From 60s hippies to 90s film-makers and 21st-century art galleries, each generation has rediscovered the misanthropic, sex-obsessed cartoonist Robert Crumb. Now it is to happen again: in coming days he will be the subject of two retrospectives, a film season and a new biography. To celebrate, the Guardian this week will publish a selection of new and little-known Crumbs, along with some more familiar works. Today, Simon Hattenstone introduces the series by interviewing him at his home in the south of France.
Monday March 7, 2005
'Everything that is strong in me has gone into my art work.' Crumb, at home in the South of France. Photo: Eamonn McCabe
Crumbland is a physical place - a huge house in a medieval village in the south of France. It is also a state of mind. Crumbland is the inner head of the great American cartoonist Robert Crumb, where characters such as Mr Natural, Fritz the Cat and, most importantly, R Crumb himself were devised.
Crumb has chronicled our basest desires for 40 years. He is the professorial pervert, the shameless monster who let it all hang out in his cartoons. He lusted after women with big butts and big muscles; he showed his wise old Mr Natural, a man desperate for spiritual transcendence but thwarted by physical desire, having sex with overgrown babies; he drew cartoons about incest in model nuclear families - "The Family That Lays Together Stays Together"; he fantasised about sex with headless women; he portrayed a black woman, Angelfood McSpade, the incarnation of pure lust, as the ultimate jigaboo jungle bunny. He took LSD and pot, and celebrated the excesses of his imagination. But he did more than that. What made his cartoons so powerful was their ambivalence - while embracing his fantasies, they also reflected a disgust and fear of what he exposed about himself.
Crumb also chronicled the life of the ultimate wimp (R Crumb), the misanthrope (R Crumb), the dysfunctional family (the Crumbs). He says, with approval, that he was once described as a combination of the meek and the mean-spirited. He developed a cult following in the hippy-dippy 60s, and his influence spread to a number of different art forms (the comedian and actor Steve Martin, for example, says that he learned his comic walk from Crumb's characters). In a way, his work represented the hopes and fears of that generation. He was never political in an overt sense, but he explored social and sexual politics and risked everything in his satire. Some people call him a genius; some call him a sexist and racist; some say he is all of these things.
In the 1990s he became famous for a second time when the director Terry Zwigoff made a documentary about his life, Crumb. The film put Crumb's life in context - yes, his foot fetish, his piggyback fixations and his urge to dominate big, dominant women (in a pretty submissive way) were weird, but not half as weird as those of his two brothers. The Crumbs must surely rank among the strangest families ever committed to celluloid. The film showed Crumb and his wife Aline, also a cartoonist and artist, preparing to leave America for France. He seemed to be dogged by fame and despair about modern America, and Aline was determined to drag him somewhere he would find it easier to live a reclusive life. The strangest thing was that he had agreed to the film in the first place, but then again Zwigoff was a friend and Crumb never expected a little movie about himself to be an international success.
After Crumb, Zwigoff's career took off, as did Hollywood's interest in comic books. In 2000, Zwigoff made Ghost World, based on a comic book by Daniel Clowes. In 2003, a comic book written by Crumb's friend Harvey Pekar, and illustrated by Crumb, became the film American Splendor. Now Crumb is about to become famous again. The Whitechapel Art Gallery in London is hosting a retrospective (Crumb is revered in the fine art world, the critic Robert Hughes comparing him to Brueghel), a series of films based on or inspired by Crumb is about to be shown at the National Film Theatre, and he has just published a compendium-cum-autobiography, The R Crumb Handbook.
When Crumb and Aline started to draw a strip about themselves (he drawing himself, she drawing herself), art began to imitate life. Now, it's gone a stage further - life is imitating art imitating life. They look like cartoon characters - Crumb, the bearded stick insect; Aline, all short skirts, bulging biceps and big hair. She does most of the talking, he does most of the silence. The first impression is of her overbearing self-confidence and his paralysing reticence. But, as with the cartoons, it is more complicated than that.
