Argue with me until you’re hopping mad. You won’t change my mind that Robert Crumb is the greatest living American artist. And this anthology of his comic book stories from Weirdo, the magazine that he founded in 1981 (only 13 years after creating Zap the title that launched the underground comic book revolution), contains some of Crumb’s finest work. Not only does Crumb plumb deeper than ever into the depths of his neurotic soul, he also lays bare the behavior of modern society with a keen eye and a bittersweet sense of humor. Most interesting to me are Crumb’s comic book versions of old books, such as Psychopathis Sexualis, and science fiction author Philip K Dick’s bizarre religious experience (which Dick described as a “vision of the apocalypse.”)
Crumb’s output seems to have slowed to a trickle in recent years, which is alarming to a fan like me. Fortunately, Crumb’s work is usually so rich and dimensional that it can stand up to repeated readings, which I have done over the years.
R. Crumb: The Weirdo Years includes not only every comic book story that he wrote and drew for Weirdo, it also includes all 28 covers he illustrated. If you already are familiar with’s Crumb’s comics, this is a convenient way to reread all of his Weirdo stories. If you don’t know Crumb, this is probably the best introduction to his work.
Weirdo was one of my favorite magazines of the 1980s. Started by Robert Crumb in 1981, it's where I learned about The Church of the SubGenius, Stanislav Szukalski, and lots of amazing artists. Over at the Last Gasp blog, Janelle has written a "Where are they now" post about the artists of Weirdo.
She writes, "There were about 85 contributors over the course of Weirdo’s 28-issue run. Some of these artists went on to have life-long comics careers (Dan Clowes, Gary Panter, Peter Bagge, etc) while others have faded into the shadows, their work in Weirdo being all the more precious as a result. Although I may prove not to have the fortitude (read: masochism) to track down all 85 Weirdo contributors, I’d like to start by checking in to see what some of my favorite Weirdo artists are doing now…"
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I loved Robert Crumb's back cover from Weirdo #3 (Fall 1981). I don't think it makes any sense, but I spent hours trying to figure it out over 30 years ago. (Via Magic Transistor)
The early 1980s were an exciting time for alternative comics. Shortly out of high school I discovered RAW, which was launched by the husband-and-wife team of Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, and Weirdo, launched by the husband-and-wife team of Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb. It was in the pages of Weirdo that I discovered The Church of the SubGenius, Stanislav Szukalski, and a bunch of great cartoonists.
Crumb wrote and drew at least one story in each issue of Weirdo (which was published by Last Gasp from 1981 to 1993) and drew every cover. The covers are reminiscent of Humbug, a late-1950s humor magazine created by Crumb's mentor, Harvey Kurtzman (also the creator of MAD):
Some of Crumb's best work came out during his Weirdo period. In Weirdo #17, Crumb illustrated an 8-page story called "The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick," based on a 1978 undelivered speech Dick wrote called "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later" and from passages in an out-of-print book called Philip K. Dick: The Last Testament.
Crumb's story focuses on Dick's bizarre hallucinatory experience of March 1974, in which Dick went back in time to the era of the apostolic Christians. Dick spent the rest of his life trying to figure out what these visions meant. Here's the first page:
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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]
I love R. Crumb's sketchbooks. I have three of them, which are facsimile editions of his sketchbooks from the 60s and 70s. I paid about $100 per volume. This six volume set for Taschen is $1000. It looks great, but I don't think I'm going to plunk down that much cash.
This six-book boxed set is the first collection of Robert Crumb sketches to be printed from the original art since the hard-bound, slipcased, seven volume series issued by the German publisher Zweitausendeins between 1981 and 1997. Unlike the Zweitausendeins edition, which included every doodle ever made by the preeminent underground artist, our best-of edition has been personally edited by the notoriously picky artist to include only what he considers his finest work, including hundreds of late period drawings not published in previous sketchbook collections. Robert Crumb requested that the books representing the second half of his career be published first due to fan demand for new Crumb material (Volumes 7-12 cover the period 1982-2011, and the forthcoming Volumes 1-6 will cover the period 1964-1981).
In the last 20 years Crumb's artistic output has slowed considerably, making new works more rare and highly prized. This collection of over 600 unseen drawings created between 1982 and 2011 makes this a must-have collectible for every Crumb fan.
Jeff Newelt snapped this photo of Robert Crumb reading a copy of the recently-published book, Cleveland, one of the late Harvey Pekar's final contributions to comics. It has beautiful art by Joseph Remnant and an introduction by Alan Moore.
A lifelong resident of Cleveland, Ohio, Harvey Pekar (1939-2010) pioneered autobiographical comics, mining the mundane for magic since 1976 in his critically acclaimed series American Splendor.
Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland is sadly one of his last, but happily one of his most definitive graphic novels. It presents key moments and characters from the city's history, intertwined with Harvey's own ups and downs, as relayed to us by Our Man and meticulously researched and rendered by artist Joseph Remnant. At once a history of Cleveland and a portrait of Harvey, it's a tribute to the ordinary greatness of both.
Harvey Pekar's Cleveland