Crumb Eludes Art Lovers, True Fans In Pittsburgh
Subject of a retrospective at the 54th Carnegie International, R. Crumb
and his entourage blew into Pittsburgh long enough only to put in some
face time at a $500-per-plate Friday night gala. There, perplexed
white-haired dowager-patronesses gawked and pointed, as professional art
buyers advised them on adding a priceless Crumb to their collections.
After nibbling at the rack of lamb and downing several glasses of costly
champagne in succession, the aging cartoonist abruptly took his leave,
pausing only long enough to examine the gigantic display of his licensed
products that had pushed aside the Picasso postcards in the museum gift
shop. Lawyers stood by, taking notes as the underground cartoonists
apparently nitpicked the presentation for several minutes, before
rushing out the door. Autograph seekers who had waited outside in the
rain for hours were shunted aside by thuggish bodyguards as Mr. Crumb
was whisked into a stretch limo. There, his escorts — three young call
girls decked out in Milanese haute couture — obediently awaited,
another bottle of champagne chilling on ice. Then, off to Crumb's
private jet, which was revved up and waiting on the tarmac. Gala
attenders reported the 61-year old appeared "spry."
Members of the unofficial United Cartoon Workers Local No. 17 of Western
Pennsylvania still maintained hope as the evening wore on that their
hero would drop by the South Side pizza party they had thrown in his
honor. But by midnight, word had spread that Crumb was already "wheels
up" and flying over the Atlantic. Many sat dejectedly under the drooping
banner that read "Pittsburgh Cartoonists and Flood Victims Welcome R.
Crumb." Others sketched mindlessly on the placemats amid pizza crusts
and cold pierogies, in emulation of their cartooning hero, hoping
against hope that he still might show. "Crumb is the reason I became a
cartoonist," confessed one now-middle aged man, fighting back tears. "We
thought it would be nice to show him our love, you know, give a little
something back. I mean, we can only afford paper plates on our budget,
but I really thought he might appreciate the gesture. But he never
responded to our invite. And apparently he switched hotels on us. Some
kind of security measure."
Others in the crowd of fans and well-wishers were more hostile. "Man of
the People, my ass! Crumb's best work is twenty years behind him," said
a young heavily-pierced and tattooed cartoonist from Munhall. "I'm going
home and burning every freaking Crumb comic I own!" Another local
freelance illustrator wearing a tomato-sauce stained "Devil Girl"
T-shirt said, "Boy, I've known people who got a bit of success and
pulled up the ladder, but I never expected it from the guy who drew
'Motor City Comics'! I guess people change." Still others were more
philosophical. "I've waited my whole life to meet R. Crumb, and this was
probably as close as I'll come. I blame it on his handlers. He's just
got layers and layers of people now, and they have their agenda. But I
prefer to remember the struggling cartoonist with his sketchbook walking
alone on the streets of Cleveland–not the remote, branded commodity who
lives in France and flies around the world on the New Yorker expense
"Didn't he draw the Freak Brothers?" another fan wondered aloud.
The Crumb retrospective features 124 pieces of original art and will be
on display until March 20, 2005.