R. Crumb at Society of Illustrators, NYC

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday March 30, 2011

According to the wall text in the exhibition R. Crumb: Lines Drawn on Paper, at Society of Illustrators, Robert Crumb’s mother told him that reading comic books would addle his brain, or words to that effect. He might have taken this as a metaphor for life; after drawing his way through and out of childhood, through and beyond a job creating cute cards for American Greetings, Inc., he started dropping acid and became a figurehead for the underground comics movement.

Crumb says in his website bio, “I started taking L.S.D. in Cleveland in June of ’65. That changed my head around. It made me stop taking cartooning so seriously and showed me a whole other side of myself.” During this self-described acid-soaked period, he traveled to New York, Chicago, and Detroit, and created many of his well-known characters, including Mr. Natural, Mr. Snoid and Angelfood McSpade.

The show at S.I. presents 90 pieces of original artwork, as well as two display cases featuring covers and interior pages from Zap, Head Comix, The East Village Other, Motor City Comics, and more.


Left, center, Peter Kuper, Monte Beauchamp and Robert Crumb. Right, first floor gallerly. Photos: Peggy Roalf.

Curated by Monte Beauchamp (Blab!), the show presents outstanding examples of comics artwork by an artist who must have made most of his inking errors early in life; if you look closely, you will find very few pages where whiteout paint figures into the heady mix of sex, angst, and self loathing.

When I left the opening on Friday evening, a mob of Crumb fans stretched from the door back to Lexington Avenue. Word had gotten out that the artist himself, along with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, were in attendance, which was so. For this DART post, I asked several artists I saw at the reception – and a couple of out-of-towners – to contribute their thoughts on Crumb’s influence. This is what they wrote:

From David Sandlin, in NYC:
This is an amazing show - there’s so much life and humor in those drawings, those bodies, those thunder thighs. I completely agree with the art critic, Robert Hughes, on his estimation of Crumb as the Breugel of our times. I was a Crumb fan long before I knew who he was. When I was growing up in Ireland, Crumb’s work was the underground - he influenced all the cool art I saw, which to me consisted mainly of album covers and comics. I was inclined to rebel against hippy culture, especially once I moved to the U.S. in the early 70s, but I couldn’t help but be drawn to his Janis Joplin album cover and Boy Howdy, Lester Bang’s column logo in Creem magazine. In the early 90s, in New York, I was thrilled to illustrate the back cover of an issue of Raw that Crumb did the front cover for - I cherish the tear sheets I have from it.

From Peter Kuper, in NYC:
Crumb is the greatest living artist (cartoonist or otherwise). Seeing his work at the Society of Illustrators once again reminded me of the impact his work had on me. I could remember exactly where I was when I read most of the comics in the show. They have the same memory as my favorite songs that defined my experience growing up.

From Nora Krug, in Brooklyn:
I grew up with Crumb's sketchbooks, which were published by Zweitausendeins in Germany in the 80s. Looking at those books allowed me to gain a glimpse of the mysterious world of adults. Probably more importantly, though, they encouraged the eccentric viewpoint of the nonconformist anti-hero. Not a bad lesson to learn as a child.

From John Cuneo, in Woodstock, NY:
Regarding Crumb, I'm fond of the expression "underground comix" because it suggests the vastness of his influence running like a deep sediment under the landscape of contemporary cartooning and illustration. But the term shortchanges the tectonic impact his work has had on the surface of mainsteam pop culture – on the landscape itself, up here, aboveground.

From Steve Brodner, in NYC:
For too long we have been unnecessarily tortured by the distinctions between illustration and cartoon and comics. With the monster response to this show at Society of Illustrators, we see the barriers come tumbling down for good. This says at the top of our lungs, in the halls of Charles Dana Gibson, Howard Pyle and Bob Peake that it is all one; narrative art can take any shape, use any medium, approaching from any direction, going in any direction; it is still narrative art and if it is good work, it is good. Crumb is an innovator and cultural icon. The fact that somehow his images became as much a part of our lives as say, the Beatles, puts him in a very special place, beyond category.

From Tim O’Brien, in Brooklyn
Some artists move through well worn trails with their work and some are out front, machete in hand, making the trail. They get the cuts and bruises and often don't get the recognition. Crumb gets the recognition. Crumb is a master of wit and uttering the subconscious thoughts that rattle around in the brain. The craft of what he does is masterful and careful and his marks on paper equal all the stars in the sky.

From Nathan Fox, in Kansas City, MO:
Back in the day I was looking for something that truly felt contemporary and spoke to me on a raw and honest level. When I discovered Crumb and underground comics, it felt like I was staring at something my grandmother would have slugged me for looking at. I was hooked. Crumb is an amazingly talented Author/Artist but even more than that, his work gives light to most things we all keep to ourselves - things that are personal, un-polite, politically incorrect or just too honest and unfiltered to say out loud to anyone, let alone to ourselves.

R. Crumb: Lines Drawn on Paper continues at Society of Illustrators through April 30. 128 East 63rd Street, NY, NY.

Upcoming public programs at Society of Illustrators:
March 31, 6:30-8:00 pm.
Paul Buhle: The Invention of Underground Comics. Buhle, a distinguished scholar in the field of American Studies, and author of many books including several on American comics and Jews in popular culture. Tickets, $15/$10/$7 or 212.838.2560.

April 1, 6:30-8:30 pm: Black White & Blue, An Evening with Joe Ciardello. Talk on letterpress printing followed by book signing for Black White & Blue, portraits of blues musicians by Joe Ciardiello published by Strike Three Press in a limited edition of 64 signed & numbered copies. Tickets, $15/$10/$7 or 212.838.2560.

April 12, 6:30-8:30 pm: Crumb, the critically acclaimed film by Terry Zwigoff (Ghost World, Art School Confidential), “a hilarious and mysterious journey through artistic genius and sexual obsession…” Tickets, $15/$10/$7 or 212.838.2560.

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