Crumb listens quietly, affectionately, as Aline talks. Then something sets him off. He mentions Serena Williams's body and I nod and say that it sure is a fine body, and he rushes out of the room like an overexcited schoolboy. He returns a second later with a cute, hand-made book. He shows me the photograph he has pasted in of Williams in her tight black tennis outfit. He analyses the image with unrestrained passion. "This butt is just bionic. It's beyond anything. It's unbelievable. Imagine having access to that?" he says in his creamy whine - part Woody Allen, part Jack Nicholson. "That kind of woman is very underappreciated in the western world. Look at the type of women that are touted in the media."
On the right-hand page is another idealised big woman - this time explicit and pornographic. He seems embarrassed when I look beyond Serena, and takes the book away.
"He doesn't get that out for everybody," Aline says, every bit the proud wife.
"What's funny is that he draws the same body over and over," she says. "Some people don't think that has anything to do with his taste, they just don't get it. They don't actually believe he likes women that look like that.
"I have always had an abiding interest in that type of female anatomy," says Crumb. He tells me that Aline is both physically and mentally strong; his kind of woman. "She's very dominant. She has complete alpha energy. I'm just a vacillating, ineffectual individual."
Aline shakes her head. "I don't think you're like that."
Crumb: "Yes, I am. Everything that is strong in me has gone into my art work."
Aline: "I think you're really strong minded and dominating about what you think"
Crumb: "That's my work. When I come up against the real world, I just vacillate."
Aline: "You don't care enough, that's what it is."
Robert: "I do care enough, but I just can't fight it. Aline does battle for me."
I ask if that is really him or more the image he likes to have of himself - a little boy piggybacked through the world by ever-willing Amazons. "I think that's part of it," Aline says for him. "And it appeals to me, too." Has she ever wanted to stop piggy-backing him through the world? "Well, we have separate lives and we've had various adventures which keep our main relationship interesting. But we've always had a very strong commitment to each other on some level."
Crumb nods enthusiastically. "We're bohemian," he says with pride. What does he mean? "We don't subscribe to the standard bourgeois values, we see the possibility of life being open. Things are open-ended."
In what way? Aline, as usual, is the one to get down to business. "He liked to have a lot of girlfriends, and I used to like to go to exotic, dangerous places, for example. He only has one other girlfriend now - that I know of."
It's a typical exchange - loving, bickering over details. They finish stories off for each other. Crumb likes to talk about Aline's evil father, even though he never met him. They often compare notes about the damage inflicted on them by their monster parents. Crumb is 62; Aline is 57.
Robert Crumb was born in Philadelphia, the middle of five children - Charles, Carol, Sandra and Maxon. His father, Charles Crumb Snr, was a master sergeant in the US Marine Corps who later struggled to adapt to civilian life. He was a violent authoritarian with a fixed smile at work and a grimace at home. "He fought in world war two, killed people, saw a lot of death and came back from the war a very hard man." And his mother? "She was certifiably crazy. My father actually had her committed a couple of times."
His childhood was miserable and oppressive. His only escape was drawing, but even then he was coerced into it. "My older brother Charles bullied me into drawing. Before Aline, my brother Charles dominated my life. We had our make-believe publishing company and he was the president." Sometimes Charles let him be vice-president. Charles forced Robert to draw for the comics. "I guess I didn't enjoy drawing very much. It was like homework."
Crumb has always said Charles was the more talented artist. But before long, Charles's work became obsessive; a reflection of his failing mental health. "As he got crazier and crazier, the words and the shape of the words took over. It became a sickness." Charles spent his adult life at home with his mother, terrified of the outside world, and terrified of his longing for young boys. He killed himself in the mid-90s. His other brother, Maxon, became an artist and sex pest. "He went up to women in supermarkets and pulled their knickers down. Eventually he was imprisoned. They gave him aversion therapy, and that changed him. I guess it must have worked." Maxon has lived in the same hotel room for 25 years, but over the past decade he has stabilised - his paintings now sell for decent money.
