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Monday, May 21, 2012

THE RELUCTANT COMIC-BOOK HERO



The reluctant comic-book hero
A major survey of R. Crumb’s countercultural cartoons opened in Paris last month, but he remains mystified by the attention

By Sarah Douglas. Features, Issue 235, May 2012
Published online: 16 May 2012

Robert Crumb, often known simply as R. Crumb, began to draw at the age of two. By the age of ten, Crumb, born in Philadelphia in 1943, was an avid fan of comic strips, and by 16, he was sketching the adventures of the family cat, Fred, who eventually became Fritz, one of his best known comic-book characters. After school in Delaware, he found work in Cleveland, Ohio, illustrating for the American Greetings card company, but his comics flourished after he moved to San Francisco in 1967. There, characters such as the mystic Mr Natural were born, and Crumb became a key figure in the counterculture and a fixture in Zap Comix, fashioning racy images that raised the eyebrows of conservatives and feminists alike, but gradually acquired a loyal fanbase across the world. In 1991, he moved to the south of France, where he lives to this day. Since the early 2000s, Crumb has become increasingly visible in fine art circles. He has shown with Paul Morris and, recently, David Zwirner in New York, and had his first museum retrospective at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne in 2004. His latest survey show, “R. Crumb: from the Underground to Genesis”, opened last month at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (until 19 August).

The Art Newspaper: How significant is your Paris retrospective?

People tell me this Museum of Modern Art in Paris is a really big deal, and that it’s very prestigious to have a show there. I guess I should be impressed. I don’t know.

With shows like this, are you involved or hands off?

I try to get as little involved as possible. Having big retrospective shows in museums is not my big thing.

Does that relate to the ambivalence you’ve expressed before about fine art?

The contemporary fine art world has never particularly interested me. They started to embrace me and have big fancy gallery shows and museum shows. I’m one of the few cartoonists who mainly work for print who is now finding their way into the fine art world, and it’s the choice of the fine art world; it’s not my choice. I haven’t consciously promoted myself in that world.


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