CRUMB ON SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Crumb's comments compiled by Alex Wood.
This interview was conducted in early December of 2017.
Alex: I was sent a letter that you had written someone in 1980. It was written when you were living in Winters, California. I'll read the letter to you because in it you make some interesting points. The fellow who received this letter had previously written you saying you're a pervert, and that you're creating comics to win over naive, young girls. And you answered him with this letter I’m about to read.
Crumb: Where'd you find this?
Alex: He actually sent me a copy of the letter. And with the copy, he included a note saying, 'I just want to let you know that I was younger and naive then, but now I'm a born-again Christian. I forgive R Crumb.' It was kind of a strange letter.
Crumb: He forgives me.
Alex: Yeah. Anyway, this is what you wrote:
Hey gimme a break, huh fella!! Jesus... I open this letter and I'm immediately attacked by somebody I don't know... Is this the way civilized people are supposed to behave, according to Stanley? They’re supposed to go around verbally assaulting people that they don't even know?? That's not very diplomatic, Eugene! Or is this how everyone behaves towards each other in the Sound of Silence gallery? If so, you all must be a pretty obnoxious bunch of people.
Jeeziz, I can't believe all these accusations! Where's your sense of humor, fa Chrissake!? Did it ever occur to you that all the stuff I've done is comic books...trying to get laughs... Is that okay?
Man, don't I wish my comments were "winning the sympathies of adoring, though naive, girls”...Hah!! It’s really amazing the things people can conjure up in their imaginations. I’ll level with you, Eugene... my work turns off, disgusts, repels 99 percent of all women...listen, if I was doing this stuff just to get laid, I would NOT be doing the kind of comics I do...I’d be doing something entirely different, full of romantic idealizations of men and women, with a certain emotional appeal that "broads" really go for. Sure, I know just what it takes to get the girls going, but do I sell out to get laid? NO... Do I get any credit for resisting these temptations? For maintaining my integrity? NO-O-O... instead, I have to take abuse for my efforts not only from women who cringe in revulsion from my forthrightly revealed craziness and sex fantasies, but from pitiful jerks who think I'm "laughing up my sleeve" because I am able to manipulate a gullible public...
All in all it's a great life...”
Alex: And it goes on to say that you're going to send him some comics that
"...reveal my wildest sex fantasies in case you've never seen them...Yes, it's strange...it's sick. I have desires to do bizarre, twisted things to women. And take my word for it, Bub, it took a lot of courage to put this out there...I don't even know why I did it...just to get out of my secret hidden fantasy closet, I guess. Most people don't like it...but that's okay... I didn't really expect them to... I just had to get it out.
I don’t think I judge anybody else harder than I judge myself...I really don’t think you’ve looked at that much of my work, otherwise you wouldn’t “
Alex: And it goes on. But the thing that interested me about your letter is you’re very aware that 99% women who look at your stuff don't like it. And you wrote that you could be suave and smooth, to try and win them over and and change your comic book content to get laid. But you resisted that temptation. Rather, you told it like it was, you were as honest as you could be. But you still have to take abuse for your efforts from disdainful, humorless, ignorant women, who cringe in revulsion. That's still going on, isn't it?
Crumb: Yeah. But that was all said somewhat in irony, you know? Because even then, I could see why women wouldn't like it and would be repelled by it. I understood that. But, it's like a guy exposing himself on the street it’s gonna repel people, but he can't help it. It's exhibitionism. It's exhibiting this perverse side of yourself because you just can't help it. It's like Tourette syndrome, where someone has a compulsion to blurt out obscenities loudly in public places, they can't help it. I didn't think they were ignorant or stupid for not getting it, I can understand why they couldn't possibly dig it or enjoy it. Plus, it's not exactly accurate that I said that I could, if I wanted to, do work to seduce women. I can't. I'm really incapable of applying such a technique in my artwork, I can't do it. I wouldn't know how. I wouldn't know where to begin. But there are writers, not so much comic authors, but writers who are very good at seducing women in their work. Sam Shepard comes to mind. Or John Berger, or Paul Auster.... I was just reading him the other day. He wrote very seductively to women, to make women love him.
Alex: How about Bukowski? Do you think he did that?