By the time Crumb was nine, he had become an obsessive collector, obsessive cartoonist and obsessive nostalgic. He already had a sense of yearning for an America he had never known. His mother used to tell him he was like a little old man. Did he think he was weird? "Oh, yes. I knew I was weird by the time I was four. I knew I wasn't like other boys. I knew I was more fearful. I didn't like the rough and tumble most boys were into. I knew I was a sissy."
He became more and more miserable as he went through his teens. He felt displaced; as if he didn't belong anywhere. By the time he was 19 he was contemplating suicide: "I had no prospects, I had no idea how I was going to get through my life. I was very serious about suicide, but I didn't have the courage to go through with it." You need to be brave, incisive, to kill yourself, he says. "Killing yourself is a major commitment, it takes a kind of courage. Most people just lead lives of cowardly desperation. It's kinda half suicide where you just dull yourself with substances." Which is exactly what he did with LSD and pot.
Compared to his brothers, though, Crumb was a regular guy. He even managed to get himself out of Philadelphia, find a job working for a greetings card company in Cleveland, Ohio, and win himself a wife, Dana. Unbelievably, his Fritz the Cat character and a drawing entitled Keep on Truckin' became hugely successful, and he found himself a leading figure of the counter-culture. Even more unbelievably, as far as he was concerned, he found himself an object of desire.
Didn't that cheer him up? No, he says, it made him more cynical. "It was so obvious, it was shocking. In the fall of 1968, I became attractive to women. One day I was an ignored schlub in the street, then suddenly all these good-looking women were interested in me." A similar thing, he says, happened with newspapers and magazines and is now happening with the fine art world - they embraced his fame, not his work.
It's strange talking to Crumb - his words are depressive and lugubrious, and yet he appears mellow, laughing easily through his existential nausea. The most terrible stories amuse him as much as they pain him. He tells me how a best friend killed himself by swallowing four bottles of paper correction fluid, and he chortles. He talks of his own despair, and giggles. He admits that he could never have imagined a life quite so fulfilled - with Aline, and his beloved daughter Sophie, also a cartoonist, and success and money - and says he's still miserable as hell, and laughs.
He tried to thwart his own celebrity in the late 1960s. He hated being labelled "America's best-loved underground cartoonist". So he determined to make himself less loved. He exposed his darkest side on paper, presuming the world would run a mile. But it didn't work out like that. "I decided to be more brave about what was coming out. I used to draw that stuff in secret and throw it away. Flush it down the toilet. I wanted to see what the readership could take. Over about a period of a year I got more strange and crazier and finally I came out with this totally weird sex fantasy comic: Big Ass comics." Sure enough, it alienated a lot of women, but it also won him plenty more fans who hailed him as a great satirist.
He so often portrayed himself in his work as naked, lubricious and priapic. In real life, he says, he's neurotically inhibited. He claims Aline has only seen him naked a couple of times, and if she walks in when he's in the bathroom, he instantly covers himself up.
I ask Aline, who depicted herself losing her virginity in her first cartoon, who she thinks is the less politically correct of the two of them. Erm, she says, tough one - he just about edges it. "Well, he is a sexist, racist, antisemitic misogynist," she says.
Does he agree? "Oh, I guess all that stuff is in me, sure. I wouldn't say I'm an out and out racist or proud or amused by the idea of racism but we all grew up in this culture and we all have those tensions and I just feel it's something that's got to be dealt with and I try to deal with them in a humorous way and poke at the most tender spot that people are most nervous and uncomfortable with."
He talks about a cartoon he did, advertising a fantasy product called Nigger Hearts. "This cute kid says, 'Hey, mom let's have nigger hearts for lunch!' with this kinda jigaboo image on it. And it's like canned nigger hearts. It looks like a straight newspaper advertisement. It's actually about all the sordid murky stuff going on in the real world, but some people thought it was a racist image. Those things are complex, y'know. They were as much about what was going on inside white people as their attitude to black people. I liked the idea when I was doing that stuff of making things that looked as if they were one thing but were actually something else."
