Robert Crumb Arthur Asa Berger

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Arthur Asa Berger

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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There are many parodies in the underground comics, and comic strip and comic book heroes are frequently ridiculed. But the underground comics also ridicule the absurdities of the counterculture as well as those of bourgeois culture. For example, one of the most interesting underground heroes is Robert Crumb's fake guru, Mr. Natural, a horny old man with a bald head and long flowing whiskers. His cohort is a seeker-after-knowledge named Flakey Foont, who never gains any satisfaction from Mr. Natural, and who is, in fact, frequently abused by him. (pp. 220-21)

Mr. Natural goes to the Haight-Ashbury district where he encounters all kinds of people who want his advice. He runs into a hippie costume shop and emerges later in a disguise with sunglasses and a dark beard, only to find six other men, who look exactly like him and are stealing his stuff. The adventure ends with Mr. Natural splitting the scene and becoming Mr. "Snatcheral." The last panel shows him fornicating with a generously proportioned young lady who exclaims, as he pants and puffs, "Hey! Ya beard keeps ticklin' my nose!"

This little adventure certainly has a satirical dimension to it; it suggests that there is a great deal that is fraudulent and even silly in mysticism. After all, Mr. Natural is a fake and his disciple Flakey is a fool: so much of a fool, in fact, that he thinks his guru has great powers and refuses to be disillusioned. It is obvious that Mr. Natural has a good thing for himself and is more concerned about being paid for his services than anything else—except, perhaps, the chance to ride in Flakey's car and fornicate.

In fact, Mr. Natural seems to have contempt for Flakey and all that he stands for. (Mr. Natural frequently tries to get rid of Flakey by suggesting he take dope and get stoned!) Mr. Natural is really a conservative character who is playing the guru for all it is worth; he dupes the well-intentioned but naive members of the counterculture, who lack discrimination, but seem to have discretionary income. He is the perfect prototype of the hip capitalist and seems to have nothing but contempt for those who follow him and are exploited by him.

This element in Mr. Natural is in keeping with Crumb's essentially conservative beliefs. In a proclamation, entitled "And Now a Word to You Feminist Women," Crumb castigates the women's liberation movement and women who have suggested that his work is sexist…. He argues that as an artist he should be free to draw whatever he wants; otherwise he could become a propagandist for movements and his artistic integrity would be compromised.

There is a good deal to be said for this argument, though I don't happen to agree with Crumb—because art is implicitly social and political, no matter what the artist thinks he is doing or not doing. But the important thing to notice is that Crumb has been attacked for the rather savage way women are treated in his comics…. He pleads, then, that though he portrays brutal things, he does not advocate such things by any means. (pp. 221-23)

[Perhaps Mr. Natural is a symbolic hero who represents, in a vague way,] infantile disorders of the cerebellum and the crotch…. [He is a comic figure, a parody heroic type, and tells us a great deal more than he thinks] about both the counterculture and our so-called straight culture. (p. 224)

Arthur Asa Berger, "Mr. Natural and His Friends from the Underground: Infantile Disorders of the Cerebellum and Crotch," in his The Comic Stripped American (copyright © 1973 by Arthur Asa Berger; used with permission from the publisher, Walker and Company), Walker, 1973, pp. 216-25.∗