Crumb’s graphic sweepings
Odds and Ends: A Chronologically Ordered Collection of Rare WorksIntroduction by Jean-Pierre Mercier<br>Bloomsbury, £20
Crumb has been the comics’ deity for me since the early 1960s when I saw his comic strip travelogue of Harlem, New York, published in the old Help magazine (edited by MAD maestro Harvey Kurtzman) and later his ‘Fritz the Cat’ in the defunct men’s magazine, Cavalier. I was just a pre-adolescent kid when first introduced to Crumb’s work. Too young to appreciate the craziness of Time cover artist Boris Artzybasheff or MAD’s resident weirdo, Basil Wolverton.
Instead I was raised on the dry pabulum of Sgt Rock and Archie comics so Crumb’s blasphemous disregard of the notorious Comics Code taboos was a revelation. By my early teens I was totally enthralled when Crumb’s ribald comics began appearing in under-ground newspapers – and then came Zap #1 packed with anti-social, counter-cultural lunacy. The power of Crumb not only moved me, it influenced a generation.
Crumb is arguably the most well documented comic artist of our time. In addition to his own books of strips, there are Terry Zwigoff’s 1995 confessional documentary Crumb, and Monte Beauchamp’s The Life and Times of R. Crumb an anthology of reflections by a gaggle of artists and culture freaks on his widespread influence.
Moreover, virtually every detail of Crumb’s work – from over a dozen personal sketchbooks to a volume of dinner place-mat doodles, as well as a self-authored full-size coffee table book – has been published by underground and mainstream publishers over the past three decades. So I thought it would be impossible to find even a scrap of minutiae that has not already been reproduced.
I was wrong. Odds and Ends is a trove of bits and pieces of long lost or forgotten Crumb-stuff culled from his personal archives, selected by Crumb himself. Rather than a trifiing catch-all of cast-a-ways, this book is perhaps one of the most important Crumb documents yet. Indeed the collection would be impressive if it was just one artist’s body of work, but that it is the detritus that time forgot makes it all the more fascinating.
Some very early stuff is shown for the first time: Crumb’s earliest commercial greeting cards published by the cute-wellspring, American Greetings, and his sarcastic Monster greeting parodies for Topps Bubblegum Co show a cracked comic genius on the ready. Then there are more artefacts that time may have forgotten but I still remember, such as the one that reveals his obsessions with popular culture, a 1965 ode to the tail fin, ‘The Heap Years of the Auto 1946-1959’.
Gratefully preserved are some rare covers (1968) for the East Village Other and my favourite cover for 1969’s Meatball magazine. There are various logos, bookplates and other pieces of graphic design, plus his realistic drawings – man, can he draw – of famous and obscure personalities, and buxom women (plenty-o-women). But for me the best surprise is the covers for the obscure Winds Of Change newspaper out of Yolo County California, where Crumb lived before moving to France, which were produced in the early 1980s.
This local gazette is an extraordinary showcase for all Crumb’s innumerable eccentricities (and a great sampler of his comic hand-lettering). The rest of the book includes a fantastic array of drawings, paintings and even a couple of life-size sculptures of the lassies Crumb has been known to fondly fondle.
Crumb has transformed his quirks into great art. This book is a reliquary of the saint of the absurd, and proves beyond a doubt that he is still the god of comics.
Steven Heller, design writer, New York
First published in Eye no. 41 vol. 11, 2001
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