Robert Crumb Harvey Pekar - Essay

Harvey Pekar

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

There is a vigorous avant garde cartoonists' movement in America today. Most of the artists involved in it are unknown to the general public but one of them, Robert Crumb, has developed a following that extends beyond the hippie subculture into a variety of social classes. (p. 677)

By now a number of underground comics have been published…. Perhaps the best known of them is Zap, out of San Francisco, which was created by Crumb in 1967. It was one of the first underground comics to be published….

Zap has something for everyone—sex, violence, stories about people ranging from hippies to lower middle class characters. It's an All-American publication. (p. 679)

[Crumb is] one of the finest comic book artists to come to the fore since the 40's….

The first time I met him he showed me a project he was working on—a cartoon novel (which is an unusual form in itself) called R. Crumb's Big Yum Yum Book. (p. 680)

I'd never seen anything like his Big Yum Yum Book. Nothing he's done since—and I really dig his more recent work—has impressed me as much. (p. 681)

It's difficult to describe Crumb's style in just a few sentences. He's been influenced by so much; by whole schools of cartooning as well as individual cartoonists. His work is notable partly because of its variety and the way he synthesizes his influences. He digs animal cartoonists like George Harriman, who did Krazy Kat; Walt Disney—especially early Disney and 40's Disney comics, which were done by a variety of cartoonists including the excellent Carl Barks; and Walt (Pogo) Kelly. He did and still does use animal characters like Ogden, Fritz and Dirty Dog.

Crumb also has been impressed by the work of cartoonists who are better appreciated by older teen-agers and adults than by little kids. People like Kelly, a fine political satirist, and [Jules] Feiffer. The guys who did Mad when it was in comic book form (Bill Elder, Jack Davis, Wally Wood) should also be cited as influencing Crumb. (p. 682)

"Popeye" also marked the work of Crumb. The lumpy, oddly proportioned characters that Crumb sometimes draws are reminiscent of those in "Popeye."… And there's a feature in Popeye comics about a crackpot inventor named O. G. Wottasnozzle that is similar to Crumb's "hot-headed old sage", Mr. Natural. Crumb told me he'd never been aware of Wottasnozzle until after he'd created Mr. Natural. Still, the resemblance between the two characters is interesting. Both are old men with beards. Mr. Natural has a disciple named Flakey Fooney whose mind he's always blowing and Wottasnozzle has a landlord he's always involving in crazy projects that backfire. (pp. 682-83)

He also credits colleague S. Clay Wilson with influencing him in that Wilson's wild stuff persuaded him to stop censoring himself….

[There] is no secret key to understanding his work. He's been turned on by a great variety of people and things; consequently his stories have to do with a great variety of people and things.

He lived for some time in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury section and is involved in the hippie scene so, not surprisingly, he deals with sex and drugs. But partly because he's a little older than most hippies and has...

(The entire section is 1384 words.)