• Seattle, WA: Comics collective Intruder will be launching the fifth volume of their quarterly newspaper at Cairo, featuring a cover by our very own Tony Ong, with comics inside by staffer Jason T. Miles, freelancer David Lasky, and former staffer Alexa Koenings! (more info)
The following interview was conducted by Fantagraphics Bookstore curator Larry Reid in 1995 prior to the release of Terry Zwigoff's phenomenal documentary Crumb. Small fragments of this discussion were included in a review of the film published in The Rocket magazine. [A complete, unedited transcript of this conversation can be read here. Thanks to The Comics Journal editorial intern Janice Lee for scanning and proofreading the original typewritten manuscript. – Ed.] At the time of the interview Zwigoff was still six years from directing his breakthrough feature Ghost World, but hispassion for independent film, alternative comix, and anachronistic pop culture is fully evident.
Terry Zwigoff appears in person at Central Cinema in Seattle on Thursday, November 29 for an 8PM screening of his film Bad Santa followed by a Q&A session (more info & tickets).
LARRY REID: What were the circumstances surrounding your association with Crumb? How did you meet?
TERRY ZWIGOFF: The short answer is I met him through our mutual interest in music, much like the stuff you see in the film — late ’20s jazz, blues, ragtime music. We both collect old 78s of that type of music and we both play in this band he founded in 1972 called the Cheap Suit Serenaders.
LR: Were you familiar with his work prior to meeting him?
TZ: Yes. I actually approached him because I wanted him to draw something for this project I had in mind.
LR: How did you get involved in the Cheap Suit Serenaders?
TZ: I was friends with Crumb and also Bob Armstrong and Al Dodge. We used to hang out together a lot back in those days and they had started this band a year before. This was in 1973 and they kept after me to learn an instrument and join. Bob and Al lived together back then in this farm house in Dixon, California and somebody had come through town and left a cello there. In these old time string bands they used to play the bass parts on a cello with a bow. I was interested in this music and it wasn’t hard to do, so I quickly learned how to play it and joined up.
LR: I noticed you didn’t use any of this Cheap Suit Serenaders in the film.
TZ: We filmed the Cheap Suit Serenaders just before Crumb moved to France, one last concert that was sort of a spur of the moment thing. I didn’t think it was too exciting, but I figured I wasn’t being too objective about it so I let my producer and the editor and a lot of other people decide. A lot of people looked at it in the rough cut version and they all thought it was pretty dull. It was basically the four of us looking down at our instruments playing. It wasn’t real exciting.
LR: Crumb is notoriously bashful. He doesn’t like to be in the limelight. I wonder how you convinced him to cooperate with the movie.
TZ: I’m sure he thinks it was a mistake now. I don’t know. I just kept after him to do it. I was mainly interested in doing a film that involved his brothers and him. I told him repeatedly that this wasn’t just a career biography of R. Crumb, which I think had some appeal to him, but I think he also thought that even if the film got done it wouldn’t be seen by very many people, that it would be shown at a few film festivals and be put to bed. I think he’s rather dismayed that this thing has been successful.
LR: Did he actively encourage his family to cooperate in the making of the film?
TZ: No. He was pretty neutral about it. Before we even got started I told him, “Look, I really don’t even want to go out and buy any film stock until you call your mother and your brother and see if they’ll be in the film.” I’d met them. I spent a night at their house in the early ’70s. I really liked his brother Charles. I found him an endlessly fascinating guy. I liked his mother, too. I thought they were both very eccentric but very brilliant in their own way. I really enjoyed being around them and I had a memorable night at their house and I thought I hit it off with them really well. I asked him to call them and maybe this would put an end to this project right now. They’ll probably say no. They’re pretty reclusive. He called his mother from my house and he was on the phone for like 10 minutes and nobody’s answering. I said, “Hang up already. Nobody’s home.” And he said, “No. My mother usually takes about 40 or 50 rings to pick up the phone.” Sure enough, she finally picks up the phone. He says, “Remember my friend Terry? He spent the night at your house 14 or 15 years ago.” She says, “Oh yeah, yeah.” “Well, he wants to do this documentary on me and he wants you and Charles to be in the film.” She says, “Oh sure.” Just like that. Of course it wasn’t quite so easy when we went to film. But at that point he sort of had to go along with it because she’d already agreed to do it. Like I said, at that time I don’t think he thought the film would get done or that I’d get the money raised to do it. I was having a hard time. It took me 9 years to do the damn thing. Nobody was too interested in it as a commercial project, but I always had this strange idea that it was going to be a commercial film.
