Showing posts with label Robert Crumb. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robert Crumb. Show all posts

Monday, October 28, 2019

Comics lawyer Mitch Berger in hospice (UPDATED)

Mitch at Awesome Con 2014. Photo by Bruce Guthrie
by Mike Rhode

Local comics and cartoon lawyer, editor and collector Mitchell Berger posted on Facebook last night that he's in the final stages of hospice care, after suffering from "a rare cancer called neuroendocrine tumor, or NET" for years. Mitch was a lawyer who graduated from Antioch School of Law in the District, but he has also attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He merged his career and his hobby for decades.

From October 2010 - April 2014, Mitch edited NPR's Double Take feature showing 2 political cartoons. As far as I can tell, he did it anonymously (to the public at least. I'm sure the cartoonists knew). Mitch would frequently weigh in on legal issues in comics, including this comment from 1995 about fair use of political cartoons: "As a lawyer and as the consulting editor on NPR's Double Take Toons, while I disagree with Chip Bok's view of Net Neutrality, but I do support him on his understanding of fair use. His statement "come up with something on your own," is what resonates with me the most. Chip has the right to have the words he speaks and the images he draws to be presented as he intended them. In fact, he has an internationally recognized legal and moral right to protect the integrity of his work. Replacing his words with someone else's isn't just criticism, it supplants and therefore silences his speech. And because of the way the internet works, it is quite possible that some might mistake the parody of his work, as his work." Another of his legal comments can be seen here.

He was also cited by Tom Spurgeon as an editor of cartoons on Kaiser Health News website.

One of Mitch's long-time roles was as "Supernatural Law’s legal consultant Mitch Berger" for Batton Lash's comic book about lawyers with monsters for clients. Lash, who also had attended SVA, passed away earlier this year.

Mitch, Jackie Estrada and Batton Lash at Awesome Con 2014. Photo by Bruce Guthrie
An interview with Will Eisner that Mitch co-conducted with Mike Barson and Falls Church's Ted White, was published in Heavy Metal's November 1983 issue, of all places. He was a founding board member (1991) and vice president for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Eric Reynolds of the Comics Journal recalled that he resigned under pressure in 1994 after the failure in defending Mike Diana. He also provided other cartoonists with legal services. At some point, according to Mary Fleener, he worked for DC Comics and helped her get rights to a story back. He also posthumously assisted Dori Seda to ensure her literary rights went to the person she had wanted them to go to.

Crumb drawing donated to Columbia's library
In 2015, Mitch donated his sketchbook to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum and allowed us to reproduce his Facebook post about it. In 2017, Mitch contributed money in the name of his first wife, Peggy Girsham*, to increase the print run of Resist! #2. His most recent donation was a drawing by Robert Crumb to Columbia University's Library this year. Librarian Karen Green confirmed this for me, noting it was "A very, very kind and generous donation."

I never got to know Mitch particularly well. We would run into each other infrequently at political cartoon events such as the RFK Awards, but by the time I met him he'd already been a long-time part of the comics scene and certainly didn't need me to introduce him to anyone in the field. As seen here, Bruce Guthrie has pictures of him locally at Awesome Con and the Herblock Awards.

On his Facebook post, Mitch writes,dictated to his brother, "I am not at the end yet, but I am getting weaker and losing strength. I can't say enough about how supportive hospice care has been. A hospice nurse makes sure that I have no pain or suffering. A very professional and caring hospice worker comes three times a week to give me a bed bath and change the bedsheets, so I am always clean, pain-free, and comfortable."

