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Who is Robert Crumb?

By Garry Crystal
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Robert Crumb is world famous within the realm of art and illustration. Born in 1943 in Philadelphia, he is known for his subversive and counter culture comic books. His work takes a swipe at mainstream America by using satirical methods. His cartoon strips have become pop-culture icons since gaining worldwide recognition in the 1970s.

Crumb began his career by designing greeting cards in Ohio. He became a friend of Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman. Through this friendship, he contributed many cartoons, including Fritz the Cat. Crumb became a staple feature of many underground magazines, and his cartoons were soon steadily gaining recognition.

In 1967, Crumb moved to San Francisco, which at the time was the center of the underground and counter culture movement. He produced his own comic, Zap Comix, in 1968 to great success. From then, Crumb's work became synonymous with underground comics and subversive cartoons.

The content of Crumb’s comics was seen by many as sexually and politically shocking. This type of content had never been seen before in a comic book setting. Zap soon began to draw other illustrators to its pages. Victor Moscoso, Robert Williams, Spain Rodriguez and numerous others were attracted to this new publishing phenomenon.

Crumb's work began appearing in many other publications, including East Village Other, Yellow Dog and Motor City. His work was gaining in demand, and many celebrities requested his artwork. Many musicians asked Crumb to design covers for their albums, including Janis Joplin and The Rolling Stones. One of Crumb's most famous works was the Keep on Trucking cartoon that became a symbol of the counter culture movement in the 1970s.

Crumb had become a genuine icon of the counter culture movement. Unlike others, he would not sell his art at any price if he did not agree with the context it was to be used in. He passed on the Rolling Stones album cover simply because he did not like their music. When a feature length movie of his cartoon strip Fritz the Cat appeared, to great success, he hated it. He killed off the cat and refused to allow any more films to be made based on his characters.

As time progressed, Crumb became embroiled in legal battles over his work. He fought with the International Revenue Service (IRS) and lost the legal rights to his Keep on Trucking drawing. These bitter battles began to affect his work, which became more satirical, and he was accused by some of being too hateful. His sexual drawings were attacked by feminists, and some of his cartons were widely considered to be racist.

In 1994, a documentary on his life and work, entitled Crumb, brought renewed attention to Crumb’s work. Crumb’s work is so valuable that he was able to swap six of his sketchbooks for a house in the South of France. Crumb continues to draw and illustrate, and many consider him the most influential illustrator of the twentieth century.

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