Today’s New York Times has one story worth reading (rated: R), on the appearance of cartoonist R. Crumb at the New York Public Library with art critic Robert Hughes: “Mr. Natural’s creator visits the world of art.” I became a Crumb fan as he was producing his best stuff in the ’60s. It seemed to me to cast a mocking, politically incorrect look at the hip/hippie culture that was otherwise its primary consumer. I know of no other persuasive evidence that we were able to laugh at ourselves, but the modest success of Crumb’s work at the time counts for something on this score.
Crumb is clearly a tortured soul; he wears his torments on his sleeve in much of his work. The Times article shows Crumb turning on himself in the accustomed manner:
[I]n one exchange with the audience – which included his fellow cartoonists Art Spiegelman and Bill Griffith – he mocked his contradictory needs.
“I want everyone to love me,” he said, half-mockingly, after explaining that he was once shocked to learn that the racial stereotypes and violence toward women he portrayed in his work were hurtful to many people. “Please love me,” Mr. Crumb added.
A woman in the audience then shouted, “We love you!,” and Mr. Crumb held up his hands, cringing, to stop the applause.
“O.K., you love me,” he responded, laughing. “You’re killing me, you love me so much. You’re choking me. Now back off.”
My favorite Crumb character is Mr. Natural, Crumb’s take on the gurus and bromides of the ’60s. Crumb appears to have brought Mr. Natural out of retirment in 1995 for this characteristically biting exchange, and then featured Mr. Natural in his own postcard book displaying his many sides.
Steve Burgess reviewed Crumb’s work in a column for Salon in connection with the 1994 film that revived interest in Crumb. Burgess’s column does a good job of capturing the contradictions in Crumb’s work and in his status as a cultural icon.