Mitch and Mark Fiore at Fiore's Herblock Award, 2016. Photo by Bruce Guthrie
A cross-section of the comics world have responded to his post including Rick Veitch, Mary Fleener, Keith Knight, Jim Wheelock, Shannon Wheeler, Mark Fleck, Jackie Estrada, Wayno, Rick McKee, Ted Rall, Robert Greenberger, Sean Howe, Keith Brown, Clay Jones, Karen Green, Michael Cavna, Paul Levitz, Bob Staake, Barbara Dale, Paul Mavrides, Brian Bassett, Michael T. Gilbert, Stephen Bissette, Nina Paley along with simple 'likes' from Bob Smith, Mark Wheatley, Teresa Roberts Logan, Caitlin McGurk, Carol Tilley, Jimmy Margulies, Ron Evry, Tom Heintjes, Mark Newgarden, Heidi MacDonald, Noah Van Sciver, RL Crabb, Mark Stokes, Tom Orzechowski,  Greg Wallace, John Branch, Doug Ready, Barbara Randall Kesel, Randy Bish, Jim Valentino, Ray Alma, James Owen, Matthew Hansel, Denys Cowan, Maggie Thompson, Michael Fry, Darrin Bell, Diana Schutz, Robert Gregory, Mark Zingarelli, Pete Maresca, Greg Koudoulian, Christine Tripp, and probably others. Additonal comments have been made by Glenn McCoy and Jen Sorenson, with likes from Frank Cammuso, Jeff Trexler and Mike Lester.

This post will be updated as new information or comments come in, with new pieces in italics. 

*Oct 30: Ms. Girsham's name was previously misspelled as Grisham. Thank you to Eva Zelig for the correction.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bhob Stewart's 1969 underground comics exhibit at the Corcoran

I never met Bhob Stewart who passed away this week. I'm sorry I didn't because our interests in pop culture overlapped. We must have corresponded about comics though, because my name was in his email address book, and his friend Brad Verter was kind enough to send a notice of his death, and some scans that he thought might be of interest. Bhob had apparently asked him to scan these for his blog Potrzebie, but didn't get a chance to use them.

Bhob was apparently instrumental in putting on Phonus Balonus, an underground cartoon exhibit at an offshoot of the Corcoran Gallery on Dupont Circle. Sean Howe has photographs online here, here, and here.

Here are the scans about the exhibit. I'm afraid most of them are only partially complete, but they give you an idea about what was in the show, and how it was received. Brad scanned the whole catalog of the show, and it's online here. Two libraries are shown in Worldcat as holding a copy of it - the Tate in London and UC Berkeley in California.
Corcoran Gallery's press release, page 1
Front cover to the catalog with art by Bhob.

Exhibit opening ticket.

Newspaper clipping with Skip Williamson art

Article from the New York Post.

Fragment of a Washington Post article

Partial Washington Post article from May 21, 1969.

Partial Washington Star article from June 1, 1969
Article from an unknown New York city magazine.

For more information on Bhob's life, read Bhob Stewart, 1937-2014, by Bill Pearson, Feb 26, 2014.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Commercialization of Comics: A Broad Historical Overview (1999) part 2

Click here for part 1.


Comic Books


            The comic book itself was originally a form of merchandising comic strips.  Early magazine-style comic books, such as Proctor & Gamble's premium Funnies on Parade in 1933 and Famous Funnies in 1934, reprinted comic strips. Gulf Comics Weekly, a tabloid-sized oil company premium had begun publishing original comics in 1933 and the rest of the industry eventually followed (Beerbohm and Olson, 1999: 229).  There are thousands of free promotional comic books.  Giveaway comics are usually created to educate about or promote a company or cause.  Examples include Marvel and the American Cancer Society's Spider-Man, Storm and Powerman (1996); Disney and Exxon's Mickey and Goofy Explore the Universe of Energy (1985) and Field Enterprises and the Union Fork and Hoe Company's Miss Peach Tells You How to Grow Flowers, Vegetables and Weeds (1969).


            Comic book licensing has occurred at least since the creation of the first superhero, Superman. All of the major companies like DC, Marvel, Fawcett, Archie, Malibu and many minor ones like Cartoon Books, the publisher of Bone, have merchandising and licensing.  Some companies, like Dell were the merchandising, as they produced comics mostly based on characters and stories licensed from other media.  A modern counterpart exists in Dark Horse Comics which publishes an extensive Star Wars line among other licensed properties.  Gladstone Publishing, which, like Dell, relied totally on producing comics based on licensing, shut down in 1998.  Gladstone's owner, Bruce Hamilton, described the occasional difficulty of using licensed characters, "[Disney] keep[s] coming up with licenses that have tougher and tougher and more unreasonable demands in their boiler-plate language to the point where I have decided I am just not willing to negotiate any new licenses with them" (Spurgeon, 1998: 8).  Hamilton's experience with Disney may reflect both the current financial value and also the changing legal definitions of intellectual property, but it is the reader of comics that has lost the pleasure of these classics11.  Games such as Dungeons and Dragons and toys like the Micronauts have also become successful comic book series. 


