June 6, 2005

"The R. Crumb Handbook."

I've been reading "The R. Crumb Handbook." (Yeah, it's one of the five books referred to here, the guessing commenters will be interested to know.) I was not an R. Crumb fan until the movie "Crumb" drew me in. The Handbook is terrific, mixing written biographical text and illustrated pages. The text to a great extent tracks the story told in the movie, with some notable differences. The book emphasizes Crumb's Catholic upbringing, a subject entirely missing from the movie.

When you make a documentary, you take your footage and tell the story you want -- like a lawyer deciding what evidence to present. The R. Crumb of the movie was shaped by weird parents, the repressive American culture of the 1950s, and the liberating effect of LSD and sex. The Crumb of the book is much more grounded in serious respect for art and an intensely religious upbringing.

The book comes with a CD of Crumb's old-timey music. Fans -- like me! -- of Jim Kweskin should enjoy it. I'm sitting in a café, waiting to get my hands on the new marijuana case, and, needing to screen out something awful the baristas decided to unleash on the nerve-jangled customers, I started playing the Crumb CD through the headphones on my computer. The fifth song is a bit much, but it makes me laugh anyway. It's a jaunty little ditty called "My Girl's P***y."

Now, let's see if I can get to the case.


TWM said...

I, too, enjoyed the movie about Crumb although I liked the one about Harvey Pekar more. Crumb is such a pathetic creature to me -- and as you said obviously a creation of his weird parents and what must have been the almost explosive changes from the restrictive 1950s culture to the liberating 1960s culture.

Both Pekar and Crumb are intriguing though and I recommend both movies.

Ann Althouse said...

R. Crumb is a great artist. Pekar is not. I find Pekar immensely uninteresting, and "American Splendor" a big disappointment. The only interesting thing about Pekar is the work R. Crumb has done illustrating his uninteresting stories.

TWM said...

An attorney disagreeing with an investigator! Say it ain't so! LOL

I agree that talent-wise, Crumb has Pekar beat -- although there must be something in the way he observes and comments on life that is intriguing or he would not have achieved such acclaim in that world. And Crumb must have seen something there which should count for something

But perhaps I liked the American Spendor so much because I am a Paul Giamatti fan.

Both of them knew good music when they heard it though.

miklos rosza said...

Pekar reminds me of Richard Meltzer, the rock critic who is still around -- who has not listened to any new music since 1980 and is extremely bitter about the fact that Lester Bangs is more renowned, as, arguably it was Meltzer who "invented" rock criticism as it existed during its brief heyday before Jan Wenner and others clamped down.

JZ said...

I haven't looked at thos R.Crumb comix for about 35 years, but I don't think that it was only my adolescence that made me laugh at them. I think it was, first of all, his appreciation of the tradition of the comics. They remind of the early Popeye cartoons. Other elements I liked include his parodies of the 60s and his naughtiness. Those pickaninnies were scandalous. I still laugh at the thought of his muscle bound campus athlete telling a joint offering hippie, "No thanks. None for me." Mr. Natural in his sandals was both wise and a sexual predator, as I recall. And his Keep on Truckin' character may be one of the enduring images of the era. It was funny stuff, I guess because Crumb himself was such a funny character.

StrangerInTheseParts said...

Certainly when my circle of friends discuss the movie CRUMB, the conversation is all about Charles (the older, suicidal brother) and Maxon (the molester with a bed of nails).

When all you know is his art, you think R Crumb must be a degenerate, troubled person (which may or may not be appealing to you aesthetically or morally). When you meet his family, you realize he is someone who has triumphed over his upbringing. His art is probably the healthiest defence against the world he was raised in.

I can't think of another movie that does such a good job identifying the KEY element of artistic 'genius' or 'brilliance'. It is never technical talent alone, nor is it that old romantic canard of the artist as "madman" or "free spirit". Indeed, in both brothers, we see how talent or a 'free spirit' alone do not make for great artistry or art.

It is Robert's unique abililty to act out his deepest impulses and nightmares and fantasies on paper that sets him apart. His family, and his own heart, contain such chaotic, anti-social, and lurid passions - but somehow his art 'holds' all that madness. How he is able to get it all in there is the mystery.

Poor Charles and Maxon are left to pour their inner anguish into their lives. Or, really, to have their lives overrun by the anguish.

Ron said...

Ann: I totally agree with you about Pekar. Very overrated....

Meade said...

this just in