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13 June 2010 @ 07:39 pm
What the Hell, R. Crumb?  
Kudos to the editors of The Paris Review for including an interview with R. Crumb in their Summer 2010 issue. That magazine has published interviews with writers and poets since it began, but this is the first time it has ever featured an interview with a comics creator.

I'm not so happy that the interviewer described Crumb as "perhaps the most influential cartoonist of his or any generation," since, even though he's a great talent, I wouldn't consider him the most influential. There are many other candidates for that position. No Joe Shuster, no superheroes. No Jack Kirby, no Marvel Universe. And as Cortney Skinner just pointed out to me, can you imagine a world with no Walt Disney?

But that wasn't what so horrified me I felt compelled to set the issue down and come tell you about it. No, what disturbed me was one of the things Crumb had to say in answer to a question about which art supplies he uses. His response caused smoke to erupt from my ears and nostrils, and I had to stop and vent.

When asked what kind of paper he used, Crumb said:

Well, I use the old Strathmore vellum surface paper, which is the best paper you can get in the Western world for ink line drawing. It has a good, hard surface. I have it mailed from the New York Central Art Supply in New York. For a while I was using this old Strathmore paper from fifty years ago that some guy sent me, it had bad comic art on one side, hacked-out comic work from 1959, 1960, but the paper is superior to anything you can get now. It just holds the ink better. I ran out of that and now I use this new stuff that's not quite as good.

I don't often go WTF, but Crumb—WTF? Say it ain't so!

Alas, I fear that it is.

Can any Crumb experts out there attest to validity of this statement? And—assuming it's true—can you let the rest of us know what original mainstream comics artwork is now hidden on the flipside of Crumb drawings?

Oh, the humanity!
coppervalecoppervale on June 14th, 2010 01:13 am (UTC)
Holy CRAP. I think I need to sit down...
rab62rab62 on June 14th, 2010 06:06 am (UTC)
Wow. Yeah.

I'm inclined to excuse that quote from the interviewer as simple ignorance. I've known a few Crumb fans who followed everything Crumb did but never bothered checking out any other comics, even other underground stuff. American Splendor would be the outer boundary of their comics knowledge. Maybe Gilbert Shelton if they were particularly adventurous, like one issue of Fabulous Furry Freak Bros, or the occasional strip by Aline if it had Crumb in it as a character. And yet these people would be so positive Crumb was the pinnacle of comics and how could there ever be anything better? I'm certainly not saying most Crumb fans are like that -- or even that Ted Widmer is an example of this syndrome -- I'm just saying I've run into it a few times.

(And of course, reflexively disparaging all superhero comics as unworthy of notice is a feature and not a bug with that crowd.)

But the Crumb quote is breathtaking. I've never heard a real artist, no matter how conceited or arrogant, be so utterly dismissive and contemptuous of another illustrator in essentially the same line of work. The guy could have been a hack, and that art could be the ugliest crap…but that remark is still unseemly at best. As it is, all we have to go on is Crumb's notion that some other artist's work is mere scrap paper. Good thing this wasn't in TCJ, or we'd have had the spectacle of Gary Groth naming a bunch of artists, gleefully asking "Was it him? I bet it was him, right?" in hopes of getting Crumb to trash someone by name.
The Texas Triffid Ranch - Odd Plants and Odditiestxtriffidranch on June 14th, 2010 03:54 pm (UTC)
You know, I'm wondering if the guy who gave Crumb that bad comic art was in fact the artist. Even more, I'm wondering if the artist knew and acknowledged that it was hacked-out work, and gave it to Crumb because "at least it's getting used instead of stinking up my work space."

I only bring this up because I suspect that there's more to this than just that one little quote. I may be wrong, but I'd be willing to bet $5 right now that the offer of that paper was made freely and willingly by someone who knew that R. Crumb could do a lot more with the paper than he ever could. Not that I'd know anything about this, of course.
coop666coop666 on June 14th, 2010 04:14 pm (UTC)
Crumb isn't the only cartoonist who does this. I'm not gonna name names, but I can think of at least two right now.

He is right that the new strathmore bristol is not as good as the old stuff. They changed the formula or the manufacturing process at some point, and it doesn't hold ink as nicely as before.
rtbinc on June 14th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
There is a long....
There is a long history of this sort of thing. People have reused quality papers by things like this for ages. Many great works have been recovered by looking under later works. The usual method was to scrape the surface of the paper (or velum or whatever) and then reuse it at right angles to the original so it was less confusing if any of the original text remained. This wouldn't be just arrogance, it is also the great distaste for the new paper.
scottedelmanscottedelman on June 14th, 2010 07:27 pm (UTC)
Re: There is a long....
True. Was it Magritte who bought another famous artist's pencil sketch, erased it, and then drew another image on the page? Or was that done TO him?

I can no longer remember ...
(Anonymous) on June 14th, 2010 08:11 pm (UTC)
Re: There is a long....
Robert Rauschenberg famously erased a DeKooning drawing, and then retitled it, "Erased DeKooning". It's pretty common historically for people to re-use paper or canvas by painting
or drawing over something that was already there.
(Anonymous) on June 14th, 2010 09:36 pm (UTC)
Re: There is a long....
You can have a ball answering your own question. Who is the other artist? What is there? Can you get copies? Is the stuff really crap. After all, the great lesson of Archaeology is that 90% of everything is shit has always been true.
scottedelman: Kurtzmanscottedelman on June 14th, 2010 09:40 pm (UTC)
Re: There is a long....
What I'm hoping is that the Crumb historians will be aware of the other artwork on the back of the artwork they care about and will be able to report on it. There are people out there who own Crumb originals who are probably wondering what's that "hacked-out comic work" on the back of it. And I NEED to know!