            Of the major comic book companies, DC Comics has been among the most successful in selling their characters.  DC has been licensed so successfully that its characters are household words, rivaled only by Disney and a few other major properties such as Tarzan. 

Figure 5 Batman's world-wide popularity during the television show is demonstrated by this US Army Intelligence copy of a bootleg image on a Vietnamese nasal decongestant. Courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Washington, D,C. (Vietnam War Collection).

The 1966 Batman television show (Figure 5) demonstrated how successful marketing could be in the increasingly prosperous and consumer-oriented America.  About the same time, Marvel Comics began merchandising its characters after the successes of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and the Hulk. Steve Ditko, the co-creator of Spider-Man, reportedly left the company when he did not receive a share of the licensing (Beerbohm, 1999).  Like most companies, Marvel pursued licensing and had a wide variety of products and tie-ins with its characters including television shows, Slurpee cups, Pez dispensers, toys, and other products.  In the 1990s, Marvel, after becoming a publicly-held company traded on the New York Stock Market, began aggressively seeking commercialization of its characters, and expanded its domain by purchasing sticker and trading cards companies.  Its core business of comic books also grew because of "speculators" buying multiple copies of comics for long-term investments.  When all three of these collectibles became less popular, Marvel was left in poor financial condition ("Comic Book Publisher", 1998).  After declaring bankruptcy in 1996 and being taken over by its licensing partner, ToyBiz, in 1998, the reorganized company reported,  "This [year's first quarter] increase [in sales over 1998's first quarter] was largely attributable to the inclusion of approximately $15.3 million in sales from the Licensing division and approximately $10.4 million in sales from the Publishing division, which were acquired as part of the Company's acquisition of Marvel Entertainment Group in October, 1998" (Marvel Enterprises, 1999).  In other words, the licensing, on a strict accounting level, was more profitable than publishing the comic books, but both parts of the business, which is still based on comic characters, had multi-million dollar sales.


            At times, the characters themselves become merchandise.  The survival of comic strips far beyond the life of their creator is too well known to discuss here, although a quote from the Ripley's... Believe It or Not! website is instructive: "Almost 50 years after [Ripley's] death, the Ripley's Believe It or Not! cartoon is still wildly popular; printed daily in 147 papers worldwide, in 38 countries and in 10 different languages" (Ripley's, 1999).  A similar, although less frequent, occurrence happens with comic books when a successful company purchases the creations of an unsuccessful rival.  DC Comics has been especially active in purchasing characters, including Blackhawk from Quality and Captain Marvel from Fawcett, both of which were "seamlessly" integrated into what is currently known as the DC Universe.  For a short time in the 1990s, DC licensed and published Archie Comics' superheroes from the 1960s under their Impact! imprint.  This trend towards the commodification of characters in comic books can also work in favor of some creators who, since the 1980s, have been able to own their characters12.  Many characters have now been published by multiple companies who essentially licensed the character from the creator.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, perhaps the ultimate self-published merchandising success story13, has recently been published by Archie and Image companies.


            Even unlikely sources lead to licensing empires.  EC's 1950's horror comics were licensed extensively 45 years after their creation due to the success of the television series, Tales from the Crypt in 1989.  These are the same comics that were originally considered so gruesome that they were indicted in the anti-comics movement (Diehl, 1996).  EC's Mad Magazine, putatively an anti-establishment, anti-commercialization comic, at least based on its editorial stance, resisted the trend for years, but eventually succumbed.  As William Gaines said, "A lot of people have one way of looking at [merchandising Mad]: like 'Peanuts' is merchandised to its eyeballs...I don't object to that, except that a magazine like Mad, which makes fun of people who do that -- it doesn't seem proper for us to do it ourselves" (Reidelbach, 1991: 174).  Mad's long-term drop in circulation eventually led them to licensing.  With Gaines' death and Mad's complete incorporation into the Time-Warner conglomerate, the process has accelerated with Alfred E. Neuman and Spy vs. Spy action figures now available in comic book stores.



Figure 6 Kitchen Sink's candy bar illustrated by Crumb's Devil Girl proved surprisingly popular and was followed by more underground candy.

