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Anatomy of a Gag: Being There By David Cairns
Terry Zwigoff’s 1995 documentary Crumb, which is coming to the Criterion Collection on DVD and Blu-ray in August, is an almost unbelievably intimate portrait of the underground comics icon Robert Crumb, as well as an examination of his controversial work. And, as Crumb has from time to time commented in various venues in the decade and a half since its release, the film changed his life—not necessarily for the better. In the summer issue of the Paris Review, Crumb gives a generously revealing interview to writer Ted Widmer (there’s an excerpt on the review’s site; for the whole thing, you’ll have to pick up a copy), in which he describes the effect seeing Crumb had on him: “Devastating . . . I thought he did a good job, but it’s excruciating to watch . . . I opened up my life to him, because he’s my friend . . . Who knew it would be so widely seen? Who knew Aline’s mother would see it? Or my relatives in Minnesota? They all hated me after they saw that.”
Crumb also discusses the meticulous work he went into isolation to do on his illustrated version of the book of Genesis (“Four years of work and barely worth it . . . It was the longest thing I ever did by far . . . Now I’m sick of the whole thing. I’m finished with the Bible. Back to drawing pornography.”); knowing how to draw God for that project after seeing him in a dream (“He had features almost like Mel Gibson or Charlton Heston, very severe but at the same time sort of anguished looking”); his preference for the role of humble illustrator (“It’s all bullshit—the fine-art world, the myth of the creative genius artist”); his materials of choice (antique steel pen nibs and Strathmore vellum surface paper); and his long and vivid career, from doing color separation for greeting cards in Cleveland to having his work profoundly changed by his taste for LSD to working for the Topps bubble gum company in Brooklyn (where, as he points out, Art Spiegelman invented Garbage Pail Kids) to the Haight-Ashbury, Zap Comix, Janis Joplin, “Keep on Truckin’” days to his eventual relocation to rural France (“Aline engineered the whole thing. I just woke up one day and I was living in France.”).
Other highlights: Crumb’s reluctant admittance into the world of hardcover books (“I love the old, cheap comic-book format so much because the format itself is a statement. It keeps you from becoming too pretentious . . . Keep it cheap and low-grade, keep it accessible, and then you’re not required to be overly artistic or have a deep, profound meaning. All that stuff that can make you very self-conscious.”) and why he’s through working for the New Yorker. And his credo, reiterated here for good measure: “I will always be an outsider.”
It all makes for a truly absorbing read, and only has us more excited for Crumb’s release later in the summer.