LR: What about Crumb’s sisters? They don’t appear in the film. I understand one of his sisters lives in Seattle.
TZ: I hear she’s a radical lesbian separatist. I don’t know. I only met her once and I didn’t get a chance to talk to her much. She and Robert were in a big fight. I called her to try to let her tell her side of things in this film, but as soon as I told her what I was up to she just said, “Forget it. I’m not going to be in any film, and if you so much as mention my name I’ll sue you,” and hung up on me. She just seemed immediately angry that there was a film happening about Robert.
LR: Do you suppose that’s a reaction to the misogynist content of some of Robert’s work?
TZ: According to him she had asked him years back for $400 a month reparations for the damage his comics had done to women. That’s one of the things I wanted to ask her on camera. You never know. Robert makes a big show of being very frank and honest and open in his work, but it’s not always quite so straightforward. He has his own motives like anybody else, and he’s comfortable with presenting his own story in a certain way that isn’t necessarily 100%, shall we say, accurate. And that’s not to say my film is either. It’s my interpretation of many facts as well. He finally saw this film and didn’t seem very happy with it. I sent him a video tape of it. I was trying to get him to hold out to see it on film in the theaters, but he kept bugging me to see it. My distributor, Sony, wanted him to see it because he was absolutely refusing to do any press on the film, saying “If he really loves the film maybe he’ll do some press.” And I said, “I wouldn’t hold your breath.” Anyway he seemed very disgruntled about the whole film. He didn’t seem to like it.
LR: Was there anything specific that …?
TZ: What he told me was that after watching the film he had to go for a walk in the woods to clear his head. And he took his hat off that he’d owned for like 20 years, his favorite hat and threw it off a cliff, and said, “I don’t want to be R. Crumb anymore.” And I said, “Well what does that mean? Did I misrepresent who R. Crumb is, or did I represent him so accurately that you don’t want to be him?” He said, “I don’t know. Here, Aline wants to talk to you.” And Aline got on the phone and she was pissed off about the way I presented her. So, you know, you can’t win. I did a film on this old blues musician, Louie Bluie, and he never spoke to me again once I made this film, and I thought it was a very flattering portrait of him. I knew enough about making this film that people would know I was Crumb’s friend, that I didn’t want to just churn out some celebratory puff piece on the guy. I wanted to be a little bit critical of him, and show some of his pros and cons, warts and all. Apparently he’s not too comfortable with anybody else doing that but himself, I guess.
LR: Crumb has another sister back East. She doesn’t appear in the film. Is there a story behind that?
TZ: I called her as well. He gave me her phone number. I’d never met her. I asked him what she was like and his take on her was that she wouldn’t be that interesting on camera, that she was rather shy and wouldn’t have much to say. But I wanted to film her anyway. Give her a chance to speak for herself instead of taking his word for it, because he misled me in a number of areas in this film actually.
LR: In reference to his family?
TZ: No, maybe misled is the wrong term but there was definitely a number of instances where, to put it simply, he could have been much more helpful than he was. He sort of dragged his feet. He was very strange about many things. Very uncooperative at times and very cooperative at other times.
LR: You mentioned your earlier project Louie Bluie. Could you talk a little about that?
