For four decades, Robert Crumb has shocked, entertained, titillated and challenged the imaginations (and the inhibitions) of comics fans the world over. In truth, alternative comics as we know them today might never have come about without R. Crumb’s influence — the acknowledged “Father” of the underground comics could also be considered the “Grandfather” of alternative comics.
Crumb’s earliest cartoons were inspired more by the work of Carl Barks and Walt Kelly than the superhero comics enjoying their first wave of popularity at the time of Crumb’s childhood in the late ’40s. The man who once admitted to being “sexually aroused by Bugs Bunny” at the age of 5 began honing his skills drawing his own versions of “funny animal” comics with his brothers, Max and Charles. These early efforts included the first incarnation of Fritz the Cat — after whom, years later, the concept of “funny animals” would never be the same.
Crumb’s cartoons became hip in their own right — Mr. Natural, Angelfood McSpade, Flakey Foont, and most especially, the hedonistic anthropomorphic version of Crumb’s childhood pet, Fritz (a cat), would become cult icons. Fritz, however, would fall into the clutches of animator Ralph Bakshi, who had virtually steamrolled over Crumb to secure the film rights to Fritz the Cat — which became a box office hit, but Crumb was so repelled by the film that he decided to assassinate Fritz in The People’s Comics soon after.
Crumb’s feelings of disgust with American culture and values, which seems to have grown with the rise of ’80s neo-conservatism, precipitated his move to rural Southern France. He continues to reside there with wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb, and they raised their cartoonist daughter Sophie there until she moved out on her own. The details of his daily life there are revealed in Fantagraphics Books’ Self-Loathing Comics #2, released in 1997. A resurgence of interest in Crumb’s work resulted from Terry Zwigoff’s critically acclaimed documentary Crumb. Now, with international gallery showings and massive media coverage at the release of The R. Crumb Handbook, Fantagraphics’ 17th volume of The Complete Crumb Comics and Crumb Sketchbook Vol. 10, there is a rising awareness of Crumb in popular culture. Your Vigor for Life Appalls Me — a collection of Crumb’s personal letters spanning the late 1950s through the late ’70s, and offering a rare glimpse into the influences and experiences that shaped Crumb’s artistic development through his most formative years — was published by Fantagraphics as well.