on September 12, 2002
There's an illustration on the back cover of The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book that perfectly encapsulates the artist's work - it depicts the top of Robert's head exploding, with several of his creations, famous, infamous, and otherwise, leaping out.
That, to me, sums up Crumb's work - this incredibly inventive artist with, to paraphrase Bob Dylan, a head full of ideas that are drivin' him insane.
There are frequent complaints about Crumb's work being too dark, racist, sexist, and/or misogynistic. While I can see where these criticisms come from, I really don't think Crumb is any darker, more racist, sexist, or misogynistic than any of us - he simply is unafraid to - COMPELLED to, almost - lay his cards on the table. Some people find this offensive. Would it be absurd of me to suggest that some of those who are offended by his work have their own issues with sexism, racism, and/or misogyny that they are unwilling to confront?
What I'm trying to get at here, I guess, is that this IS NOT a book for little kids. There's a sticker on the front of my copy of the book that says "FOR ADULT INTELLECTUALS ONLY!", and while I'm not so sure about the "intellectuals" part, this is probably not a book you want your grade-school age child to get ahold of, unless you're okay with said child seeing depictions of graphic (and I do mean GRAPHIC) sex, hard-core drug use, and extreme (albiet cartoonish) violence.
I realize all I've spent all this space talking about Crumb without ever really discussing what I like about his work. I think there's two main things: (1) his unflinching honesty (as I touched upon earlier), and (2) the incredible beauty of his draftsmanship. I think my favotite chapter in the whole book is the one that features his pen-and-ink still-lifes and landscapes. Just beautiful stuff - worth studying for his use of cross-hatching alone.
In conclusion, if you're at all interested in checking out the work of one of the finest artists to ever work in the comics medium, I highly recommend you get this book. It's easily worth the 25 bucks.
Oh, yeah - and it DOES make a wonderful coffee table book. :)
on March 19, 1998
Having followed and collected R. Crumb's work since the sixites, I was delighted when I received this book as a Christmas gift. Much of the work included will be familiar to fans, although some of the early pieces included help illustrate the progression of his career. What I found most wonderful, though, were his essays on his own work and life, the things that influenced him. While the documentary, Crumb, gives us a rather lurid and skewed look at his family and past, it's intriguing to read what he has to say about his own evolution as an artist. And make no mistake, comic books are art. I was especially fascinated to see how his work changed with the advent of psychedelics into his life. The small commentary drawings throughout the book make reading it an adventure. There is always more to see just when you think you've found it all. The hardboiled spirituality of Mr. Natural juxtaposed with the foolishness and naivete of Flakey Foont just has to make you laugh and appreciate the fact that this odd genius of pen and ink still retains a basically sincere interior despite the crusty coveringand cynical pose. This is an excellent addition to a comic collector's library and a rare look at a protrait of the artist by himself.
on November 12, 2001
There's a line that R. Crumb uses twice, in two separate comics, that epitomizes the major themes of his art: "Nobody understands [me]... and of course, how could they??" Periodically his work will stumble into a pit of naval gazing and self-indulgence when it comes to the subjects for his comics. But ultimately, everything he does boils down to this one line. The level of self-awareness he manages to achieve with this line, and throughout the remainder of his work, is both staggering and fascinating, enough to justify the grandiosity of this book.
I tried to read this as an autobiography, from cover to cover, taking time to carefully understand how the context of Crumb's life affected his work. Not an effective strategy. If the book wasn't so cumbersome to hold, it might have worked. But since that first reading, I've gotten much more enjoyment just laying the book open flat on a large surface, and staring at the audacious art contained herein.
The large-scale (13"x11") format has various levels of effectiveness when presenting Crumb's work. The sketchbook pages, when blown up to this size, lose their intimacy. You can see the fudges and mistakes that Crumb's made. These imperfections are beautiful in the smaller format, but become grotesque and distracting at this size. On the other hand, too often his comic book covers should have been enlarged but weren't. The details in the margins, brought out gloriously when they are blown up, can't be seen when the covers are presented as thumbnails.