TZ: He was a blues musician. He made 2 records in his whole life. Two 78s, one tune on each side back in those days. This was 1934. He recorded for Blue Bird, which was a subsidiary of RCA Victor. He made this record called “State Street Rag” which I found a copy of. It was a virtuoso mandolin performance with a guitar backing this guy up, and the only name on the record was Louie Bluie, which was obviously a pseudonym. I found a copy of this record, and I knew a lot of other serious record collectors around the world, and I was very impressed with this record. So I asked them about this and the word was out that there was only one other copy known of the record. So this record had a mystique to me and I was very intrigued by the guy’s mandolin playing. At the time I was writing articles and liner notes about music, old time music in particular and always in the back of my mind I wanted to find out what happened to this guy. Who was this guy who had made this record years ago? I spent a couple of years doing some detective work and wound up finding this guy still alive. He was living in Detroit, and the guy who played guitar on the record was living in Chicago, and they were still friends, were still playing music together. I flew out to meet the guy and he was such an incredible character, not only a musician, but he also kept these secret, hidden pornographic diaries, that were very similar to Crumb’s artwork. Very cartoony and very old fashioned in style. I was determined to have somebody make a film on this guy. I didn’t really consider myself a filmmaker at the time. I tried to convince a few other filmmakers I knew to make a film on him, but nobody seemed too interested and eventually I got started on it and I got in too deep and had to finish it. It led to this.
LR: That’s what got you into documentary filmmaking?
TZ: Yeah. I sort of stumbled into it backwards.
LR: What was Robert’s response to the film? I saw the poster he did for it.
TZ: He liked it a lot. It’s probably one of the reasons he agreed to do this film.
LR: I was curious to get your reaction to some of Crumb’s more politically incorrect comics. Do you think his work is meant to be satirical?
TZ: I don’t know. You’d have to ask him. I could tell you my reaction when I first saw his work when I was a kid in college. I remember seeing that comic that was in the film, “Angelfood McSpade,” where they take her out of Africa and wind up stuffing her head in a toilet. My reaction was not only was it funny, but it was very politically correct in a broad sense, not in a knee jerk liberal sort of way, but I thought it was very much an indictment of America — an indictment of racism more than anything else. That seemed to be what it was about to me and I tried very hard in the film to present it in such a way that you could read the entire comic and have appropriate music. I was still shocked to find people who see the film find that strip racist.
LR: What’s been the reaction from your peers in the film community?
TZ: I’m really pleased that David Lynch liked it so much, because I’m a really huge fan of his stuff.
LR: David Lynch is actually credited with presenting the film on the promotional material.
TZ: Well, I originally approached him for money presuming he was a big fan of Crumb’s, which somebody had told me. Somebody told me that he had a poster in his office of Louie Bluie, and the only thing on the wall of his office was supposedly this poster. But the guy who told me was sort of a drunk in a bar I had met. He said, “Yeah, I work for him and we’re good friends.” And I thought, “Yeah, right, buddy.” But I always remembered that and years later, when we were desperate for people to hit up for money I said, “I’m gonna be in L.A., maybe I can meet with David Lynch. Maybe this story was right and if he had this poster on his wall he’s either a fan of the film, which I made, or he’s a fan of Crumb’s, who did the poster art.” So I met with David and I asked him, “So, you’re a big fan of Crumb’s?” And he said, “No. I know who he is but I’m not a big fan. I like his stuff all right.” I said, “So you like this film Louie Bluie then?” He said, “No, I can’t say I’ve heard of that.” Very strange guy. Anyway, I showed him this film, and he really liked it. That eventually led to him putting his name on the film as sort of an endorsement, which was a thrill to me.
LR: Do you expect the film will be a commercial success at this point?
TZ: Well, it doesn’t have to make much money to be a commercial success since it cost so little to make. But, yeah, I think it’s going to do really well.
Party in the city where the heat is on. All night on the beach til the break of dawn Welcome to Miami (bienvenido a Miami)
Ain't no party like a Miami Book Fair International party, which kicked off this past Sunday, November 11th. Yes, they party all week long when it comes to books! And, things get even hotter this weekend as our Fantagraphics artists take the scene for the Graphic Novel programming!
Saturday, November 17th
2:30 PM // Graphic Lives: Aline Crumb, Drawn Together: The Collected Works of Aline & R. Crumb, in conversation with scholar, Hillary Chute, author of Graphic Women
3:30 PM // On Comics: A Conversation:Charles Burns on The Hive, Chip Kidd on Batman: Death By Design and Chris Ware on Building Stories
Sunday, November 18th
1:00 PM // Comics and Social Change: with Marjorie Liu, Dan Parent, Ellen Forney, Stephanie McMillan, and Riva Hocherman. Moderated by DC Comics/Vertigo editor Joan Hilty.