Possibly the most unlikely source, underground comix creator Robert Crumb has been heavily merchandised in recent years (Richter, 1995).  Crumb, as a counter-culture icon, had seen his "Keep on Truckin" image appropriated without any compensation nearly three decades ago. In the 1990s, and especially with the release of the movie Crumb, Kitchen Sink Press extensively used his oeuvre in ways not entirely expected, such as the Devil Girl candybar (Figure 6). Kitchen Sink, on the other hand, barely survived over-extending itself on merchandise for the second Crow movie in 1996 and in 1999 found itself taken over by the candy side of its business (Riley, 1997).


            In recent years, due to the direct market, comic book publishers, readers, and store owners  have concentrated more on the collectibility aspect of comics and companies have been formed to take advantage of that niche. Graphitti Designs, whose motto is "Quality Licensed Products Since 1982," exists solely to merchandise existing characters from other companies.  In 1994 they were producing "screen-printed shirts, limited edition books and prints, sculpted statues and busts, cloisonne and sculpted pins, compact discs, and embroidered caps"; among these were a $195 Vault-Keeper Statue (from Tales from the Crypt), three Batman T-shirts, 2 Superman T-shirts, a Rocketeer Club pin, a Vampirella T-shirt and three Akira books priced at  $49.95 each (Chapman, 1994).  Graphitti Designs advertises itself as vital to a comics retailer: "Many comics consumers do want more than just the comics. Ancillary products have the ability to also attract a clientele beyond the traditional comics reader. People will walk into a comics store displaying cool media-related shirts or other peripheral products even though they don't read comics" (Chapman, 1995).   This positive view is affirmed by Big Planet Comics store owner, Joel Pollack, who said, "I think overall [merchandising] is a good thing.  It's a great way to publicize the characters."  Big Planet Comics, in Bethesda, Maryland has been in business for 13 years, weathering several downturns in the comic book market so Pollack's opinion is indicative of business realities (Pollack, 1999). 


Adaptations in other media


            It is possible to draw a difference between adaptations in other media and the plain licensing of a character for a toy or food.  Superman is a prime example having been adapted into a comic strip (thus recapitulating his original creation); a novel -- Superman by George Lowther (1940); a radio show (1940-1951); an animated movie short series by the Fleisher Brothers (1941-1943); movie serials14 (1948 and 1950);  a live action television series (1953-1957); a Broadway play -- It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman (1966); an animated television series (1966-1969); a hit movie and sequels (1979-1987); a second animated television series (1988-1989); another live action television series -- Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1993-1996); and most recently, a third animated television series (1996-1999).  Any of these adaptations could be successful and enjoyed by an audience that did not read Superman comic books.  Adaptation of Superman to other media became a necessity by the 1990s when the comic book's sales figures were regularly below 100,000 copies sold.  Adaptations can frequently inject new life into a property as seen by the introduction of Perry White, Jimmy Olsen and Inspector Henderson and the invention of kryptonite in the Superman radio show (Tollin, 1997: 1-2), Superman and Lois Lane's marriage in Lois & Clark, and the arrival of a new successor to Bruce Wayne as Batman in Batman Beyond.


            Successful comic strips are turned into comic books .  Literally dozens of strips, such as Flash Gordon, Popeye, Dick Tracy and the Phantom have had original stories published in comic books.  Batman, Superman, the Hulk, Spider-Man, and Marvel's version of Conan are among those that have been made into strips, some multiple times.


            Theater adaptations began almost immediately after the creation of the comic strip.   They continue to the present day.  Winchester's studies of plays show that many were produced from 1894-1930 including multiple, different road shows of the Brownies, the Yellow Kid, the Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan, Buster Brown, Mutt and Jeff, and Bringing Up Father.  This was followed by a lull when most adaptations were done as radio shows or films.  The three decades from the 1950s to the 1980s saw major adaptations such as You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown and Annie.   In recent years, smaller shows adapting unconventional work such as Crumb's have predominated (Winchester, 1993).  

Figure 7 Kudzu: A Southern Musical is one of the latest in a long line of plays adapted from the comics.

Doug Marlette's Kudzu was produced in Ford's Theatre in 1998, while being advertised in his comic strip (Figure 7).  Neil Gaiman's work is frequently adapted and a version of Signal To Noise has been staged in Chicago as a fund-raiser for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (Spurgeon, 1999).