Actually, Aline says, he is a true egalitarian. "Yep, everybody's fair game. Y'know, he spares no one."
When they lived in California he worked for free for a leftwing newspaper who loved the idea of Crumb but couldn't cope with the actuality of his work. Often, he says, they would commission him to do a piece, then not run it for fear of offending people and finally, to add insult, they would sell the original artwork to keep the paper going. So why work for them? "I had those ideals. I wanted to help the cause, you know. It was very disillusioning." He accepts, reluctantly, that his misanthropy may well be rooted in idealism.
It's evening. The Crumbs have decided to give us a taste of proper French cooking. Their friend Christian has cooked a magnificent meal, and another friend Raoul, whose family runs a local vineyard, provides bottle after bottle of red wine. Aline chats to her friends in French. Robert sits quietly, occasionally interjecting in English, often singing to himself. He says he doesn't speak French and seems content in his role as outsider.
I ask him why they left America. Ach, it was Aline's decision, he says, and he just went along with it. But yes, it did have something to do with him. "Most of my adult life I had this towering contempt for America." What was the contempt based on? "Familiarity, I guess. I'm just a negative person, a deeply negative person. I see the worst aspects of everything. Aline used to roll her eyes because she thinks I ranted and raved about everything that is wrong, so she moved us over here and got us outta there." What did he think was wrong? He doesn't know where to start - corporatism, Coca-Cola, George W, intolerance, Christian fundamentalism, red tape, prices, logos, environmental destruction, property developers. "Oy!" he says. He sounds like an elderly Jewish man with his oy-yoys. In fact, it's Aline who is Jewish; he is an eternally lapsed Catholic.
Does he miss anything about America? "For one thing, I guess I miss all those large-butted American women. But also my role as a commentator on that culture. I mean, I can't comment on French culture. I can't tell what the hell's going on here." Has that given him an identity crisis? "A little bit, yeah, a little bit."
The Crumbs watch with pleasure as we drink. They don't touch alcohol. It's been 30 years since they gave up drugs, and almost as long since they drank. In my drink-sodden eyes they now seem like sweet ageing conservative Californians bent on healthy living and self-improvement.
As the evening draws on, I notice Crumb talking French to Raoul. He doesn't seem to be struggling.
Next day we are back in Crumbworld. Aline says we have to come upstairs to see the house in its full glory. She has a glint in her eye. The more floors we go up, the more rooms there seem to be. She claims not to know how many there are. While Crumb's office contains most of his life, the rest of the house is largely dedicated to Aline's collectables - dolls, paintings, objets trouvés from Indian dustbins, a shrine to all gods, a shrine to their daughter Sophie who is now living in New York, more dolls. Eventually we reach the top, which looks over the medieval village. Presumably, several hundred years ago when the house was built, people could shoot arrows from here with impunity.
Down below I hear some wonderful 1920s country dance music - fast and parping, all violins and train whistles. Robert is playing one of his 78s. When I walk into the room, I expect to see him swishing round a dancefloor. But, of course, he isn't. He doesn't dance.
He asks me questions about my state of mind and well-being. "I would strongly recommend meditation," he says in a jokey, Indian guru accent. But he means it. He sees things so much more clearly these days. He knows that he wouldn't have been able to create the work he has done without the drugs, but he says he is still suffering the consequences. "I know when I meditate I'm still dealing with the effect of the drugs. Kids play around with them without realising they have serious effects that you have to deal with for the rest of your life. They think it's casual, recreational. And we have this wonderful gift to be aware, to analyse, to perceive, to remember, and we just fuck with all that ..."
He is talking about art, and takes out massive art books to show his influences. He's talking with such love about Gillray and Hogarth and Bosch and Daumier and the Dandy and 14th-century comic strips, and he is salivating every bit as much as he was over Serena Williams. He jumps up every couple of minutes, and returns with a new book to give me a wonderful off-the-cuff lecture on art history.