The fresh-popped Online Commentaries & Diversions:
• Review:Publishers Weekly discusses The Hypo by Noah Van Sciver, "Van Sciver’s psychologically astute examination of what might be termed Abraham Lincoln’s “lost years” (1837–1842) is as gripping and persuasive as the best historical fiction. . .This characterization of Lincoln is thoroughly human and identifiable, tracking a shadowy but formative period in the very uneven life of a man who shows little signs of becoming known as one of the greatest Americans. A thoroughly engaging graphic novel that seamlessly balances investigation and imagination." Wow!
• Plug: Noah Van Sciver's diary comics are showing up at The Comics Journal. Enjoy Day #1, Day #2 and Day #3.
• Plug:Comics Alliance JUMPED at the chance to be the first to comment on Naked Cartoonists. Senior writer Chris Sims comments, "Have you ever wanted to see Dilbert creatorScottAdams naked? Yeah, we haven't either, but apparently [Gary Groth] thought that was a good idea . . . joining artists like Will Eisner, For Better Or For Worsecreator Lynn Johnston, Jeff Smith (feel free to make your own Bone joke here) and . . . legendary MAD artist Sergio Aragones."
• Review:The Mary Sue names Moto Hagio's A Drunken Dream and Other Stories one of the 10 Feminist Manga to Read, that is licensed in the USA. Kellie Foxx-Gonzalez says,"Hagio is not only a storyteller, she is undoubtedly a feminist author, using her manga to explore gender, power, and women’s issues. If extended metaphors in manga as an avenue to explore philosophical questions is as appealing to you as it is to me, please, don’t hesitate to pick up this anthology."
• Commentary: Shannon O'Leary of Publishers Weekly says,". . . with No Straight Lines , the most definitive collection of queer comics to date, [Justin] Hall and Fantagraphics have made the voluminous but largely hidden history of LBGT (lesbian, bi-sexual, gay, transgender) comics finally visible as well."
• Review:The Awl and Kim O'Connor talk about autobio comics and include such underground greats like Aline Kominsky Crumb, Carol Tyler in addition to Chris Ware and Joe Sacco. While on the subject of Aline: "An important part of her project was to promote self-loathing as normal and even funny in an era when to do so was extremely unfashionable." O'Connor touched on the rawness of Chris Ware's work,"there's this sense of playful geometry that's deeply satisfying, even if it sometimes gives you the impression the artist's memory palace looks a lot like the Container Store. But the central delight in reading Jimmy Corrigan, as in all of Ware's work, is how it's painfully awkward and incredibly cool at the same time."
• Review: Rob Clough on the High-Low reviews Jim Woodring's Congress of the Animals: ". . . is interesting because it's much more linear a narrative than most of his comics.. . .Unlike the typical Frank story, there's a greater sense of urgency to Frank's wanderings, as he encounters many temptations and pitfalls along his journey to a destination unknown to even him."
• Review:The Critcal Mob released their short list of summer reads and a few Fantagraphics titles made the cut. Paul Guie looks at Flannery O'Connor: The Cartoons: "O'Connor's artwork is frequently abstract and raw-looking. . .Nevertheless, her cartoons are always pleasing to look at thanks to the author's strong sense of composition. Panels are rarely cluttered by unnecessary lines, and O'Connor frequently frames her characters with an eye toward visual balance." Peanuts latest volume is also on Guie's radar: ". . . these later comics remain consistently witty and entertaining, and reflect Schulz's continued mastery of comedic timing within a four-panel layout.. . .Consistently subtle yet always timely, after 30 years, Schulz still had a winning formula on his hands." Last but not least, Guie takes Buddy Does Seattle to the beach,"Bagge's artwork [takes] the public's perception of '90s youth as angry and volatile and pushed it to hysterical levels. Heavily influenced by late-'60s counterculture cartoonists like Crumb, Bagge's drawings are fluid and grimy-looking, with frequent use of exaggerated facial expressions helping to cultivate an atmosphere of chaos."
