the other dictators) as some form of aliens in human shape, safely dismissed as fundamentally different from those we see around us here and today.

  3. I have a personal anecdote that confirms Crumb’s astute observation of Peter Max.  He frequented a restaurant in NYC where I waited tables, and in lieu of a tip, he would often sign a napkin with a self-important flourish. (He’d also do this to escape the bill itself, if the starry-eyed owned happened to be in.)  The satisfaction of throwing the napkins in the garbage provided more value than the hack’s autograph ever could.

  4. the folknics of the ’50s and early ’60s: the Almanac Singers; Joan Baez and Pete Seeger. It’s just totally uninteresting.

    Have to agree with Crumb 100%, good people, good politics, but sooooo boring.

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