A collection of interviews and articles on R.Crumb's life and work, written by Crumb himself.

ON A CREST OF A WAVE

Crumb on girls and the benefits of newfound fame in 1969


Crumb with Kathy and Lela, San Francisco

"SO I'M BEAUTIFUL, SO WHAT?"

August 30, 1969... it's my 26th birthday... there I am knocking on the door of a little summer cabin in upstate New York, heart pounding with anticipation. The door opens... "Happy Birthday, Bob." Her voice is husky, her breathing heavy. She stands in the doorway giving me a good look. My eyes are popping out through my glasses. She's the perfect bad girl of my catholic boy dreams; her voluptuous body gloriously displayed in a shiny, tight, black, low-cut mini-dress, a wide black leather belt around her waist, dark, seamed tights, high lace up black boots, black "choker" collar around her pale white neck, the whole image finished off with a vintage Nazi swastika emblem dangling in the cleavage of her heaving chest... my birthday present... garsh, I just had to laugh and shake my head. It'd only been like, a year ago that I was one of life's losers, undeserving of a second glace. I couldn't shake the heavy sense of irony... I had such mixed emotions as I stood there gawking and giggling... on the other hand, it was kinda touching in a funny way that this girl had gone to such lengths to-to package herself this way, just for me...and then again, it was a little embarrassing...she liked to think of herself as so ultra hip and cool and all that, but this was actually sort of corny, excessive... still, mostly what I was feeling was "oboy, oboy! I'm gonna get to ravage this luscious girl!"

Her heavy-lidded, open-mouthed playboy foldout expression fell away and she laughed too, seeing my awkward reaction to her tableau... I was uncoolness personified, the complete antithesis of the romantic hippie boys with flowing locks she usually hung out with, the beautiful dudes in famous bands, befitting to such a desirable, hip chick as herself. Oh, she was full of herself, that Lark. She strutted down the street with her pert little nose in the air... Jesus, what a -- 's funny how she went for me... It never ceased to bewilder me. I was always gaping at her and saying, "You're so beautiful!" one day she'd heard enough of this and said, "So I'm beautiful, so what?!" She was vexed with me by that time, she wanted me to make the big commitment... I couldn't conceive of spending my life with this arrogant female, no matter how perfect she looked. I believe she was as amazed as I was that she got to liking me so much, above and beyond my celebrity status. I think it had to do with my eccentricity, my oddness. She couldn't nail me down like all those boring, predictable upper-middle class hippie guys she knew. I was a little less easy to manipulate, maybe. Also, she could relax around me, drop the "aren't-we-the-hippest-of-the-hip" posture to a degree... I made fun of it. I was an outsider in a way she'd never seen before. Plus, the sex chemistry between us was volatile. She was the pristine, stuck-up cheerleader (she really had been one); I was the weirdo creep violating her, having my way with her in all sorts of bizarre positions. She liked that stuff. Once she looked up at me with her sexiest look, her wide, sensuous mouth in a petulant pout, and asked me, "Bob, why do you like to degrade me?" I just shrugged, giggling nervously, and proceeded to chew on her plump lower lip... I used to chew on it a lot, bite it and stuff... she always called me "Bob"... "Oh, Bob," she'd say in the heat of passion.

"Lark" was the name she gave herself (real name: Helen). It was Trina Robbins I had to thank for bringing Lark and me together. Yes, the same Trina who today hates my guts and thinks I'm one of the lowest male pigs who even picked up a pen. In fact, THE lowest! But back then I hadn't yet drawn my vilest misogynistic scrawls, and I was, after all, a big hero of th' counter culture, and she was a hip, pre-feminist chick running a small boutique in the east village, was just beginning to draw comics herself, and was Kim Deitch's "old lady" so it was her duty, as she saw it (maybe Kim had something to do with it -- I'll have to ask him about it sometime), to fix R.Crumb up with one of her hottest girlfriends. She arranged everything. Hey, belated thanks Trina... still to this day I love ya for it, even if you do hate my guts...

I don't have any photos of Lark... I wish I did... oh my my, she WAS "so beautiful". Later she moved to a commune on the west coast and turned the place upside down, having sex with all the men, antagonizing the women, breaking up relationships... the last I heard she was living in a remote part of Canada with some guy. That was in the mid-seventies...

