Monday, September 9, 2013

Dude, Check This Out: Bob and Janis

The other day was Robert Crumb's birthday. Happy Birthday, Bob, to one of the survivors.

This is one of his self portraits. As you can see, he doesn't look like the kind of guy who would be an icon of the Sixties and the Father of Underground Comix.

I first found his work in this edition of Zap Comix. I was doing a little cartooning myself in those days, and, those days being what they were, this spoke to me. So I plunked down my fifty cents and took home a copy, circa 1968. And, what do you know, I went "Boing!" (I still have it, and a recent check online reveals that it may be worth 10 times what I paid for it. Go figure.) (UPDATE: I was never good at math. It actually is listed as worth 1,000 times what I paid for it. Still go figure.)

There were plenty of other amazing artists in it, and in the underground comix movement, but there was something about the gentle goofiness of Crumb that appealed. To wit:

And yeah, he was the guy that did this.

Some of the other artists seemed to be out to shock for shock's sake, producing grotesque, even ugly images. There was plenty of that in those days, and it got old fast. Others were skilled draftsmen, producing striking images, but in the end the message the images conveyed was, "Man, am I really, really stoned!" That too, got old.

And then there was Crumb. He definitely had an edge, but there was an underlying humanity in his work that ultimately makes it universal rather than simply a relic of a past era. Somehow he took the charm and appeal of comics as we had known them and transported them across the borders of societal convention. He didn't smash through the borders, he just meandered merrily across them with a big grin on his face. It was revolutionary goofiness. And it made you feel good. Who couldn't like Mr. Natural?

Crumb did an album cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company, also in 1968. And, oh yeah, Big Brother happened to have a singer named Janis Joplin.

File:Janis Joplin Big Brother and the Holding Company.jpg

This is from Wikipedia:

The cover was drawn by underground cartoonist Robert Crumb after the band's original cover idea, a picture of the group naked in bed together, was dropped by the record company. Crumb had originally intended his art for the LP back cover, with a portrait of Joplin to grace the front. But Joplin—an avid fan of underground comics, especially the work of Crumb—so loved the Cheap Thrills illustration that she demanded Columbia Records place it on the front cover. It is number nine on Rolling Stone's list of one hundred greatest album covers.
Ah, those were the days. The album, recorded live at the legendary Fillmore East, went to Number One and has become as iconic of the Sixties as Crumb himself. So here's to Bob and Janis. Now go have yourself some cheap thrills. And be goofy about it.

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