The Complete Crumb Comics, |
Vol. 5, by R. Crumb
(Fantagraphics, 1990; 2004)
If you are of a certain age (ahem...) you may recall, as do I, going to your local head shop in those halcyon years of 1967-69 to buy the latest issue of Bijou, Zap or Motor City to revel in the underground comic work of S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez, Kim Deitch and, of course, R. Crumb. This fifth volume of Crumb's complete comic work, subtitled "Happy Hippy Comix," brings back those days in all their profane, obscene, sexist, politically incorrect and utterly delightful glory.
If you're only familiar with R. Crumb from his recent work in The New Yorker and other more conventional magazines, this early work will strike you like a ton of bricks. Early Crumb didn't consist solely of the "Keep On Truckin'" big-footed dude who's become synonymous with the late '60s, no indeed. There was also Angelfood McSpade, the African maid who's not only got the largest and roundest breasts in town, but also "fahn big laigs ... an' yo' awt ta trah some mah sweet jellyroll ... MM M!" Ms. McSpade is a walking, talking stereotype, or rather a stereotype of a stereotype, as is Mr. Natural, the all-knowing all-seeing bearded and robed philosopher who has all the answers to the questions that his disciple Flakey Foont never seems to ask. There's the famous Fritz the Cat, whose appetite for drugs, sex, booze and anything illegal was notorious, and Dirty Dog, whose sexual activity was mostly limited to the porn he read. And of course, there was also Crumb as drawn by Crumb, the dope-crazed cartoonist who lusted after dominant, strong-thighed women.
Sound offensive? You damn betcha. It existed in order to offend, and as well as it did its job nearly four decades ago, one might think it would do it even better now. Right-wingers, feminists, gays, lesbians, African-Americans, Jews, Christians, parents, politicians, hippies -- everyone should be offended by Crumb's work. Yet somehow it's achieved a status that puts it beyond criticism, and seems almost (dare I say it?) quaint today, as though created by a warped but oddly pure child's mind. Crumb's style never contained the elements of downright filth that S. Clay Wilson evinced in his laboriously detailed drawings of nasty pirates and women and their ravenous nether parts. Crumb's explicit lingams and yonis were somehow jolly and joyous rather than pornographic, and in his world a vagina might as easily burst into a song and dance as engulf an unsuspecting male victim. It's that sense of joy and fun in Crumb's work that has allowed it to age so well and to somehow avoid the offense that might be expected.
So if you're curious about the golden age of underground comics, I can think of no better place to start than this volume. These were indeed the Happy Hippy days. You'll find explicit violence, explicit sex, a positive view of drug use and ever so much more. You may gasp, you may laugh, you may be very offended, but this is the stuff that I grew up on. I loved it then, and I love it still, and it's here in all its uncensored full-page glory. Rejoice and buy, my fellow ex-hippies!