"OH, IT'S PRETTY STRONG, ALRIGHT"

The next one I got involved with was Kathy -- I guess I ought to be talking about my artwork in these introductions, but how th' hell can I talk about my own work?? What can I say about it? My pissant little fame had my life so completely crazy by this time, circa 1970 was such a weird time anyway...I was only able to keep up the cartooning through sheer momentum. Most of my energy was now focused on dealing with the endless procession of hustlers and hangers-on, and getting rid of all this pent up sex-rage. The comics definitely suffered... I was hacking it out, lets face it. I was too young when all this happened... but see, look, what do I know about it? How can I make any qualitative judgments about my own work... I can't go around saying some piece of work of mine is great, or another piece is crap -- ultimately, it's not up to me. Besides, how can I say it's less than great stuff and expect you, dear reader, to buy the book?!<

I'd rather brag about all the fun times I had with different women, kvetch about the craziness they put me through. This Kathy was the craziest! Oh, what an unbelievable female she was! What a hellcat! In November '69 I went with S.Clay Wilson and this sculptor Bob Bogan to an art opening in San Francisco. The art was of no interest to me, but there, standing and looking at a piece of art on the wall was this GIRL -- BOYOING! -- My heart went right up into my throat at the sight of her -- she was of average height, cute face with big lips, and, oh my God, such a radical forward pelvic tilt, such a shelf in the back as you rarely see on a white woman -- the ass boldly thrust out behind, like two basketballs, the legs, standing apart, far in the rear of the upper body; the whole thing so totally cute and appealing, I was transfixed!

Bogan, standing next to me, saw the expression on my face and said, "Hey, I know her -- I'll introduce you." God love ‘im. She, too, was a sculptor, a student at the art institute. That night, over a romantic dinner by candlelight, I broached a subject that had been on my mind. "So, uh, your ass looks like it would be strong." Fame had made me cocky, bold... a jerk in some ways.. "Oh, it's pretty strong, alright," Kathy replied in a friendly, enthusiastic manner. A real meeting of minds... that was the beginning of a five-year long beautiful thing. And it was true: that ass was incredibly strong! I spent hours sitting on top of it while she casually flexed it up and down... it was an amazing sensation, being bounced on Kathy's ass! I also spanked it, pounded on it, practiced karate on it... that butt needed vigorous attention! Oh we had fun. Kathy liked to wallow all day long, playing sex games. She was wild, adventurous, imaginative. Often she initiated things which even I had never thought of -- activities which simply popped my bulb! "Like what," you might ask. Well, I can't really go into details... Kathy is already threatening to sue me for talking about her in this introduction (she is now living on the east coast, a respectable teacher at a private art school for girls, and still a working sculptor).

Neither of us had a practical bone in our bodies. That's what caused all the fights. We had not an once of good sense between us; a couple of "crazy artists". We couldn't "get it together". This lead to big trouble... chaos, misunderstandings, broken promises, much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Kathy's mother was Jewish, father black Irish... a formidable genetic heritage... she was a spoiled princess brat coupled with a hotly passionate, quick-tempered Celt. One time I made some dig at her and she hauled off and slugged me so hard I spontaneously burst into tears, blubbering, "Whuddya do that for??" It was very embarrassing, she was a strong girl with powerful arms. She enjoyed showing off her biceps at parties, and I suppose they came in handy in her sculpting work. She also kicked me in the shins once with her thick-soled boots on that I'd bought for her. I still have the dent in my shinbone to this day. But then I busted a chair on her once, the most violent act of my adulthood. The chair was in splinters, but she kept coming at me, seemingly unperturbed. I bashed her repeatedly with the disintegrating chair but only succeeded in gashing my own forehead and getting so much of my own blood on my glasses that I was blinded.

A PUBLIC SPECTACLE...

We had public fights in the streets in front of crowds of onlookers. Once we were quarreling in her car. At the next stoplight I opened the door, jumped out, and began walking away. Kathy left the car standing there and chased after me, grabbing me by my clothes. We struggled as I tried to pull away from her, attracting a small audience. Two young women came forward shouting, "Is this man attacking you? Should we go for the police?" I just been playing music on the street that day with the Cheap Suit Serenaders, and had pockets full of change. I pulled out handfuls of coins and threw them up in the air. The crowd went scurrying after the money as we stood there arguing... seems humorous now, but at the time, Jesus, it was depressing!

Our relationship was a public spectacle. We had no shame. I guess we got some kind of exhibitionistic kick out of it. Kathy wore the shortest, most provocative outfits in public in the early seventies. It was a sign of the times, of course. Her underpants were always peeking out from under her short skirts, cutoffs, etc. I was out of control, too, mauling her in public places all the time. At the supermarket I would climb on her protruding rump and go for a ride while she pushed the cart around. She'd whine, "Robert, people are staring." I remember her telling a shocked group of her women friends, in detail, the sick things I "forced" her to do in our sex play. They glared at me as I cowered in a corner, secretly gloating... and so was she, the little hypocrite!

