A Weekday Crumb Miscellany

is on tap right after a vigorous perusal of LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS:

Kramer's Ergot 5 (big collection of mostly very good stuff - you really want to consider getting this)

The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics (really big vintage collection of... er... even more vintage newspaper comics)

Black Widow #3 (of 6)

Frank Ironwine #1 (of 1), Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales #12

Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon Vol. 1, Adam Strange #3 (of 8) (the famous original comics space opera, and its most current spiritual progeny)

They are all delicious and low in sodium!

*Well, I’m back home again after my Thanksgiving journey of danger and passion. I managed to pick up a copy of pretty much everything I wanted that came out this week except for “The Collected Sequential” (which I couldn’t afford anyway) and the new "Comics Journal" (which was totally absent from every shop I visited around my parents’ home including Borders). I heard the new Journal is a good one so I’ll need to cross my fingers that one of my local shops here still has a copy sitting around…

*For some reason, I picked up a lot of stray Robert Crumb stuff over the Thanksgiving trip.

Best Buy Comics #1

Here’s a (stay with me) Last Gasp reprint of a 1988 re-issue of a 1979 Crumb release that collects material from “Coevolution Quarterly” dating back to 1977. Got it?

All you really need to know is that it’s late-70’s Crumb material, covering many of his favorite areas: autobiography, mature funny animals, historical pieces set in the world of old-time music, strange fetish stuff, darkly humorous allegory, and even comics journalism. It’s a pretty nice sampler of what Crumb can do across a wide range of subject matter, and it’s all material I’ve never seen before (philistine Crumb fan me, who’s never purchased any of Fantagraphics’ “Complete Crumb” books).

I’ve always found Crumb’s autobiographical work to be just a little more compelling than his other styles; the man simply has a knack for anecdote, and his reporting piece in “Space Day Symposium (or what ever the hell it was called…)” is a great little short, with our narrator initially dazzled by the flash of the titular event’s Space Progress, as well as the luxury of his hotel accommodations. Needless to say, Crumb quickly becomes disenchanted with the corporate-controlled atmosphere of the event, leading to several nice caricatures of various symposium speakers, and a climactic bout with total dejection as Crumb slinks off down a dimly-lit street. Fun! There’s also a jam with future wife Aline Kominsky as the pair take in the Whole Earth Jamboree.

The funny animal strips like “The Goose and the Gander were Talking One Night” and “The Nerds” are bit more draggy, focusing heavily on ennui and helplessness before the grand contradictions of the world. A little of that makes its way into a collection of short strips (one and half-page fragments), but are more palatable, often acting as snapshots of their times, dialogues between average folks taking a bath or walking down the street. The same feeling of quietly personal interaction is found in “Pass the Jug”, an incident (perhaps fictional?) from the life of jazz pianist Kansas City Frank Melrose (check out some of his great stuff here). One of Crumb’s more overlooked gifts is his skill with drafting casual conversation, which invests even historical or fantastical characters with immediate relevance, and Crumb’s abilities are on swell display here. And of course, we’re also blessed with “R. Crumb’s Modern Dance Workout”, in which a bevy of muscular, rounded women stretch and writhe as Crumb shouts out wildly pretentious ‘direction’ while seated atop the feet of a particularly powerful dancer, who then juggles him in the air. “This is important! Civilization must go on!” a caption proclaims. Indeed!

This is really a nice overview of breadth of Crumb’s ability, at least as far as subject matter is concerned.

Art & Beauty Magazine #1-2

On the other hand, these two books are devoted to roughly one subject: the beauty of the human form. Obviously a labor of love for Crumb, the first issue was originally published by the late Kitchen Sink in the mid-90‘s, then reissued by Fantagraphics, who also released a second issue in 2003. I got both of them in a sealed two-pack for about $5, which was a nice deal.

Both of these books contain a series of elaborately crosshatched drawings of mostly women, all of whom meet Crumb’s particular standard for what is ‘beautiful’. Some of these drawings appear to be taken from live models, although many of them are based on photographs from books and magazines (source attribution is included whenever possible). It’s mainly one drawing per page for 32 pages each, with often hilariously egotistical comments from Crumb himself, probably indulging in a bit of self-parody (“This study shows a beautiful girl in a frolicsome mood, yet if the artist is not brilliantly skillful, such a pose will result in neither symmetry or grace,” being my favorite). There’s also the occasional nature study and a few shots of aged old-time male musicians, but expect a whole lot of full-figured athletic women, occasionally nude but mostly garbed in casual or sporty wear, all lovingly rendered in pen and ink. It’s far more realistic in style than Crumb’s typical comics, but the look remains undoubtedly his.

Each book is also liberally sprinkled with quotes, often contradictory, from various renowned individuals on the topic of art, like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Claude Monet, Harvey Kurtzman, and many others. It’s a nice pair of volumes for the devout Crumb fan, as he has truly poured himself into each book, and the drawings are quite exquisite.