Aline says meditation has made him far more balanced and slightly eased his self-loathing. Despite their many varied passions and loves, they are both vocal self-loathers. "He probably hates himself even more deeply and more pervasively and is harder on himself." Why? "He hates his physical self more than I hate my physical self. He hates himself on a visceral level. He's one of those spirits who feels trapped and limited by the human body."
It's time to leave Crumbland. He doesn't think he'll be giving any more interviews for a good while. He is retiring to his pen and ink, his music and books, Serena Williams and his fantasies. We leave the house and shut the door. In the outside world, the light is blinding and it is very quiet.
Crumb never believed it. Or rather, he did but only for about 10 minutes. That was in 1967, when he was 23 and, having had his first brush with LSD, had fled from his wife in Cleveland - to which, earlier, he had fled from his tyrannous father's house - in order to escape the iron triangle of job, marriage, family. He hitched a ride to California, like some post-psychedelic Okie, a Tom Joad joining the mass exodus to Haight-Ashbury with some Orange Sunshine tabs and a bottle of Pelikan ink.
But then, having got all the sex he wanted in San Francisco (and Crumb has never made any secret about his extreme neediness, his dirty mind and his Big Thing about girls with large hard buttocks and sequoia-like legs) he seems to have cottoned on quite early to the fact that all utopian promises were moonshine. Acid or no acid, the human animal was not about to change. It remained base, chained to its hopeless desires - irreformable. The really big sin was Original Sin. Having been through something like acid hell himself - "My mind would drift into a place ... filled with harsh, abrasive, low-grade, cartoony, tawdry carnival visions ... My ego was so shattered, so fragmented that it didn't get in the way" - he was not going to give much credence to the fantasy of social or spiritual renewal through psychedelics.
Instead, he was going to embrace his monsters and make sense of them with words and pictures. "Most of my popular characters - Mr Natural, Flakey Foont, Angelfood McSpade, Eggs Ackley, The Snoid, the Vulture Demonesses ... all suddenly appeared" in early 1966, and have been appearing since. By now they are figures in a commedia dell'arte that is entirely of our time: we recognise ourselves, our relations with the world, with our lost parents, our present authorities, in them. It has been said, often and truthfully, that genius is nothing other than the ability to recapture childhood at will - but this has to include the terrors and desires of childhood, not just its Arcadian innocence.
That is where the singular power of Crumb's work shows itself.
There is the terrible sadness in the pre-sexual yearning of a nasty 10-year-old, as he stares at the cowboy boots worn by Doris, an adult friend of his mother, whose face we don't see; that brat is you and me. We may not all have the thing about teenage bobbysoxers with "fahn big laigs" that Crumb admits to, but most of us have permanent hot fantasy-buttons of one kind or another, and Crumb's drawings remind us of the fact. We can never see things with the x-ray vision of Superman or the deductive brilliance of Dick Tracy, but we can sure as hell remember what it was like being stomped on by authorities, whether parents, cops or some terrifying ogress of a nun, as little Robert was in his Catholic school nearly half a century ago - and we can share the bloody inventions of revenge set forth in his drawings.
That's why Crumb is a genuinely democratic satirist, in the fierce over-the-top way of a James Gillray - hyperbole and aggression relieved by brief intermissions of tenderness. He gets into the domain of shared dreams and does so in a language that doesn't pretend to be "radically new". Why on earth should he pretend? If he did, people wouldn't know what he was drawing about. As he pointed out in an interview 30 years ago: "People have no idea of the sources for my work. I didn't invent anything; it's all there in the culture; it's not a big mystery. I just combine my personal experience with classic cartoon stereotypes." Rather than fitting him into some notion of an avant-garde, it is better to see Crumb as a dedicated anti-modernist. At the end of The R Crumb Handbook is a list of the artists (fine and cartoon) who have influenced him. The fine artists include, for more or less obvious reasons, Bosch, Pieter Brueghel, Rubens (them Flaimish blondes with fahn big laigs), Hogarth and Goya; among the modern ones are Reginald Marsh, George Grosz and Otto Dix; but there are no living ones at all.