She became progressively more involved in the feminist movement through the years I was tangled up with her. She got so she could spout an eloquent diatribe on the politics of male supremacy, but all the consciousness-raising women's group meetings seemed to have no effect on the mechanics of our crazy relationship, except maybe to enlarge her vocabulary of epithets to hurl at my head when she was sore at me, and our sex life just got better and better.

Another bone of contention between us was the art thing. She always had nothing but the highest compliments for my work, while I was somewhat flippant about hers. Her work was unfathomable to me, these off-the-wall pieces of modernistic sculpture, which left me completely baffled. Most of her friends, men AND women, were also in the fine art game. We went to a lot of art openings and hung out with these people, and I could never grasp what exactly they were up to with their art. At first I would make sarcastic comments but they were so highly offended, Kathy included, that after awhile I learned to keep my smart-ass witticisms to myself... I think they all looked upon me as a somewhat uncultivated person of middlebrow sensibilities but with, perhaps a touch of eccentric creative genius...hmm... sounds about right.

Yet another sore spot between Kathy and me was my ever-wandering eye for other women... I was always chasing after different ones, jumping on them in front of her (one of incidents was the instigation for my dented shinbone), even her roommate, Lela! These two lived together for a couple of years. Lela was a wondrously endowed blonde Amazon of Russian decent, a wild party girl, up for anything! I couldn't stop myself. Kathy would stand there glowering at us as we "horsed around", or storm out of the room. She wasn't a good sport about it at all! With Kathy absent we'd go at it in earnest! Then later we'd both have to be extra nice and attentive for a while. Oy, that Lela! What a specimen! A couple of times I tried to get them both to participate in a threesome, but Kathy wouldn't go for it. Oh well, can't have everything...

MOMENTS TO CHERISH / MONTHS OF MISERY

Once we all went to the Russian river together, me, Kathy, Lela, and another roommate of theirs, a cute woman artist named Dotty. We all got naked, cavorting in the water, in a pretty spot we had all to ourselves. I remember at the time thinking, "Here I am the only boy with three beautiful girls, carefree in this Eden-like place, the girls so sweet and eager to make me happy -- ahh, this is the high point of my youth -- a moment I'll cherish when I'm old."

Yes, yes, it was lovely, but for every such moment there is a price: Weeks and months of tedium, aggravation, low-level misery if you're lucky... Me and Kathy we drove each other nuts. After a while, I'd get a powerful urge to flee, run away. I'd go running back to my cabin in Potter Valley, three hours north of San Francisco, and hole up there. She kept me coming and going. After a couple of weeks, I'd develop a sick obsessive craving for her, like a deprived junkie. My reasoning powers were scrambled into mush. Like a mindless zombie I would return to her for another go-'round. When I saw her I'd be overcome with such violent animal lust I'd be clawing at her... pulling at her clothes. Oh, what she did to me... It's criminal! Guess I've calmed down a little since then...have a slightly better control over my libido... maybe it's just a matter of getting older...

How'd I ever get any work done?? I look at all the comics I cracked out then and wonder how I did it... Plus, I was running all over the goddamn country. Most of Big Ass Comics #1 was drawn in L.A. Motor City #1 in Detroit. I spent time in Chicago, Milwaukee, New York. Fame opened doors for me everywhere! I could ease right into the local hippie scene in big college towns like Ann Arbor, Madison, etc. I drew comics in all these places, and met girls, and had loose sex... I got the clap, I got crabs... lucky for our generation there was no AIDS yet. Most of this casual sex wasn't all that terrific but you had to give it a try... experiment, live and learn, take a chance... I don't regret any of it. The only ones I regret are the fabulous opportunities I foolishly passed up... wondrous girls I could've had sex with but for lack of self-confidence, courage, chutzpah...oh, I let some gorgeous creatures slip through my fingers in those days... ahgh!

Now I'm too old for that stuff... I just want to stay in my room... it's too hard-ass out there anymore -- there's a lot of fear; it's too scary to "hang loose" these days. I feel sorry for these kids today. Times are tough.

-- R.Crumb, Winters, CA, September 1990

This article originally appeared in The Complete Crumb Comics - Volume 6 (1991, Fantagraphics)