No one’s ever likely to confuse Robert Crumb with a nice guy.
"My personal obsession for big women interferes with some people’s enjoyment of my work,” he once wrote. “I knew it was weird and disturbing and even offensive to a lot of people, particularly women. But I couldn’t keep it out of the comics. I would always try to give it some sort of metaphorical sense because I derived such masturbatory pleasure out of drawing these women in bizarre situations with these little guys doing stuff to them.”
Well, at least he’s honest. And staying true to himself, however weird that self might be, has been something of a lifelong trait for the counterculture cartoonist, now 70.
Crumb’s certainly never sold out. He’s turned down countless corporate gigs, including a Rolling Stones album cover on the perfectly reasonable grounds he hated them.
Which makes this new collection of his work particularly interesting. The six-book set is based on the original, hard-bound slip-cased, seven-volume series published by German publisher Zweitausendeins between 1981 and 1997. It has been edited by Crumb himself (a first) to include what he considers his best work, and has been reproduced from his original sketchbooks. Each book contains 224 pages, making a total of 1,344 pages of classic Crumb – many of them containing big women in bizarre situations, with little guys doing stuff to them, etc.
Limited to 1,000 copies it also includes a signed art print of a Crumb original, which you might consider an investment given how his work has been performing at auction recently. You’ll note the collection is not cheap. But then regardless of knocking back all the corporate work, Crumb has always understood his own value. In the mid-1990s, after Terry Zwigoff's mesmerisingly appalling documentary Crumb bought him to a wider audience, he swapped six of his sketchbooks for a house in the south of France.
Robert Crumb Sketchbooks 1964-1981, £650, available to pre-order from TASCHEN, taschen.com