            Adapting comics into prose has been popular whether in Little Golden Books (children's books with simple prose and large illustrations), Big Little Books (alternating text and drawings), or adult novelizations.  Hundreds of prose works featuring dozens of characters have been created.  Most novelizations are made from movie adaptations of comics, but Marvel Comics currently has a successful original novel series (O'Hearn, 1998).


            Radio, as a popular medium, arose concurrently with comic books and the two shared a cast of characters.  Comics characters with radio shows included Batman, Buster Brown, Dick Tracy, the Green Lama, Hop Harrigan, Little Orphan Annie, Mandrake the Magician, Red Ryder, Skippy, Superman, Terry and the Pirates, and certainly others (Tumbusch, 1989).  Most adaptations were between the 1930s and early 1950s, but from 1995 to 1996 National Public Radio aired Ben Katchor's Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer.  Most radio shows were not perceived as having long-term value and some were permanently lost, but The Adventures of Superman is currently being reissued by the Smithsonian (Tollin, 1997).  Radio shows generated a vast amount of "secondary" merchandise - premiums or giveaways based on a character's adapted version, and not the original comics creation15.  As Smith (1982: 40-41) noted:


Ovaltine gave away more premiums on its radio shows, Orphan Annie and Captain Midnight, than any other radio sponsor.  Entire warehouses of paraphernalia -- shake-up mugs that made 'a picnic out of every meal,' identification tags 'like real soldiers and aviators wear,' buttons, photos, games, masks, pins, rings, badges, bandannas, booklets, bracelets, coins, cutouts and maps - were shipped out to listeners..."


            Literally hundreds of movies -- thousands if one includes animated shorts -- have been made from the comics.  The seven live-action Happy Hooligan shorts done in 1900 by director J. Stuart Blackton are probably the first.  Most adaptations were made into series of shorts or serials;  Blondie starred in twenty-eight B-movies from 1938 to 1950.  Television usurped this role in the 1950s when Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, Joe Palooka and Dennis the Menace began appearing.  Movies like the 1966 Batman starring the television cast were still made, but usually with larger budgets than television could afford.  Superman (1979) and Superman II (1981), which were essentially filmed at the same time, became the model for licensing.    Both movies together had 200 licensees, including Warner Publishing,  producing 1,200 products.  Superman made $140 million dollars in film rentals for Warner Bros. which distributed the movie.  Superman II  had already sold $100 million worth of overseas tickets before the movie opened in the United States.  The initial movie also galvanized support for creators' rights, becoming the lever which shamed the company into giving Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster, the Superman creators who had signed away their rights to Superman for less than $200, a lifetime pension of initially $20,000, a "gift" of $10,000, and lifetime medical coverage.  The two also received a credit line on future uses of Superman (Harmetz, 1981; Sherwood, 1975).

12.  Due to both a creators' rights movement that began in the 1970s and an increase in the number of publishers, some characters are owned by their creators.  Creators who design new characters that are firmly a part of the companies' "universe" are usually compensated for them now.  Marv Wolfman's current lawsuit against Marvel Comics reveals past practices (Dean, 1999).

13.  Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird self-financed the publication of their black & white first issue in May 1984.  They issued a press release that was picked up by UPI and they quickly sold out their first issue.  Eventually the Turtles had "more than five hundred licensees in some thirty countries producing more than nine hundred Turtle products," including an animated television series, three movies, and toys (Wiater, 1991: xv-xix).  To their credit, they put some of their licensing money back into comics through Tundra, the Words & Pictures Museum and Xeric grants.

14.  Tollin (1997: 2) notes that the serials "were adapted from the Superman radio program broadcast on the Mutual Network" and not the comic book. 

Click here for part 3.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Catching up with some photos

OSU's Wexner's book store had my Pekar book for sale! I couldn't believe it. More pictures from the OSU Festival of Comic Art are here.

Matt Groening and Tom Gammill.


Jeff Stahler construction cartoons at the Columbus Museum of Art.

Jen Sorenson and Richard Thompson admiring Crumb's line.

