R. Crumb: Mr. Natural

Ian Buruma in the New York Review of Books:

Crumb_01Great claims have been made for the art of Robert Crumb, creator of Mr. Natural, Angelfood McSpade, Devil Girl, Fritz the Cat, and the Snoid, among other comic masterpieces. Crumb’s Zap Comix is a cultural landmark of the 1960s, as much as the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. “Keep on Truckin’,” the title of a series of drawings of strutting men in oversized shoes, like stoned dancers in a great nationwide cakewalk, became a catchphrase of the hippy era, immortalized in a song by the Grateful Dead. It was so overused that Crumb himself grew heartily sick of it.

Perhaps the greatest, and by now best-known, cartoon character in Crumb’s rich oeuvre is R. Crumb himself, a little mustachioed figure in a tweed jacket and glasses with a rampant penis, playing the banjo, or jumping on large athletic women in tight jeans, or getting beaten up, or masturbating over his own cartoons. R. Crumb, the comic figure, is not quite Mr. Everyman. Rather, he is the artist as loser, the sensitive nerd, who feels humiliated by the handsome bullies who are dumb and cruel but get the girls, while he can only dream about them. That is, until R. Crumb becomes a famous cartoonist and can suddenly do whatever he likes with the “gurls,” which is usually something rather drastic, like slamming them face-down on the floor and riding them like a jockey.

More here.