The creator of Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, the “Keep On Truckin’ ” poster and other late ‘60s Underground Comix icons, Robert Crumb remains an influential figure in American popular culture. Designer-cartoonist Peter Poplaski has compiled an overview of his life and career, drawing on material from decades of comic books, graphic art and sketch books.
In his autobiographical notes, Crumb avoids the embarrassing details about his life and tastes that were exposed in the recent documentary “Crumb.” He offers some whiny mea culpas about his continuing use of outdated racial imagery and his abusive sexual fantasies involving wide-hipped, heavy-legged women. His complaints about both the burdens of fame and his lack of recognition as an artist have a petulant, sophomoric ring. Not surprisingly, the most interesting material details the creation of familiar images: Crumb writes that he disliked the music of Big Brother and the Holding Company when he did the famous cover for their “Cheap Thrills” album and that he turned down an offer to do artwork for a Rolling Stones record because he liked their music even less.
Not all of Crumb’s work has aged gracefully. His limited knowledge of perspective and anatomy reveals his lack of formal training, and his longer stories lack the narrative focus of his heroes, Carl Barks and Harvey Kurtzman. But his gritty, psychedelic fantasies retain an individuality and a strength too often lacking in contemporary comic books and comic strips. “The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book” is the ideal status symbol-gift for graying hippies who once rejected all status symbols.