Pictures of Ted Rall at Busboys and Poets are here.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Oct 9: Crumb appears in Maryland

A tip from Warren Bernard -

Chestertown Book Festival

Good to the Last Crumb
Saturday, October 9
Prince Theatre, 210 High Street, Chestertown, Maryland 21620

R. Crumb, founder of the underground comix movement, will be in conversation with Idiots' Books illustrator Robbi Behr. Crumb and Behr will discuss his life's work, the importance of the public library in a community, and field audience questions. Book sale and signing to follow.

-and Michael Dirda, the Post's excellent book critic will be there too.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

Crumb's appearance in Richmond

Here's a student mulling over it, and passing along the discount code - "The Good Book gets a new look," by Matt Fisher, RVA News October 22, 2009.

Based on David Hagen's comment earlier this week (boy I hope I remembered that right), and a ridiculous discount on Amazon, I've ordered the book.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Crumb features in Wash Post and NY Times

A book review - "An Artist Drew God & Saw That It Was Good," By Henry Allen, Washington Post Staff Writer, Sunday, October 18, 2009.

And an interview (you need to click through to the slide show) - "Sketching His Way Through Genesis," By ALLEN SALKIN, New York Times October 18, 2009.

Any readers bought this yet? I did not, under the assumption I was in no hurry to read it and it would be remaindered in a year. Did I err?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Oct 27: Crumb and Mouly at VCU in Richmond

Genesis: A Conversation with R. Crumb and Fran├žoise Mouly
Sponsored in part by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation

Presented in partnership with the Department of Art & Art History, University Museums, Velocity Comics and VCU Libraries Special Collections

“Crumb doesn't posit answers to the human mess; instead he affirms it, in all its craziness, and invites us to laugh at the spectacle.” – The Boston Globe

“Robert Crumb . . . is the one and only genius the 1960s underground produced in visual art, either in America or Europe.” – The Guardian (UK)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009
7:30 pm
Carpenter Theatre, Richmond CenterStage
A Modlin Downtown Event

R. Crumb, regarded as the founding father of underground comics, got his first taste of fame, as well as notoriety, during the 1960s – his “Zap Comix” rapidly attracted the attention of a fan base whose members dwelt well beyond the geographical parameters of San Francisco’s Bay Area. Crumb, whose cartoons are controversial, funny, at times bizarre and always idiosyncratic, today occupies a place of honor in the world of high culture and art. His graphic narrative Genesis, scheduled for release in the fall of 2009, has generated more-than-eager anticipation. For his Richmond engagement, one of only five appearances nation-wide, Crumb will participate in a conversation with Fran├žoise Mouly, art editor for The New Yorker since 1993. She is also the founder, publisher, designer and co-editor along with her husband, cartoonist Art Spiegelman, of the avant-garde comics anthology RAW.

Audience Advisory:
Mature audiences only; contains sexual content.

Public Tickets: $19-$38 with discounts for seniors & children; through Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or Patrons requesting accessible seating should contact the Modlin Center Box Office at (804) 289-8980. Tickets for this and all Modlin Downtown events go on sale through Ticketmaster on August 24, 2009.

Campus Tickets: $30 employees (limit 4), FREE for students (limit 2); the campus community should contact the Modlin Center Box Office for premium tickets.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

More on Harvey Pekar's opera

This blog post talks about how Robert Crumb ties into Harvey's libretto - "Harvey Pekar's jazz opera to be performed this month in Oberlin," by Michael Heaton/Plain Dealer Reporter, Monday January 12, 2009.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Crumb exhibit is excellent. But...

(Photos by Aaron Igler, from the ICA website)

We drove up today, had excellent cheesesteaks (is that one word?) at University City's Abner's Cheesesteaks, and then walked around the UPenn campus to the Institute of Contemporary Art for the last day of the R. Crumb's Underground exhibit. They didn't allow us to take pictures, but there's some on their website. The exhibit was originally curated by Todd Hignite and "coordinated at the ICA by Associate Curator Jenelle Porter."