Each chapter begins with a page-long, hand-written introduction by the man himself. Robert is self-effacing to a fault; you can tell that he's embarrassed by the treatment his works have been given here. He never intended them for such a wide audience, and now the incoherent ramblings of his inner mind are getting the coffee table book treatment! It's preposterous! That being said, he does a fine job trying to explain his own psychology, getting at his motivations for creating the art he did, and never apologizing for any of it. And I found that if you read his writings while imagining that great laid-back drawl of his, the experience is that much more enjoyable.
The book is a perfect companion piece for anyone who's seen Terry Zwigoff's stunning documentary, "Crumb". Many of the pieces shown in that movie turn up here too, only instead of just snippets we get the whole work. Most notable is the inclusion of "A Bitchin' Bod'!", in which the notorious Devil Girl, her head removed, is given by Mr. Natural to Flakey Foont, who proceeds to defile it, only to feel terribly guilty afterwards. This comic got the most attention from the intellectuals dissecting Crumb in the movie, and it's here in all its glory. True, it's hideously misogynistic, but it's also a fine example of what makes Crumb's work so awe-inspiring. He has a unique ability to mine his id for material, to lay his fantasies bare, and damn the consequences.
A fascinating foray into one man's artistic (and by association, personal) life, "The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book" would work splendidly on anyone's coffee table. That is, if you had the nerve to actually put it on your coffee table. If you want to freak out your friends, and educate them about the twisted depths that men's souls can achieve, you should.
on October 23, 1998
Ever since I saw the movie "CRUMB" I've been hooked on his artwork. I agree with his idea: no matter how sick or disturbing and idea you have, you should get it out into the open anyway. Be free to express yourself. I'm not endorsing pornography and drug use, which are both evident in his work, but I still say he's one of the great artists who just never got the attention he deserved.
on August 4, 2001
I first became a Robert Crumb fan in the sixties. I remember buying Zap#1 at the Free Press Book Store in Los Angeles. It was to art as Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?" was to music at the time. Both pretty much blew my mind as a young impressionable teenager. (Sold to "Adults Only"? hah!)
Its Nothing Sacred attitude and straight-up uncensored dialogue and art got me. The artist himself remained sort of a mystery man. How could someone be so brilliant in one series,
and then disappoint me so much in another? He seemed so afraid of "selling out" he occasionally just went for shock value or put out some junk calculated to alienate. (News Flash: Crumb disdains most of his fans...yeah- you too, fan-boy.)
This book is an autobiography told in art and text that reveals a lot about Crumb's character and influences. Do not buy this book if you are not into biographies, you won't like it. However, if you are a Crumb fan, it gives an entertaining insight into his struggles and regrets as an artist trying to maintain his own code of artistic integrity. I see his influences every day in commercial and popular art and get enjoyment from knowing who the "real deal" is that they've been influenced by or are out and out ripping off. Buy this book.
on August 23, 2006
I had always avoided this book because the title lead me to believe it was just an art book that didn't have any of Crumb's comics in it. Then I finally realized it's a huge book mostly made up of Crumb's comics with some first rate sketchbook drawings and even sketchbook comics, some of which are just as entertaining as his published comics. In addition to this, it's split up into chapters and each chapter features an introduction by Crumb where he pretty much narrates his own life. They did a really good job selecting which comics to put in here. They steered clear of printing a lot of Crumb's earliest (pre-68) stuff and printed a lot of his later work (late 70s-mid 90s),which are not only Crumb's best comics, but some of the best comics ever made, IMO. And thankfully, they hardly printed any of his Fritz the Cat stuff, which might be some of his most well known work, but deifinitely his weakest. I should also mention that a lot of the comics have been colored for this book. I thought that the coloring would look really bad, but I think it actually looks really good and adds to the comics.
Anyway, if you're like me and you like Crumb, but you're not really sure which one of his books to pick up, get this one.
on July 5, 2005
The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book enjoys exclusive honors on my coffee table; except when my Pastor comes to call, or other easily offended folk. Thumbing through this is as close to time travel as I will ever come. It took me back years ago when I enjoyed Zap and other underground comics. My hardbound edition is truly a first class quality volumn. Which is good because friends who never enjoyed Crumb's hilarious cartoons before; can't put it down.