Crumb: Uh-uh. No. Bukowski appealed to a certain kind of woman. Some type of crazy women. But, I don't think he set out to be seductive to women. Not at all. He was as surprised as anybody that his writing started to get him laid by attractive women after he began to acquire some fame.
Alex: How about Henry Miller?
Crumb: Henry Miller? No, I don't think so. Although in person I think he was good-looking and a very cocky guy when he was young. And very confident of his ability to seduce women, and I think he was very successful that way, but I don't think he was addressing his writing to women that way. He’s more like bragging to other men about his exploits.
Alex: Well, that's interesting that you say you don't really have the ability to seduce women with your work. And when you say that you understand someone like an exhibitionist’s desire and impulse, does that mean that you’re the same way? That you can't help doing certain things that you do?
Crumb: Yeah. It’s a compulsion, I can't help it. I crossed the line though at a certain point, when I started putting my sexual fantasies out for public print. Originally, in my teens, I did them secretly. I would draw them secretly and then destroy them. And then at some point, around '69 or so I just decided to put it all down on paper for publication What the hell, I don't know why.
Alex: Maybe that’s what was going on then. It was the rebellious ’60’s. Clay Wilson was doing crazy things very rebellious and counter-culture. Maybe you were trying to keep up with him, you know if he can do it, I can do it.
Crumb: That was sort of it. When I saw Wilson’s work and James Osborne, I thought, “Wow, this stuff is pretty weird, pretty crazy! I guess I'll just let my dark side come out! I'll just put it out there.” Yeah, it was the times, too, that period of crazy stuff. And now it's a completely different atmosphere.
Alex: Different times, I’ll say. Did you hear they fired Garrison Keillor because of allegations made from one woman?
Alex: Yep, one single woman made allegations against Garrison Keillor and MPR (Minnesota Public Radio) is not releasing any evidence whatsoever substantiating their decision to fire him.
Alex: I don’t think there’s any corroborative evidence other than her word. She accused Garrison Keillor of inappropriately touching her. And MPR, fired him. I can understand if there were a list of allegations with a group of women coming forward... but he's worked with Minnesota Public Radio for 40 years or something like that. Where's the loyalty? Where's the integrity and loyalty which would make MPR say 'We're going to investigate this.’ But instead they fire him without publicly releasing any evidence. They're either protecting his reputation by not releasing damning evidence, or they're trying to get out a contract with him.
Crumb: Incredible. Wow. Jeez. Is there a detailed description of what he did? Was it just inappropriate touch? I mean, what's inappropriate touch? He touched her knee or her breast or what?
Alex: We don't really know all the facts because MPR has never released any. But from Garrison Keillor's account, she was very upset and confiding in him, he was trying to console her, he put his arm around her and inadvertently touched her back she had a dress that was open where his hand went on her bare skin. She reacted in an alarmed way. He apologized, and that was the end of it. Just something very innocent like that, according to him. You were on Prairie Home Companion one time, right?
Crumb: I was, yeah.
Alex: Didn't you play music with the band?
Crumb: The Cheap Suit Serenaders were on there and at the end of the show he sang a song, and I sang the harmony part with him. But I think this thing has to swing to the extreme of one end before it starts to go back to something in the middle, a more moderate level. I think people get all hysterical and when excessive things start happening, they settle back to a more moderate position. During the Salem witch hunt they hanged 18 people before they came to their senses, you know?
Alex: So, is there anything you wanna say about that “Crumb is a sexual predator” article on the internet?
Crumb: That Kim O. thing?
Alex: Yeah, why wouldn't she even sign her name to it?
Crumb: Kim O, I don't know, maybe that’s how she signs her name. I don't know.
Alex: She wants to retain some kind of anonymity?
Crumb: Well, doesn't she have some sort of regular thing on the internet? Maybe that's some moniker on her blog or whatever.
Alex: So people don't know who she is in real life.
Crumb: Yeah, maybe she wants to keep it that way. That's alright.
Alex: But don't you think that there's something a little bit unfair about that?
