Robert Crumb Jacob Brackman

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Jacob Brackman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Zap #1 and #0 are 100 percent Crumb, as are several Rip Off numbers, like Big Ass Comix ("Weird Sex Fantasies with the Behind in Mind"). Motor City Comix (featuring Lenore Goldberg, a kind of feminist Trashman) and the magnificent Despair. Having assimilated, it seems, the entire history of comics (with perhaps special emphasis on Barney Google, Orphan Annie, early Popeye, Dick Tracy, Pogo and the Katzenjammers), Crumb is by now a one-man band of cartooning….

Crumb's preoccupations and, therefore, his subject matter, have varied as wildly as [Bob] Dylan's over the several years of his published career. More than any of his predecessors, he's concerned with what Russian novelists liked to call "the eternal questions." Yet he also manages to stand apart from his own desperation. This duality emerges in the testy association of hung-up Flakey Foont and the spiritually arrogant, self-appointed guru Mr. Natural. Now, Mr. Natural may be a moocher and a phony, but he certainly knows some things Flakey doesn't. Theirs is doubtless the most complicated relationship ever developed in a comic….

Crumb's characters get horny, goofy, pretentious, mean—everything real people get. Of all cartoonists, he is the most eclectic, the most fertile and the easiest to get into. His cartoons are the friendliest, the uppest. Every one of comics' age-old mannerisms reappears in them: the sweat beads jumping off anxious brows, the hats levitating in surprise, the inspirational light bulbs, the lampposts, the moons. (p. 332)

Dylan and some others decimated cult 'n' brow divisions by showing that what seemed most common, what made kids scream, could be as good as any art produced in our time. Crumb's art is precisely that good. It compels us to disown the idea that comics are just simple-minded drawings with overhead balloons geared to people without enough upstairs to handle pictureless books….

Like Dylan, Crumb has acquired a cult of followers seeking clues to the proper conduct of their own lives. He sees so much. Fans pore over his oeuvres for something like guidance; at least for an appropriate attitude, a posture toward all the meshugaas that's going down now. They play Flakey to Crumb's Mr. Natural. Hopeless. For he won't stop shifting his ground, shifting targets. Like all great fantasists, he's irresponsible. His worlds forever suggest the one we know but never bear any easy or explicit relation to it. Conditions are never quite the same, never quite the opposite. (p. 334)

Jacob Brackman, "The International Comix Conspiracy" (copyright © 1970 by Playboy; reprinted by permission of the author), in Playboy, Vol. 17, No. 12, December, 1970, pp. 195-99, 328-30, 332, 334.∗