Eric von Rhein
A generation ago, American poets such as Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, and Anne Sexton gave birth to a genre that's come to be known as "confessional poetry." Their verse revealed intimate facts about their lives that simply weren't spoken of in polite company: fears, phobias, sexual hang-ups, pettiness, depression, suicidal tendencies. Some of their work wound up being rather pathetic, more confessional than poetic. But when it was good, it invited readers to face their own demons.
Robert Crumb, whom the art critic Robert Hughes has called the "Breughel of the 20th century," is a confessional artist whose chosen genre is comics. For 50-odd years (with the emphasis on "odd"!), R. Crumb has explored his many identities and personae in thousands of sketches, drawings, and paintings. The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book is actually an autobiography put together from a handful of the work Crumb has produced over the years. It's interspersed with essays by Crumb on his childhood, school days, the hippie scene in San Francisco, his marriages, his "personal obsession with big women," his spiritual yearnings, and his love of old music. Taken together, it's a fascinating portrait of a man who's dared to explore some of his deepest and darkest places, and to do so (at least sometimes) publicly.
Crumb believes that the pivotal moment in his personal and artistic life was the period in the mid-60s to the early 70s when he dropped acid on a regular basis. Although he sometimes worries that he might've fried his brain, he also thinks that the LSD trips liberated his psyche and helped him break through to new and deeper levels of creativity. The LSD was, he tells us, his "road to Damascus."
Perhaps. It's true that Crumb's work has changed over the years--it's become more brutally honest, more introspective, darker and at the same time funnier. Perhaps the LSD had something to do with it (although, personally, I quite dislike some of the work that comes from that period, finding it rather flat and silly). But I suspect that the single greatest influence on Crumb was his childhood and his family, especially his brother Charlie, who seems to have been just as much a genius as Robert. Crumb the man really is the child of Crumb the boy. The LSD may've helped Crumb get in touch with the raw energy generated from those days.
Crumb has become notorious for the sexuality of some of his comics, and has taken his share of political correct knocks. But The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book makes clear that the bottom line of much of his art is his existential need to explore and expose the shallowness and absurdity of much of modern life. Above all, as he tells us (p. 247), he wants to tell the truth, not only about himself but about us as well. Whether it's in the pages of "Zap" or "Weirdo" comics, or in panels featuring Shuman the Human or Mr. Natural, Crumb continuously questions racial, sexual, cultural, and artistic conventions, pushing the envelope as far as it can go and frequently causing readers discomfort. There's also a longing on Crumb's part for deep meaning in a universe that appears crazy. This most often reveals itself as nostalgia for bygone days (his love of "old" music, for example), but also more explicitly as a yearning for a god that he can no longer fully believe in and frequently mocks.
Reading R. Crumb is an intense experience. Like all good art, his stuff can make one laugh with joy or send shivers down the spine. The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book is a good place to start if you're just discovering Crumb, and an equally good collection to help long-time admirers get some idea of the big picture of Crumb's work and to better appreciate its depth. It's also a good catalyst for getting in touch with one's own multiple identities.
on March 15, 1998
This lavishly and lovingly produced book covers the whole of Crumb's extraordinary career to date. I found the hand lettered (by Crumb himself) autobiographical notes at the beginning of each section to be especially delightful, at once scathing, funny, poingnant and touching. Crumb's early work, at American Greatings Cards Company and for Harvy Kurtzman is well covered. I was, however, somewhat dissapointed by the near exclusion of the Crumb-Bum's brilliant, albeit pornographic work from the late 60's through the 80's. I suppose it's an acceptable sacrifice in order to have the book accessible to a larger market. For my money, Bob's an American (in exile) Hero - hopeless geek becomes counter culture icon, and you can bet your bippy that the irony of an expensive "coffee table" collection of his work is not lost on the master - just check out his great work on the cover of the book! If you consider yourself at all a child of the 60's then you NEED to have this book. Nuff Said!
on October 21, 1999
This is a great book which, if you injoy R. Crumb, you will love! It is full of rich color and great stories. It is visualy beautiful. Crumb leaves full page notes talking about each section of his art. It talkes about his characters and comics in detail! Order this!