Crumb's view of the contemporary art world is implacably jaundiced. He regards it as a saturnalia of phoneys and fashion-victims. Its central character, in one strip, is a gaunt, airheaded twerp of an unsuccessful fashion model named Mode O'Day, whose opening thought-balloon is: "I could be going to parties with Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol instead of hanging around with these boring nonentities." When he was regarded solely as a cartoonist he was angry about being left out of the category of "artist". Then tastes changed; Crumb became more desirable in the artworld, not because of pop art, but because of the enormous influence on collectors and museum people of the "dumb" figuration of the late, great Philip Guston, which was itself largely based on comic strips such as George Herriman's Krazy Kat.
Now that he has been "kicked upstairs" into the museum, Crumb professes not to get it. "I don't understand how they can fit me into the same mental space with Cy Twombly. It's a mystery to me." Presumably it is to Twombly, too. But no matter. What counts for Crumb, and should continue to count for his fans, is that he gets on with what has always been, for him, the immediate job at hand: continuing to make the kind of drawings that his mother and father would never, not in a month of Sundays, have allowed him to see.
He would do the interview on one condition: He wanted a contortionist who could bend herself into a pose. Not just any contortionist, mind you, but a big woman with massive legs and tits, suitable for riding piggyback. And, of course, she had to have clunky black shoes.
Interviewing Robert Crumb, the father of underground comics, creator of Zap, subject of an award-winning documentary and notoriously interview-shy guy, would be a coup. R. Crumb has been called a misogynist, a genius, a racist, and America's greatest living artist. He also happens to live in France, so we couldn't miss the chance to get him one-on-one. But where the hell were we going to find a contortionist?
Well, we couldn't get a professional contortionist, but we did find someone who fit Crumb's criteria. GettingIt invited Tigger LaTwang, go-go dancer, lead singer of the Glamour Pussies, and all-around limber person to meet us at Modernism, a high-brow San Francisco art gallery, before moving on to a local bar.
What followed, aside from Crumb's bending, stretching, pulling, and twisting Tigger, was a free-flowing conversation between Crumb, Terry Zwigoff (director of the documentary Crumb), Missy Axelrod, GettingIt editors Cara Bruce and Mat Honan, and, of course, Tigger.
GettingIt: Who's your favorite comic artist these days?
R. CRUMB: I guess Dan Clowes. I also like Richard Altergun. He doesn't do very much work, but he's great. There's a lot of good comic artists now that are younger kids. It's a young person's medium, comics. It's hard to keep it up when you get older.
GI: What isn't hard to keep up when you get old?
RC: Maybe that's it [Laughs]. You know, you got to be on your toes, quick on your feet, nimble, you know, fast and energetic.
GI: …to be a comic artist?
RC: Yes, to be prolific and keep coming up with funny, amusing ideas and all. You see those old farts that do those strips in the newspaper that are just terrible. They're dead, they're dull, they're boring.
GI: Do you want to talk about the Zap thing? I don't know what you want to call it, a fight? There was a lot of speculation about what happened.
RC: The Zap incident? It's not a big deal. It's all in the comic. I did a two-page comic about it and that's exactly what happened. I explained to those guys years ago that I just kind of wanted to quit the title and let it drop. They just couldn't let it drop. I guess they felt there was still some glory in that title. They felt like they were a rock band or something, "We're like a band, you can't quit, you know. Look at the Rolling Stones, they still go on." [Laughs] But I didn't feel that way. I didn't feel I was in a band [Laughing].
GI: How do you feel about the whole fame thing? Do you have people showing up at your house in France?
