Amid all the well-deserved praise directed at R. Crumb's Book of Genesis, I was reminded of another often-overlooked Crumb masterpiece. As Fantagraphics newly minted 4th printing of Kafka reaches bookstore shelves, it seems like a good moment to reflect on the amazing achievement of Crumb and author David Zane Mairowitz.
Entering college I was assigned The Trial for freshman lit. I just wasn't ready for it. I wasn't a total dunce, but there were so many alluring diversions (i. e. booze and babes.) Thus began, and ended, my brief exposure to the works of Franz Kafka.
Only decades later did I deign to revisit the legacy of this literary genius. And it took a Crumb comic book to get me there. Crumb's renderings are at once precise and passionate. The narrative seamlessly weaves Kafka's biography into his self-reflective stories. A delightfully entertaining treatment of Kafka's daunting discourse. Now I can use the cliché "Kafkaesque" at cocktail parties and have some clue.
Seattle-based artist Michael Leavitt is involved in an ongoing 8-year project sculpting figures for his fanciful "Art Army." Inductees include Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Mark Ryden, Robert Williams, Ron English, Shag, Banksy, and countless others. His latest recruit is none other than underground comix legend R. Crumb.
Gahan Wilson's singular aesthetic with decidedly low brow sensibilities has roots in his adolescent exposure to lurid horror comic books and pulp magazines. ''I was a creepy little kid," Wilson recalls. "I did the whole comic book thing, and then I discovered Weird Tales — instantly homed right in on that around high school, and just loved it." His early illustrations found their way to the pages of the pulps and were later published in prestigious periodicals like Collier's, The New Yorker, and Playboy.
His delightfully demented sense of humor is celebrated in GAHAN WILSON: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons, an exquisite 3-volume slipcase edition from Fantagraphics Books that includes over 1,000 comics and illustrations by the acknowledged master of the macabre as well as all of Wilson's prose fiction in Playboy. Don't miss this rare opportunity to meet an American original, one week short of his 80th birthday.
Also on display on February 13 for one night only is a recently completed sculpted portrait of comix legend R. Crumb by Seattle artist Michael Leavitt (pictured below). Commissioned for a private out-of-state collection, this will provide the only opportunity to view the fully articulated wood carved figure — the latest addition to Leavitt's ongoing "Art Army" series.
The reception on Saturday February 13 coincides with the colorful Georgetown Second Saturday Art Attack featuring visual and performing arts presentations throughout the neighborhood, just in time for Valentine's Day. What better place for art mavens of all ages to observe this romantic occasion than in the enchanting industrial arts quarter of Georgetown.
Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons
Saturday, February 13, 6:00 - 9:00 PM
Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery
1201 S. Vale St. (at Airport Way S.) Seattle, WA Phone 206.658.0110 Open daily 11:30 - 8:00 PM, Sundays until 5:00 PM.
ALSO: Be sure to tune in to KUOW 94.9's "Weekday" show from 9AM to 10AM, on Friday, Feb. 12th, when Gahan will be talking to host Steve Scher about the event and his legendary career.
Back in print in a new 2009 softcover edition after a several-year absence, the 12th volume of The Complete Crumb spotlights Crumb’s first collaborations with national treasure Harvey Pekar, which appeared in the legendary American Splendor. This collection also includes a skeptical report-in-comics on an aerospace symposium (commissioned by CoEvolution Quarterly, it comes off like one of Michael Moore’s cocky documentary films), Crumb’s encounter with an interviewer from High Times magazine, an evocative period piece featuring 1930s jazz musicians, another of Crumb’s collaborative “jams” with Aline Kominsky, and everything else that’s established R. Crumb as the master catoonist of his time! Makes a great gift and doubles as an evocative educational tool, teaching our youth what it means to be American (from the guy that moved to France)!
This superb collection of work by Robert Crumb continues into the '70s with another 120-page slab of pure Crumb work, all topped off with a brand new Crumb cover (featuring Mr. Natural) and a two-page introduction by Mr. Sketchum himself! This volume includes all the Crumb work from Zap! #5, Bijou #4, and San Francisco Comic Book #3, as well as the complete reprintings (including the covers in full color) of Uneeda (which includes one of Crumb's more eccentric creations, Bo Bo Bolinski, as well as the classic "Honeybunch Kaminski, the Drug-Crazed Runaway"), Mr. Natural #1, and Hytone #1 (with "Pete the Plumber" and "Horny Harriet Hot Pants"). But that's just the tip of the iceberg! For true-blue collectors, this volume includes several ultra-rare greeting cards (reproduced in full color); Crumb's illustrative contributions to Esquire and Playboy in that period (both in full color); drawings from Promethean Enterprises and the East Village Other; and, most tantalizing of all, the original, never-printed cover to Zap! #5!
