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Robert Crumb

September 30 is the birthday of underground cartoonist Robert Crumb.  Born in Philadelphia in 1943, he grew up with an older brother who was obsessed with cartoons.  Crumb wanted to be a fine artist, but his older brother forced him to draw cartoons instead of "ordinary" pictures.  For years, he and his brother produced hundreds of comic books about a character they invented named "Fritz the Cat," which Crumb would later draw for Harvey Kurtzman's Help magazine.

In 1962, Crumb's family moved to Cleveland, and Crumb went to work for the American Greeting Card Company.  His boss was always telling him that his pictures were too grotesque and suggesting that he make them cuter.  At the same time, Crumb developed a style of cartoon in which cute animal characters get involved in violent, grotesque, and absurd situations.

Crumb married his first wife, Dana, in 1964 and began doing work for other entities, including Help magazine, where he worked with one of his greatest influences, comic artists and Mad magazine co-creator Harvey Kurtzman.  Many artists who later became part of the Underground Comic Counter-Culture also worked at Help.

While Crumb was in Cleveland, he began experimenting with various hallucinogenic drugs, which resulted in several bad experiences with LSD.  But his "bad trips" only led to the creation of some of Crumb's most enduring characters, including the pop icon, "Mr.Natural."  Throughout the Sixties, Crumb was creating illustrations and strips for New York's East Village Other," a Greenwich Village newspaper. 

In the late 1960s, Crumb moved to the anti-establishment center of the universe, San Francisco, and began illustrating rock concert posters and album covers.  One of his most famous pictures of a big-footed character with his foot out appeared in Zap #1 and carried the message, "Keep on truckin'."  But the Seventies proved that truckin' isn't always easy.   After collecting royalties for years, a suit was filed, challenging Crumb's copyright which had never been registered.  In  1977, a federal judge ruled that Crumb had let the image fall into the public domain, freeing pirates from any further royalty payments to Crumb.

Shortly after, he was hit with an I.R.S. tax bill for $30,000.  He divorced his wife (who some say was behind the I.R.S. action) and moved to Paris, France, until he could pay his bill.

In 1978, he met and married Aline Kominsky, a cartoonist with whom he created Weirdo magazine, and moved back to California.  He began selling his own books out of a baby carriage on Haight-Ashbury.  His were among the first underground comics, aimed at adults rather than children, addressing issues such as sex, racism, absurdity, and alienation.  Analysts have a field day speculating about the type of upbringing Crumb had as a child--something so strange that it created a man with a skewed outlook on life, love, and sexuality. 

Crumb, himself, seems comfortable with his place in the world, no matter what his critics may speculate about his mores and social values.  His world is subjective, and his drawings are speculative art.  The strange and fantastic are nothing new to this man who never had an art lesson in his life.  That didn't stop him from growing into a genuine counter-culture hero.  With a huge cult following, Crumb published a series of collections of his comics, including R. Crumb's Carloads o' Comics (1976) and Complete Crumb: Mr. Sixties (1989).

In the late Eighties, Crumb grew increasingly disillusioned with life in America and moved to France permanently.  He paid for his new home with six boxes filled with his work.  He still wears his signature fedora hat and business suits from the 1930s, and he listens only to old blues and jazz records and watches television in black-and-white.

Crumb once said, "[We] must thank the gods for art, those of us who have been fortunate enough to stumble onto this means of venting our craziness, our meanness, our towering disgust."

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