RC: Yeah, a guy showed up at my house at like four in the morning once. He had taken a taxi from Marseilles -- which is three hours away. He's knocking on my door and I look out the bedroom window and I look down at him and say, "Who is it? What do you want?" And he says, "Hey Crumb, oh man, I fucked up. I really fucked up." And he actually fell down in the street weeping. And I said, "What the hell? What the hell are you doing?" I was half asleep. He said he took this taxi from Marseilles and he didn't realize it was gonna cost 'cause he didn't realize how far it was to my village. It cost 1000 francs which is like $200.
GI: This is a friend of yours?
RC: No, I didn't know him. He was from New York. He showed up with his Korean wife. She was carrying all the luggage.
GI: Well, did you let them in?
RC: My wife got up and said, "what's going on?" I said, "this guy, he wanted to come in and see me." She says, "Don't let him in." I say, "You can't leave him out there. It's winter. You can't leave him out in the street. He says he doesn't have enough money for the taxi." So, I had to come out and give the cab driver 500 francs and he cursed a bit and left. I let the guy in, and my wife was so pissed off about it. She said, "that's a stupid thing to do, you should have called." The guy says, "I know, I really fucked up." He was really a jerk. So we sat there in the kitchen with him until about 7:30 in the morning and then put him on a bus. I gave him the money for the bus and sent him back to Marseilles.
GI: Is there a big artist community where you live?
RC: There are a lot of artists around there, mostly bad. The French government supports art, they give a lot of money to art. So there's all these bad artists just living off the government. So atrociously bad, you can't believe how bad it is. Openings all the time, so much nonsense, art nonsense and music nonsense, dance nonsense. It goes on all the time there. The French live for the pretty things.
GI: You don't like most modern art?
RC: No, awful. I can't believe it goes on and on, how bad art just goes on, crappy abstracted shit. It looks like, like that stuff we saw yesterday… like stuff by retards.
GI: What did you see?
RC: Student art at the [San Francisco] Art Institute. It was just…wretched. Well, [students] get confused and intimidated by the teachers, and then they don't know what they're doing anymore, they become unsure of themselves, lose their own footing. Same thing in France, the same bullshit.
GI: If you were coming of age in the '90s, would you still go into comics or would you go into computers?
RC: Geez, I have no idea. I would have been raised on a whole different set of cultural inputs. When I was a little kid, comics were at their peak. You know, the first comics of the '40s and '50s. Now there's no good mainstream comics. So, God knows what kids today are influenced by…computer games.
GI: Are you into computers at all?
RC: No, don't touch 'em. It's amazing in America. Everybody I know in America now spends some time on the computer. In France, personal computers are not happening. It's just not happening. Here, it's amazing. Everybody does it at their job, or for recreation, or... People stare at that screen all day, it's incredible. It's what you gotta do now.
GI: Have you seen eBay?
RC: Yeah, it's amazing. It's impressive as hell, incredible. Revolutionary.
GI: Isn't some of your art on eBay?
RC: Oh, yeah. It's amazing. But I'm not attracted to it. It's amazing but I guess I'm stuck in the 19th century. I guess I don't read too good.
GI: You like the physical paper?
RC: Yeah, I like paper and pens and stationery supplies…
GI: And girls.
RC: Guh-guh-guh-girls. Real girls that you can feel, and they're rubbery and warm.
GI: That's why you can't give up the Girl statue. How long did it take you to make?
RC: Months and months of labor… every day. It was an incredible amount of work. I'll never do it again [Laughs].
Part of the problem was that I wanted the anatomy to be correct with that statue, you know, like working on that knee that's jutted up, I got all these women and I would be like: "Can I see your knee?" I couldn't get the knee right. Every woman's knee was different. No two knees are alike.
Of course actually getting somebody to get anywhere near that pose was impossible. I have photos of some Chinese contortionist girls who can actually sit on their own head like that [Laughs]. But they didn't have the right build. But at least they're in the right position [Laughs].
GI: Did you make that for yourself, originally?
RC: Yeah, sure. I made her so I could climb on her. I spent so much time and so much concentration working on her that, as the form started to really become sharp and clear, she started talking to me. I was with her so much, obsessed with her, really…It was so weird to just start hearing her voice while I was working on her, you know. She'd say, "put little hearts on my socks!"
