Crumb, Robert

Born: 1943

Ohio connection: Former Resident


Robert Crumb, cartoonist, graphic artist, and editor is recognized as a pioneer in the underground comics movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Crumb’s work displays nostalgia for American folk culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and satire of contemporary American culture. His work often sparked debate on censorship and helped redefine the idea of what a comic book could be. Crumb’s work brought attention to the cartoonist as artist. Besides creating memorable counter-cultural characters such as Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, Flakey Foont, and Mr. Snoid, Crumb is also known for his work as a graphic artist. He illustrated many album covers, most notably Cheap Thrills (1968) by Big Brother and the Holding Company, whose lead singer was Janis Joplin and The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead (1995). Crumb is also famous for creating the “Keep on Truckin’”graphic; published in the first issue of Zap Comix in 1968, it is one of the most iconic images from that era.

Robert Dennis Crumb was born on August 30, 1943 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Charles V., a career marine and businessman, and Beatrice Crumb. His family moved to Milford, Delaware when Crumb was twelve. Crumb was inspired at an early age by the comics and cartoons of Walt Disney and Walter Lantz; in his mid-late teens, Crumb discovered the art world’s surrealists like Salvador Dalí and Giorgio de Chirico, and cartoonist Jules Feiffer. Their work inspired him to use his talents in cartooning in a more personal way. Although inspired by such luminaries, Crumb credits his older brother Charles Jr. for his decision to become a cartoonist. Charles, himself a gifted cartoonist, had a very strong influence on his younger brother. Robert Crumb and his brothers drew their own comics. When they were in high school, Robert and Charles collaborated on a comic book that was an imitation of Mad magazine; they called it “Foo.” They were only fifteen and sixteen years old at the time, and it was their first venture into printing and publishing their work. The brothers sold “Foo” door-to-door for ten cents.

In 1962, a year after graduating from high school, Crumb moved to Cleveland, Ohio at the invitation of his friend Marty Pahls. (Crumb also met Harvey Pekar while in Cleveland, and would go on to illustrate early issues of Pekar’s American Splendor.) Crumb soon found work with the American Greetings Corporation, where he started as a color separator. After a year, he was promoted to drawing for the line of humorous greeting cards that were introduced by American Greetings in 1957 called “Hi-Brow.” Addressing the anti-establishment movement launched by the Beatniks in the 1950s, Hi-Brow were irreverent cards inspired by the work of Bohemian artists living in Greenwich Village. The hundreds of greeting cards Crumb drew while in this job would influence his future work. In Cleveland Crumb created many of his characters, including Mr. Natural, Mr. Snoid, and Angelfood McSpade. In 1964 Crumb began drawing Fritz the Cat for Cavalier magazine.

In January 1967, Crumb moved to San Francisco, California, and eventually settled in the Haight-Ashbury district. In the autumn of that year, he created Zap Comix; Crumb created the first two issues of Zap himself, and sold “Zap No.0” and “Zap No. 1” on the street in 1968. By the fourth issues, Zap had grown into a collective of seven artist. The Zap series is often credited with spurring the underground “comix” movement in the United States. Here marked the beginning of underground comics with Crumb as its most recognizable force. When the underground comics scene declined, Crumb moved toward biographical and autobiographical subjects. Much of his work appeared in a magazine he produced and edited called Weirdo (1981-1993), which included the work of other artists. While still contributing to Weirdo, Crumb created the “Hup 1-4” series in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Since 1968, he has created over 100 comics that include issues of Zap!, Snatch Comics, Motorcity, Jiz, Mr. Natural, Bijou Funnies, Self-Loathing, Art & Beauty Magazine, and many more.

Crumb continues to illustrate from his home in southern France, where he lives with comics artist Aline Kominsky-Crumb. His latest work includes The Book of Genesis (W.W. Norton & Company, 2009) a graphic novel adaptation of the Book of Genesis; Drawn Together: The Collected Works of R. and A. Crumb (Liveright, 2012)

Crumb has received several accolades for his work, including a nomination for the Harvey Special Award for Humor in 1990 and the Angouleme Grand Prix in 1999. With Jack Kirby, Will Eisnier, Harvey Kurtzman, Gary Panter, and Chris Ware, Crumb was among the artists honored in the exhibition “Masters of American Comics” at the Jewish Museum in New York City, from September 16, 2006 to January 28, 2007.