Review by Fiona Jerome
Volume 16 of Fantagraphics’ Complete Crumb Comics, collecting the illustrative works of Robert Crumb, is a little thin on strips. It’s smaller than some other volumes, and half of it is illustrations. Some of these are very good – the Pioneers of Country Music trading card set, for instance – but others strike as a little scrappy – cards done for friends, family Christmas cards and suchlike.
Most of the few strips, dated between 1985 and 1987, were created for Weirdo, which Crumb was no longer editing, and demonstrate a range of styles. ‘Jelly Roll Morton’s Voodoo Curse’ continues the trend of biographies of significant blues musicians, and shows Crumb continuing with the heavy black brush-inked style he experimented with in ‘Patton’. ‘The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick’ is a slightly more cosmic story detailing Dick’s transcendent experience in the early 1970s, and is drawn in a similar heavily inked style. The influence of EC Comics horror and SF titles is more apparent, in the treatment of the cosmic elements. There are also a number of strips co-authored and drawn with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, one as part of the Dirty Laundry Comics series, and several as samplers for a proposed weekly newspaper strip for the San Francisco Examiner, which never saw print.
A few issues earlier Crumb had drawn an updated version of the Three Bears fairytale, mostly for comic effect, which has links to one of the odder pieces in the collection, a version of a little-known fairytale from the Brothers Grimm called ‘Mother Hulda’. Drawn in very fine pen, with lots of texture but an open, airy feel despite all the detail, ‘Mother Hulda’ is a dark little warning but the approach and tone is quite out of keeping with Crumb’s usual way of subverting stories – perhaps he thought it was dark enough on its own. The other standout story is yet another visit to the dark corners of Crumb’s psyche, about his early fixation on girls’ feet. ‘Footsy’ is drawn in a broad, rounded style that harks back to his work in the late 1970s, and is very clean lined and bold. You would think picking over his perversions again and again would become boring, but Crumb never fails to entertain when in this self-deprecating mood.
Volume 16 represents slim pickings for fans of Crumb’s more out-there comic stories, with his strongest work now firmly in the biographical/autobiographical genre. An exception is a longish Mode O’Day story parodying the vapidity and pointlessness of 1980s culture as aspiring model Mode thinks she’s getting her big break and immediately wants to brag to all her friends about it.
As is usual in this period, some very fine individual illustrations, but not so many memorable stories.