Thursday, October 27, 2011

Robert Crumb: His Life Influences on Genesis and Other Works

The documentary Crumb revealed the complexities of Robert Crumb’s childhood and family life. When compared to Crumb’s Genesis, however, there was not an exact correspondence. Essentially, it was difficult to pin point exact reasons as to why Crumb depicted Genesis the way he did. The film focuses on Crumb’s childhood troubles, broken family, and all things in between that influenced his style of art. Although the film focuses on his more popular works of art, it is evident that his life and influences are significantly represented in his illustrations of Genesis. As a result, readers are able to develop a better understanding and appreciation of Crumb and his life as an individual.

Crumb’s home life growing up was far from picture-perfect. His father was a hothead, war veteran and enforced extremely strict behavior on Crumb and his two brothers, Maxon and Charles. Crumb believes his father was depressed as well as disappointed in how “wimpy and dorky” his sons turned out. He was said to be extremely serious about life and often exhibited threatening and violent behaviors towards his children. Although he attempted to transform his sons into “productive citizens,” he apparently failed miserably and lost all hope. Crumb also has two sisters, but they declined to be interviewed for the film, so there was not much information disclosed about them. Later in the film we learn that Crumb’s mother became addicted to amphetamines, which only caused physical fights and tension in the home, especially between Crumb’s parents. A large portion of the film revolves around Crumb’s brother, Charles. Immediately, we are informed that Charles is a social outcast and detached from the human race. He moved back into his mother’s home after high school and remained living there until a year after he interviewed for Crumb, when he took his own life. For twenty years Charles was prescribed to depression medication as well as tranquilizers. Essentially, he was a very morbid man with no ambitions or motivations. Charles did, however, start the comic trend in the Crumb family, which was ultimately one of Crumb’s biggest influences. The three brothers called their comics, Animal Town Comic Club. And since that moment, Crumb has been drawing comics that express his whatever he feels necessary.

As a child, Crumb was always extremely sexual and exhibited sexual behaviors. In the film he explains how he apparently had his first erection at the age of four. He would then go into his mother’s closet and hump a pair of her cowgirl boots singing, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.’ Although this can portrayed as an extremely erotic and slightly idiotic disclosure, Crumb does in fact incorporate his young sexual tendencies in his comics consisting of humping and groping images. Just years later when Crumb was five and six years old, he developed a sexually attraction to “cute cartoons,” especially bugs bunny. This was also very evident in his early comics when he illustrated hundreds of sexual cartoon characters. It was not until age twelve when Crumb began to be sexually attracted towards females. The first was Sheena the Jungle Lady, which he drew time and time again. Eventually, Crumb turned his attention on girls he went to school with. He had many crushes, but claims to have never went on any dates before. He describes how he was a loser in school and girls never gave him the time of day. This was the influence to his “Problems with Women” Comics. The ultimate message was that Crumb felt misunderstood and thought of himself as an outsider. He recognized his own talents and kindness but could not figure out why girls were blind to his admirable traits. He often depicted himself as a “dork” with labels that read, “dandruff, thick glasses, front teeth missing, sloppy dresser, sunken chest, and round shoulders.” The caption of this comic read, “I’m talented, intelligent, kind, understanding…in fact, I’m a highly moral person.” This is one of his earliest childhood memories that influenced him to develop hostility towards women. His interest then shifted towards illustrating graphic art that demonstrated social protests in the subjects of sex, religion, and politics. Crumb felt rejected and his art was a way to channel that rejection. He wanted to draw things that inspired and uplifted him, all the while not caring what others would say or think. He was not looking for approval; he just wanted to draw whatever came to his mind.

Crumb became obsessed with the idea of this “underground comics” at age seventeen. He used his powerful imagination to depict women of power. He believed he was illustrating women the way they really are, with all of their natural curves and characteristics. One woman interviewed in the film claims that Crumb’s images of women redefine self-images and creates a new self-confidence. Furthermore, Crumb’s first wife, Dana Crumb, believes that his illustrations are reflections of his sweet romantic envisions. Although Crumb admits that he did not necessarily like women as a young adult, he admits that he likes women’s lower bodies, which is why he portrays them as they are. While some may argue that this could represent Crumb’s fear of women and his insecurities, he claims that just has a love for drawing women of all shapes and sizes.

Evidently, Genesis reveals many of Crumb’s life experiences and influences. After viewing Crumb, one is able to recognize how Genesis reflects his childhood and his life. His troubled family is one of the main underlying reasons as to why Crumb’s art is so satirical of the modern family and why his images are sarcastic and exaggerated, yet brutally honest at the same time. His obsession with sex is also portrayed throughout Genesis in many of the mating scenes. However, we learn from Crumb that this was not intended to be insulting or absurd; it is merely Crumb’s perception and adoration for having sex. Finally, we learn that Crumb’s interpretation of women and women’s bodies is also not meant to be insulting or demeaning. Although his original influence derived from his rejections as a young adult, we learn that he used this to his advantage in order to go against mainstream society and draw whatever came to mind. Eventually, this transformed into a love for drawing women as they really are, with no exaggerations. Essentially, Crumb is a brilliant, yet slightly insane, artist who came from a troubled past with many rejections but used that to create a life of his own. After viewing Crumb, we are able to recognize these influences in his Genesis, which allows us to develop a better appreciation for him as an artist.

Crumb, Robert. The Book of Genesis. Norton: 2009.

Crumb, The Documentary.

1 comment:

  1. Obviously you struggled with finding an actual argument here, as is clear even in the first paragraph. Most of the rest of this essay is a series of useful and accurate, but ultimately directionless, summaries of portions of the film which you found interesting and relevant. Your summaries mostly center around Crumb's depictions of women, although you also spend some time and energy on his childhood, including his claims about his sexual development.

    What should your argument have been? I'm not sure, at this point. I think it should have had something to do with Crumb's depictions of women. Take these lines from the conclusion: "However, we learn from Crumb that this was not intended to be insulting or absurd; it is merely Crumb’s perception and adoration for having sex. Finally, we learn that Crumb’s interpretation of women and women’s bodies is also not meant to be insulting or demeaning."

    You are assuming some things here - that Crumb is simply being honest and direct, rather than demeaning. Not everyone is going to see Crumb this way, even in Genesis - so maybe what you should be arguing (assuming this is what you really think) is that Genesis helps make the case that Crumb is honest and direct, rather than sexist.

    To put it another way: not everyone (take Trina Robbins from the film, for instance!) is going to take Crumb's depictions of women even in Genesis as being innocent or ok - so if you want to argue that it is, that's something to be argued, not assumed.