• Commentary: Best Cover EVER on Forbidden Planet according to Richard: "The absolute iconic image. The raw power. Jaime’s incredible use of black in his art. The faces of the crowd. The stagediver (in heels) who’s just left the stage. But most of all, it’s the best comic cover ever because I swear that I’ve never looked at this cover and NOT heard the music they’re playing." The next best thing for Richard? Buying the new shirt featuring the cover of Issue 24.
• Plug:Comics Alliance and Caleb Goellner collect the most recent Adventure Time covers. James Hindle PLAYS an homage to Jaime Hernandez's distinctive cover. Check it out!
• Review:io9 recently created a list of the 10 Comic Characters Cooler than Batman. Jaime Hernandez's Maggie (the Mechanic) and Jacques Tardi's Adele Blanc-Sec topped the list. "Maggie is a survivor, who never stops kicking ass even she's dealing with depression and heartbreak." says Charlie Jane Anders and in reference to Adele Blanc-Sec:"She's a writer in pre-World War I Paris, which automatically makes her cool. . . She's not afraid to shoot guns, drink the hard stuff, or smoke like a man. She spent World War I in cryogenic suspension and then rocked the 1920s."
• Plug:The Last Vispo's editor Nico Vassilakis recently curated an online group of visual artists called Ten Turkish Visual Poets at Trickhouse.
• Interview: The powerful and deft Friedman brothers were interviewed about Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental by William Michael Smith of the Houston Press. Josh Alan Friedman talks about his brother's artwork,"Originally [Drew Friedman] worked with stippling technique, using a rapidograph pen. Bent over a desk like a watchmaker, doing thousands of dots. A technique made famous by 'Sunday in the Park with Georges' Seurat, but strictly shunned by art schools in the 20th century."
• Plug: Ron Regé, Jr. is up to something sneaky! At We Can Do It.
Some great reports have been flowing in about Gary Groth and Robert Crumb's appearance at Comic Con India in New Delhi this past weekend, both from individuals and press — here are a few that have come to our attention. Above and below, photos of Gary giving his presentation in front of the Jumbotron while Crumb listens in rapt attention from illustrator Samia Singh, who has more pics and a brief writeup on her blog.
Mohita Nagpal of Delhi English-language daily newspaper The Pioneer talked to Gary: "There is something here for everybody who loves comics. It’s a very nice intimate event. Haven’t been to something quite like this."
Vishad Sharma of music site NH7 wrote up the event, including a brief report on Gary's presentation: "What made the talk especially priceless for me was two things – the fact that Robert Crumb was sitting about two chairs away from me (glee!), who was extremely disappointed with the questions people were asking Groth and a lady sitting behind me who pointed to Groth and asked the man next to her, 'Does this man make comics? Why is he talking if he doesn’t?'"
Even The Hollywood Reporter was there, with Nyay Bhushan getting this soundbites: "'This is our first time in India and perhaps this could inspire us to create something based on our visit,' said Crumb. 'It is great to be here because this reminds me of the exciting times when comic conventions first started out in the sixties and seventies in the U.S.,' added Groth."
And last but not least, Chris Oliveros, "The Chief" over at our esteemed colleagues Drawn & Quarterly, posts his own first-hand account and some great photos, including Aline Kominsky-Crumb and hubby Robert at the opening ceremonies and Gary's on-stage interview with Crumb:
We're hoping to squeeze a first-person recap out of Gary when he gets back this afternoon, but chances are he'll be needing to put his nose right back to the grindstone. *WHIP-CRACK!*
• Plug: Pamela Paul of The New York Times asks "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" creator Jeff Kinney about his favorite books from childhood: "...[T]he works that stood head and shoulders above the rest were Carl Barks’s ‘Donald Duck’ and ‘Uncle Scrooge’ comics from the 1940s through the 1960s. Mr. Barks wrote tales of high adventure generously peppered with moments of high comedy.... Classics such as ‘Lost in the Andes,’ ‘Only a Poor Man’ and ‘A Christmas for Shacktown’ left a deep impression on me. Mr. Barks taught me that comics could be high art, and I consider his work to be the best storytelling I’ve experienced in any form. ...Fantagraphics has announced that it is publishing the Barks collection in beautiful hardcover books that do great honor to the cartoonist and his stories, and I can’t wait to buy them for my kids. Proof that great storytelling endures from generation to generation."
