Recently I asked a friend who considers himself an “comic book fanatic”, who claims to know everything about comics, does he know who Robert Crumb is? His reply was “never heard of them“, a reply I could understand from a young comic book collector who only reads Marvel or DC Comics. My friend is 59 years old and in one question his claim collapsed like the ‘walls of jericho’.
This same friend is also a film fan and that same day his film education continued when I popped in the DVD from documentary Crumb (1995). Guess what the first thing he says to me “oh thats the guy he drew that Fritz The Cat!“, so does know who he was! Face palm time.
Terry Zwigoff‘s Crumb is an intimate, personal account for the cult comic book artist Robert Crumb. Many documentaries would focus on the renowned underground artists works, this films gives a little more. This is more interested in the man himself , the pysche behind the talent and what made him tick.
Crumb will always be known for Keep On Truckin’ , Fritz The Cat to name a few. He also designed the cover artwork for Janis Joplin‘s record Cheap Thrills. His unique drawing style was considered racially and sexually provocative subject matters made him a household name in American pop culture. Not always in a positive way.
If you were asked to describe Terry Zwigoff’s Crumb, one could say the film plays like an psychiatrist session. The director or even the viewer the shrink. The director and artist are friends which probably helped the film dive head first into some dark, dark places.
If you’ve never seen a picture of Robert Crumb, you never think twice that this is the man behind some sadistically perversed even contentious work in comic book history. As they say never judge a book by its cover, same goes with people.
Behind the nerdy reclusive middle aged man we meet at the beginning, we see a man in love with his craft, his family and music (Blues & Jazz). All very important factors to Crumb’s life, who rather step out the spotlight of the success of his comic books. Never judge someone on first impressions, he’s a man with some unique sexual preferences, fetishes that have all inspired him in many ways. This only scratches the surface of Crumb’s pervsions and many detractors, female friends, ex-lovers, fans share their experiences on the artists. Many will boast the man’s penis size is ‘spectacular’.
To truly to understand what shaped Robert Crumb’s heart and soul, you have to look at his family. One of five children (Charles, Maxon, Sandra and Carol), in the film we only meet his brothers. Charles and Maxon with Charles especially is Robert’s biggest inspiration in him becoming a comic book artist.
Charles was talented at drawing and you wonder if he followed his younger brother, would he taken that life tranquilisers and old books, wouls he be the housebound shell of man who became? Probably not, but as the film progresses he suffered from schizophrenia which would lead to suicide before the film was released. Maxon is a different kettle of fish, a man with a string of molestation convictions and openly desires to molest women when interviewed. Robert painfully laughs and replies ‘He’s pretty far gone at this point already’. Deep down the Crumb children father was an ex-naval officer who created manual on how to train people. You can understand the dysfunctional side of all thanks to the ‘bullying’ they went through.
Crumb has an unapologetic tone that many viewers will enjoy, others will see Robert Crumb is too sexualized, even racist, unsettling. This film was 26 years ago you wonder if this film would gain the critical praise it did when it was originally released?
We can’t deny Crumb has a talent , is that talent he is blessed with his redemption? Zwigoff is his friends psychiatrist and the film is Crumb’s sketchbook to release his demonns. Now he shares his talents and wisdom with his own childrens art. It would be great to see an update to this film, we doubt that as Robert Crumb is a man of very few words. He prefer his ink and pen to do the talk, for now enjoy this compelling, and funny film.