Edited at 2010-06-14 09:40 pm (UTC)
stefanogaudiano on June 15th, 2010 04:31 am (UTC)
what's the big deal?
are you all kidding? i'm having a hard time figuring out why anyone would even have a problem with this. i re-use artboard whenever i need to. as far as i'm concerned art on both sides of a bristol board makes the bristol board more valuable by most standards. recycling board is good for the environment, too.
you all seem to be making the assumption that Crumb is (A) defacing art (B) handling stolen property (C) injuring a fellow artist by his actions and his comments - or some combination of the above.
i'm just dumbfounded - other than clamoring about the sanctity of these unseen drawings, would any of you pay more than the paper's worth for a stack of old pages by some illustrator you don't care about? how about $10 per page? what exactly is so implicitely precious about the lines on the other side Crumb's board?

Not all old comic art was stolen from its artists - much of it was freely given by artists who simply did not care enough to even think that it might be valuable.

It's possible that Crumb is drawing on the back of art that was made by someone who actively cared about it and had a legitimate claim to it, but Crumb would have no way of knowing that. and the odds of that original art being wanted by anyone are slim). unless you're the type of person who checks the background of every item you buy and every corporation you give money to, it's absurd to expect that Crumb should show more reverence toward the back of his boards than any of us do for a bag of groceries.

i don't know why the shocked reaction to this bit of information about Crumb irks me as it does: it confounds me; it seems dumb and misguided - apolologies for rambling on about it as much as i just did. i'm gonna go find a piece of art to draw on the back of, just for spite.

scottedelman: Jack Davisscottedelman on June 15th, 2010 01:06 pm (UTC)
Re: what's the big deal?
Until you brought up the concept of stolen artwork, that aspect of the issue hadn't even occurred to me! Crumb said that the pages he'd used were from 1959 and 1960, and at least through the mid-'60s, the publishers treated artwork as worthless, not only giving it away, but often throwing it away. I know people who were handed the artwork for complete issues as souvenirs when they visited comics offices, and other people who pleaded with companies not to toss art in the trash, and then rescued it themselves out of dumpsters. Knowing that, how Crumb got the pages to do what he did doesn't really bother me. I never assumed theft on anyone's part—not Crumb, and not the guy who gave him the pages.

You say you reuse your own artboard. Fine. So did my father, as you can see from this painting. I have no problem with that.

But there are a couple of issues here that do bother me. You describe the artwork as being by "by some illustrator you don't care about." I not sure how you can describe the artist that way, since neither you nor I nor anyone but Crumb and whoever got him the artwork have any idea who that artist is. It could be the worst hack out there, it could also be someone we'd all kill to get our hands on, considering the years mentioned. But we don't know. History has been erased. While it's not on a par with the burning of the Library of Alexandria, I still find it offensive.

One reason I find it offensive is that in my opinion, Crumb should know better. He should know what it is to be judged. He should know what it's like to be devalued and marginalized. He should know that one man's trash is another man's treasure. You just don't do that to someone else's creation. We're not always right in our snap judgements. After all, think of how worthless Fletcher Hanks was considered at one time vs. how he is revered now. So I'd prefer to let history judge, rather than judge myself, when it comes to the preservation of these things.

If I had to guess why Crumb felt free to proceed as he did, I'd say it's because of the self-loathing he felt for the work he did on greeting cards, which he devalued. I'm betting he assumed the creator of the "hacked-out comic work" felt the same way, and there was a bit of transference going on.

And finally, regardless of which side of the fence people come down on the issue, I'm still hoping Crumb fans will let us know what secrets wait on the back of the man's art. I'm betting I'm not the only one with an interest in what will be revealed.

Edited at 2010-06-15 01:08 pm (UTC)
(Anonymous) on June 15th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
Re: what's the big deal?
I agree with Scott about the transference etc … plus, there's a bit of professional courtesy involved here also.

as someone who's done far more hack work than Mr Crumb ever had to and for businessmen who made a certain greeting card company look like Mother Teresa, I know that you must treat your fellow hacks with a certain respect … till you've inked on someone's bristol board, you don't know what they've gone through, eh?

justtheplaceforasnark.blogspot.com on June 15th, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC)
Re: what's the big deal?
I agree with Scott about the transference etc … plus, there's a bit of professional courtesy involved here also.

as someone who's done far more hack work than Mr Crumb ever had to and for businessmen who made a certain greeting card company look like Mother Teresa, I know that you must treat your fellow hacks with a certain respect … till you've inked on someone's bristol board, you don't know what they've gone through, eh?
(Anonymous) on June 15th, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
So what?
Are you folks serious? You don't even know what the old comic art in question is. It could be hacked out work, lord knows that there is plenty of it out there. Not every piece is a lost Kirby. Like a few others in the comments have said, there is a long history of reusing canvas and paper in art. Besides, at the worst it sounds as though Crumb is merely drawing on backs of these precious masterpieces and not defacing the original artworks, there by preserving them for the ages. Not all art is equal and not all art is a treasure and no art should be sacred.
(Anonymous) on June 16th, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
Re: So what?
Some art is and should be sacred, i.e. regarded with reverence and secured against violation. Any comics fan who says otherwise is lying to himself.

What bothers me is the arrogance of it. I'm sure Crumb likes control over his own art, but did he thank that the artwork on these boards should go back to the original artists, no matter the quality?

I'm bothered by this, and anyone who isn't is an ignorant fool.
(Anonymous) on June 16th, 2010 08:15 pm (UTC)
Re: So what?
Anyone who doesn't share your level of discomfort over this is an "ignorant fool" -- and you feel comfortable accusing someone *else* of arrogance?