The exhibit, which closed today, was fantastic... or at least the artwork was. The exhibit proper I was less happy with. Pieces were arranged in orders that weren't apparent - neither historical, nor by purpose, nor by media. Judging from the 4-page handout, which says, "Rather than a chronological retrospective, this career-spanning exhibition is organized around specific underlying themes and ideologies" which it then lists as 'Young Crumb,' 'Crumb Draws Crumb,' 'Counterculture,' 'Collaboration,' and 'Old-Time Tunes.' However none of the sections of art in the two cavernous rooms were labeled with these headings, nor were the brief descriptive paragraphs on the section in the brochure included in the actual exhibit. The pieces, except for those published in comic books, were frequently only labeled with the title and media so one could not necessarily place them in context. I happened to recognize two of his New Yorker strips done with his wife Aline, but many other viewers less familiar with his work wouldn't have known where "Fashion Week in New York" and "Cheering Global Villagism" were done for, facts that are relevant in terms of the lessening of some of Crumb's more scatalogical tendencies in the two strips. Interestingly, the artwork was uncolored which was something of a surprise to me as it appears in color in the magazine - my companion and I wondered if Crumb supervised the coloring or if it was done on a computer without him. Crumb's color New Yorker cover of Eustace Tilley as a young punk was included in the show, again without its publication information.
100_6571 Entrance to Crumb Exhibit, PhillyEntrance to exhibit
In spite of these cavils, the exhibit was filled with fantastic pieces, many loaned by Eric Sack. Included were napkins from restaurants that Crumb drew on, which have been the subject of several of his recent books, an Oog & Blik comics publisher's folder he drew a self-portrait on, the back cover of Zap Comix 0, "Early Jazz Greats" watercolor on paper paintings for a card set, his Patton strip which was also in the Masters of American Comics exhibit, Little Wonder Hot Book (1969) - a minicomic with Spain and S. Clay Wilson, original Mr. Natural pages from 1968-1969, the metal printing plate from Zap Comix 0, "Angel Food McSpade" and "Meatball" strips from Zap, and pages of jam comix and posters. A small case of published versions of his art included Zap Comix 1, 0 and 2, Help, Gothic Blimpworks, an American Greeting Card "Season's Greetings" from 1965, and 3 specimens of the unpublished comic he created with his brothers (as seen in the Crumb film).

More art highlights included a complete Fritz the Cat story from 1965, a 1987 Christmas card by Crumb, his wife and daughter, a CBNDI Belgian comics museum poster original and a sketchbook circa the 1960s. One wall had original artwork for comic book covers including Arcade #3 with a pasted-in Zippy by Bill Griffith and the book, R. Crumb's Head Comix. Crumb's work was generally only slightly larger than the published version and he seems to usually work 1 1/2x up. His style evolved somewhat during the 1960s, but by the end of the decade he'd settled into essentially the same one that he uses today although it's obvious that he takes more time and effort on his art now. Much of the material in the show came from a fine art gallery that presumably sells the artwork for him.

The exhibit was a fantastic overview of Crumb's career, even if sadly lacking in information on him. This trend towards treating comics artists solely as fine artists seriously misinterprets the essentially commercial component of comic book publishing, even in the undergrounds that Crumb worked in. However, anyone who likes his work would be well-advised to see the next site it travels to. The exhibit, as stated, was accompanied at the ICA by a four-page brochure and a poster was available for purchase.

Off to see some Crumbs

A friend suggested we ride up to Philly to catch the last day of the traveling Robert Crumb show, so that's where I'll be today. If I don't already have someone reviewing it for IJOCA, I'll write one and post it here.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Secret History of Comics includes Crumb, courtesy of Warren Bernard

Warren writes in with a modern piece:

I went last month to Stripdagen, the biennial comics show in Haarlem, The Netherlands. Found myself at the booth which does the printing for lithos and prints by Chris Ware and Joost Swarte. While poking around their amazing collection of prints, I struck up a conversation with one of the people running the booth. In the middle of the conversation the guy stops and asks, "Are you a Robert Crumb fan?". After saying yes, he handed me the flyer you now see.

It's for a concert in Paris and I was real lucky to get this. I am sure thousands were printed, but how many will actually make it to America?

So, regardless if it's Crumb or Gluyas Williams for Texaco or Charles Schulz for Metropolitan Life, there is a ton of commercial art by great and famous cartoonists that needs to be revealed by SHOC.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Zippy a tounge-in-cheek Crumb homage?

Today's Zippy was about the joy of tape-dispensing machines - the same subject that Robert and Aline Crumb did a comic on in the New Yorker's putative cartoon issue a few weeks ago. My guess is it was a tip of the Zip to the Crumbs.