• Review: "This volume [Walt Disney's Donald Duck: Lost in the Andes] reprints tales from December 1948 through August 1949, when Barks was in high feather as a creator of breathless adventures and light comedies for his Ducks... Great pop culture, great analysis. Scrooge is always searching for more gold, and there’s plenty here. [Rating] 10/10" – Michael Barrett, PopMatters
• Review: "The finale of the story Jaime has been telling over the past couple of annual issues [of Love and Rockets: New Stories] is a moment of bravura comics storytelling, but the buildup to it in the opening portions of this issue is pretty great as well... Ah, but as nice as these stories are, they all seem to be prelude to the dazzlingly virtuosic end of this chapter in the Locas saga... This could signal an end to the current era of Locas stories, but these characters are less figures of Jaime's imagination than real people alive in the minds of readers everywhere at this point, and even if another story featuring them never appears, we can rest assured that they will continue to live on, somewhere, sometime." – Matthew J. Brady, Warren Peace Sings the Blues
• Review (Audio): Introducing the latest episode of the Wait, What? podcast, co-host Jeff Lester says "we dollop more praise on Ganges #4 by Kevin Huizenga because honestly that sucker could probably use another five or six dollops."
• Plugs: "Fantagraphics’ collections featuring Charles Schulz’s comic strip masterpiece, Peanuts, are fantastic and if you’re a Peanuts fan, you need to be reading these. Floyd Gottfredson probably did as much to shape the personality of Mickey Mouse and his supporting cast as Carl Barks did for the Disney Ducks, yet his work has never received the same degree of attention as the work of Barks. Fantagraphics is correcting that with Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse. The first two volumes of this series are fantastic and the strips probably look better here than they did when they were originally published. It’s a joy to watch Gottfredson develop as a storyteller as Mickey and the gang evolve along with him.... There’s also plenty of background material to place the stories into historical perspective. And the collection of Walt Kelly’s Pogo that hits stores this week is gorgeous. I have some of Fantagraphics’ previous Pogo volumes and this one blows them away. I’m also getting into Popeye for the first time with their collections of Segar’s classic strip." – Roger Ash, Westfield Comics Blog
• Commentary: At Comic Book Resources, Laura Sneddon, who is documenting her experiences in the postgraduate Comic Studies program at the University of Dundee in Scotland, examines the work of Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb for the class topic "Comics and Gender"
The exhibit runs through April 15th at the Yeshiva University Museum in the Center for Jewish History [ 15 West 16th Street ] and features Fantagraphics artists Miss Lasko-Gross, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Trina Robbins, and Diane Noomin, alongside a ton of other amazing female artists, like Vanessa Davis, Bernice Eisenstein, Sarah Glidden, Miriam Katin, Miriam Libicki, Corinne Pearlman, Sarah Lightman, Sarah Lazarovic, Racheli Rottner, Sharon Rudahl, Laurie Sandell, Ariel Schrag, Lauren Weinstein and Ilana Zeffren.
And on Monday, October 24th, you can join Miss Lasko-Gross and Ariel Schrag, Miriam Katin, and Lauren Weinstein for the panel "Close & Personal: Jewish Women Artists & their Graphic Diaries." Robin Cembalest, executive editor of ARTnews, will moderate. There will be a viewing at 6:00 PM, with the panel starting at 6:30 PM. Admission is free, with advance reservation, so get to it!
During a pig roast party in Georgetown last Saturday night, Jim Woodring and Fantagraphics Bookstore curator Larry Reid ran into the proud owner of Fantagraphics old delivery truck. At a 1991 signing at Fallout, this white Econoline van was adorned with exquisite images by Woodring, Daniel Clowes, the Hernandez Brothers, Peter Bagge, Roberta Gregory, Aline Komisnky-Crumb, Michael Dougan, Paul Mavrides and R. Crumb, who lettered his famous "Keep on Truckin" phrase on the front bumper. The van was sold for a song and sat derelict for years, but the owner reported that restoration of the historic vehicle began two weeks ago. We'll keep you posted.