GI: You actually heard her talking?
RC: Yeah, I'd hear her voice in my head. Very strange.
GI: Did she suggest that you put her little pussy there too?
RC: No, that was my idea.
GI: So why do you hate women? [One of the most common criticisms leveled at R. Crumb is that he's a blatant misogynist.]
RC: Why do you hate men? Everybody… it's the battle of the sexes. Love 'em, hate 'em, you know how it is. You go around and around with it.
GI: But why do you like to bend 'em?
RC: Why do I like to bend women? It's thrilling. And they're so bendable. Women are way more flexible than men. It's a thrill. I don't know. Why do guys develop any fixation, fetish? It's a mystery.
GI: You're very particular about the shoes women wear.
RC: I'm very particular about the shoes, yes. They have to be just so. It's embarrassing, all that stuff, but there it is, you know. The thing about all those embarrassing fetishes is you feel real lonely with those things. You're hiding them inside yourself and there's this strong desire to talk about it, to share it, and nobody really wants to hear about it. It's almost a suffering thing to go around harboring these fetishes.
GI: How's your sex drive? How would you compare it to your youth?
RC: When I was young I could get it up for any girl in any situation. I got it up in situations -- now looking back -- I can't believe. The girl had a polio leg, all kinds of really...I was desperate. But now everything has to be just so and all the particulars have to be in place. I have to practice this kind of Tantric sexual yoga stuff in order to keep the...You have to pace yourself as you get older. When you're young you're just obsessed. I was obsessed. That's all I ever thought about, morning, noon and night.
GI: You're not as horny now?
RC: Slightly less horny. You get more control of your urges. It's easier to control, that's all. Less tendency to be always touching yourself down there.
But there's other things in life. When I was young it was just impossible. I used to think I should control it, but I couldn't. I think it would be a good idea to be less obsessed and work on other things, spiritual things, like that [Laughs]. It just wasn't possible until, I don't know, last week [Everyone laughs].
GI: Your head is still always turning.
RC: I guess that's true. It always embarrasses my daughter Sophie. She says "Dad, you're so obvious. Stop it!" A couple of times she physically took my head and turned it back around [Laughs].
GI: How old is your daughter?
RC: She's 17.
GI: She grew up in France, right?
RC: Yeah, she was nine when we moved there, so she's totally French. Not totally, actually. She's not as deferential to men as the French girls are. She wasn't raised that way. French girls her age are almost all focused on what the boy wants to do and what the boy likes. She's more independent than that.
Some French boys like that, some of them don't at all. I'm glad she's not like those French girls.
GI: How does Ailene [Ailene Kominsky, RC's wife] feel about these yearly trips you make to visit girlfriends back in the States?
RC: You'd have to ask her. I don't know. [Pauses] She puts up with it.
GI: What does Sophie think about it?
RC: She puts up with it too. She doesn't approve of it very much either. I don't really talk about it with Soph too much, I don't tell her what I'm doing down here. I don't tell her I'm going to fuck some other girl or anything. And she doesn't ask.
GI: Well, Sophie's read all of your comics now I guess?
RC: No, Sophie has not read my comics. She doesn't want to know. She can't handle it, you know. She's too young, she just doesn't want to look at it -- to see that her daddy drew all this raunchy, perverted sex stuff. She really can't deal with it. Someday I think she will, but...I don't even think I could have dealt with my own comics when I was that age. When I was 17, I couldn't have looked at it, either.
GI: Do you have anything you're working on right now you'd like to talk about?
RC: I just finished a comic book which I just gave to be published to Last Gasp. It's called Mystic Funnies…It's got mysticism and sex in it.
GI: Robert, you did the cover to this record [referring to "Cheap Thrills" playing on jukebox].
RC: I did the cover to this record?
GI: Yeah. This is Janis Joplin. You did the cover to this record.
RC: [Laughs, sarcastically] Awesome.