• List: At their The SF Site: Nexus Graphica column, Rick Klaw and Mark London Williams name their top 5 comics of the year. For Williams it's West Coast Blues by Tardi & Manchette at #5 ("one of the year's best crime fiction reads, at least in comics"); for Klaw it's Humbug at #4 ("The slipcased set wisely includes several insightful and interesting extras") and Tardi's West Coast Blues and You Are There tied at #3 ("one of the best crime graphic novels ever produced" and "masterfully satirizes French society and politics unlike any comic before or since" respectively)
• List:Comic Book Resources' Brian Cronin lists his Top Ten Comics of 2009, including Michael Kupperman's Tales Designed to Thrizzle #5 in the 10th spot ("continues to be a brilliantly absurd comic book every time out") and Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga in 4th place ("The first story is mind-boggling... Absolute top notch sequential work")
• Guide: If you've always wondered what part of R. Crumb's enormous oeuvre was the best place to start, Robot 6's Chris Mautner takes you to "Comics College" with some solid advice
• Review: "Few cartoonists ever had as lavish a tribute as a three-volume-slipcased collection, but few are as deserving as [Gahan] Wilson. Collecting 50 years worth of his monthly single page gag cartoons from Playboy, [Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons] is a definitive overview of a remarkable talent and viewpoint. ... Beautifully designed and printed, the books contain cut-out pages, and the slipcase itself becomes a window for a trapped photo of Wilson. Text extras include Wilson's prose short stories and an appreciation by Neil Gaiman. If these three volumes are a bit much for one sitting, periodic dipping in will always satisfy." – Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
• Review: "[You Are There] is an absurdist satire,... and a pretty terrific one. ... It's easy to picture it as one of those long-form fourth-season Monty Python episodes... [I]t's seriously a master class on creating a sense not just of place but of a claustrophobic, chaotic, unsustainable state of mind. ... Killer stuff, and more fun than you remember it from French class." – Sean T. Collins
• Review: "This time around, we get Strange Suspense by Steve Ditko, whom you may have heard of. ...[and] man! are these some cool comics. ... Ditko... had no restraints, and the stories show it. This is pretty wild stuff. ... We really get a sense of a master at work in this book, even though it was so early in Ditko's career. ... It's totally worth the price!" – Greg Burgas, Comic Book Resources
• Review: "...Tyler’s sensitive 'voice' remains easily recognizable in her latest book, You’ll Never Know. ... This book is to be savored slowly and on its own terms." – Ng Suat Tong, The Comics Journal
• Review: "...[F]or a cartoonist like Dash Shaw, who revels in drawing’s fluidity and expressive imperfections, the transition between comics and animation is a natural one. His splendid four-part animated web series for IFC.com, The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D., underscores what’s best about all of his work—its eclecticism and intimate drama." – Nicole Rudick, Artforum
• Plug: "The Complete Peanuts 1971-1974... This collection of the 11th and 12th volumes of a planned 25-book set, designed by Canadian cartoonist and designer Seth, shows Schulz's staggering talent in the prime of his career and even introduces Linus and Lucy's little brother, Rerun." – Jonathan Kuehlein, Toronto Star
• Interview:Big Shiny Robot! talks to Dash Shaw: "I’ve never sold a treatment and then executed something with the expectations of the publisher looming over my shoulder. ... These comics were going to exist in some form anyway. It’s all been a combination of drawing a ridiculous amount and total luck."
Gahan Wilson: Fifty Years of Playboy Cartoons. 3 volumes. Deluxe presentation. 11 pounds. The ultimate holiday gift for any lover of good cartooning. Chris Mautner of Robot 6 makes it his Pick of the Week and says "I've been perusing the thing over the past week and it's really a sumptuous package, exquisitely designed and full of great, great work from one of the finest (and sadly, often ignored) cartoonists of the modern era." Jog sums it up more succinctly: "I mean, c'mon." Couldn't have said it better myself.
And last but not least two freshly reprinted volumes of The Complete Crumb Comics.Vol. 7: "Hot 'n' Heavy!" features several Mr. Natural tales and some of Crumb's wildest sex comix and much more; and Vol. 12: "We're Livin' in the Lap o' Luxury!" spotlights Crumb's American Splendor collaborations with Harvey Pekar (as seen in the movie) and other diverse works. Classics!
As always we have informative and entertaining previews and other information about these books at the links above, so you can look before you leap.
• List:Details magazine names Ghost World #10 on The 25 Greatest Gen X Books of All Time: "This caustically funny duo-tone tale follows the iconic cat-eyed adolescent Enid Coleslaw in her quest to find meaning, or at least cruel humor, in an age where everything's disposable."
• Review: "Strange Suspense collects dozens of Ditko stories from the 1950’s... Almost a decade before Ditko moved to Marvel, these stories bear his unmistakable style. His fine line work and flair for the abstract that would serve him so well on Doctor Strange particularly, is on full display. ... If you only know Ditko for his work at Marvel or later at DC, here is the chance to explore Early Ditko, unconstrained by editors or the Comics Code. While all of this work is marvelous, clearly Ditko is best at home in horror where he could let his imagination run wild, creating monsters and demons and the things that go bump in the night. Rediscover Ditko today!" – Tim Janson, Newsarama
• Review: "Brian Kane, author of the [Definitive Prince Valiant] Companion and surely the world’s foremost authority on the strip and its creator, Hal Foster, has once again done a herculean amount of work, and Fantagraphics has once again clothed that work in a sturdy, pretty volume. Prince Valiant hasn’t been treated this well since the ersatz King of England sang his praises. Those unfamiliar with the character – a young man who finds adventure, fame, and even love at the court of the legendary King Arthur – will find here all the background information they could ever want... But even long-time Prince Valiant fans will find plenty to fascinate them in this volume." – Khalid Ponte, Open Letters
• Review: "Delphine is a morbid interpretation of the symbology of fairy tales resounding with echoes of unrequited love and abandonment. This is perhaps Sala’s darkest and most intricate story ever – impressive in its nuance and ever shifting emotions. One can only hope that it is not ignored." – Ng Suat Tong, The Comics Journal
• Interview: From TCJ.com: "Every weekday from now until December 25, we’ll be posting a conversation between cartoonists from The Comics Journal #300, complete and online! In today’s installment, it’s a chat between L’Association publisher Jean-Christophe Menu and Kramers Ergot publisher Sammy Harkham."
Over at the Toy-a-Day blog you can download a PDF to print out and assemble this adorable papercraft toy of R. Crumb's Mr. Natural. Well-timed with our announcement today of the first-ever hardcover edition of The Book of Mr. Natural! Thanks to Joseph Chiang for the tip on Facebook.
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