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The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb

Written and illustrated by Robert Crumb
MQ Publications Ltd.
112 pages, $30
ISBN: 1846011140

 

A portrait of Aline Kominsky-Crumb, ©2002 R. Crumb.

 

R. Crumb may well be the greatest living pen-and-ink illustrator in the Western world, as well as one of its greatest living cartoonists. Alas, part of what makes him great — his ability to draw straight from the heart, regardless of where it leads him — may also be his greatest liability, at least so far as the general public is concerned. To dig into the Crumb oeuvre is to swim through images drawn to provoke outrage and make you question just where you believe the limits to free speech should be drawn: Sexist imagery, racist imagery, fascist imagery, sexually-explicit imagery, you name it. There are enormous and awe-inspiring treasures to be found in Crumb's back catalog of comics and drawings, but they're surrounded by landmines.

For art fans and cartooning afficianadoes who might be otherwise turned off by such things, therefore, the release of The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb can't help but be good news. This handsome volume contains not just Crumb at his best, but Crumb on his best behavior. It's an artbook, rather than a collection of comics: There are a few token comic strips starring the artist interacting with his daughter, but the overwhelming majority of pages are devoted to portraits, landscapes, still-life drawings and the like. Aside from a few tastefully composed nudes, there's nothing in The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb that you couldn't show your mother without embarrassment.

 

A typical near-photographic image from the master of line drawing, ©1995 R. Crumb.

 

Stripped of the material that makes Crumb so difficult to defend from moralists on the Left and Right alike, what remains is a first-rate and accessible collection of art from one of the most skilled and observant artists working in any medium today. Hardcore Crumb fans will likely already have seen much of the work on display in this book, but for the rest of us, The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb is a wonderful introduction to the artistic skill and creativity of one of cartooning's few undisputed geniuses.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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