Crumb: I don't care. If you wanna go around calling people names and keep your anonymity, that's your business, I don't care. You wanna call people sexual predators, go ahead. When I was young, yeah. I behaved inappropriately hundreds of times, I admit it. Back in the ’70's, late ’60', in that period I was talking to Dian Hanson about this recently, that Harvey Weinstein behavior. You know who Dian Hanson is, right? She’s that woman who used to run Leg Show Magazine? Kind of a soft-core porno mag in the ’80's and ’90's and now she works for Taschen. She's a great woman with a great take on things and she's very worldly-wise, understands human behavior. When she was young, she was very promiscuous, in the ’70's. And she said the trouble with Harvey Weinstein was he didn't realize it wasn't the ’70's anymore. He was going around acting like it was still the 1970s. Back then, women would accept the fact that if you put yourself out there, men are going to be grabbing your ass or feeling up your leg or this, that and the other thing. And you just dealt with it. You had to learn to deal with that stuff. That's just the way men are. And I’m sure, 99% of all heterosexual men, and probably homosexual men too for that matter, if you’re going to tell the truth, behaved inappropriately at some point with somebody, harassed somebody who was offended or wasn't up for it. And Dian said, you can cross a line where it becomes dangerous and threatening and criminal, that's another matter. But grabbing women's asses or putting your hand down their skirt or... you know, Jesus, how many times did I do inappropriate things in the ’70's? Ayiyi. At parties and stuff? And sometimes, when they were annoyed, they’d say bug off, beat it creep, you know? And then there's the irony that if a woman is attracted to the man, then the aggressive behavior might be welcomed. If she’s not attracted to him, then it's sexual harassment. There’s that whole thing to consider. And then there's the Beatles song "She was just seventeen, you know what I mean...” Underage girl! Uh-oh! Beatles. Lock ‘em up. [laughs]
I used to do comics that were quite crazy, quite psycho. It’s interesting that the lesbian cartoonist Alison Bechdel -- you know who she is? They made a Broadway musical or something out of one of her comics recently. Very successful cartoonist with a lesbian point of view. Several years ago she was interviewed by Trina Robbins somewhere. And I was amazed to see in this interview, Trina starts asking her what she thinks about autobiographical comics. Trina said she didn't like autobiographical comics, she didn't want to know that much about other people’s personal lives. She said they told too much, more than she wanted to know. Alison Bechdel replied that she loved autobiographical comics, she loved to read about people’s inner secret longings and frustrations, and she mentioned my name, as one of the people’s autobiographical comics that she really liked. And Trina said, "Oh no! How can you stand his work?! How can you stand looking at all that violence against women and everything!" and Alison said, "If everybody were as honest in their work as Crumb, it'd be a better world." Alison Bechdel actually said that. I was very touched that this lesbian cartoonist defended my work that way.
Alex: Yeah, you’re being appreciated by another artist. And then you have somebody like this woman who wrote some blog on the internet who admits she's not even familiar with your work and who won't even sign her name? Not only is it ignorant, but I think it’s a bit cowardly too.
Crumb: Well, she actually quoted you to support her argument in that interview, you may recall. She read some part of one of those interviews we did, I think talking about Trump's pussy grabbing statements and how I said 'That locker room talk is not the worst thing about Trump," and you said, "Yeah but women have to put up with that shit all the time and it's not right."
Alex: It's important to them, of course it's important to women.
Crumb: Yeah, that's right. That's what you said. Yeah. And so she used that as part of her argument against me, that here I'm dismissing Trump’s harassment of women as just not that important.
Alex: Well, I think your point at that time was that there were more important things that Democrats didn't go after. Why did they just focus on that? That was your point at the time.
Crumb: Trump’s an obnoxious fool and God knows any guy that acts like that is an asshole. Going around grabbing pussies, no matter how much power you have and what you think you can get away with and I'm sure that yeah, men like him with that sort of power and confidence and even slightly attractive -- when he was young, Trump was sort of good looking -- he was a bit overweight but he had a good looking face -- so he probably did get away with that shit, he probably did. Because of his power. And women are flattered by the attention of powerful men. Even if it's obnoxious attention. And some of them are so over-awed in the presence of that power that they can't even think clearly. I have seen that with my own eyes many times in my life.
Alex: They’re turned on by power probably a very biological thing.
Crumb: Yeah, of course it is. I’ve had arguments with many feminists about this but they just don't want to hear about it. They don't seem to want to deal with that., the issue of the attractiveness, the sexiness, of male power. I grew up witnessing this constantly over and over and over, all the way back to high school. Guys that were good looking but obnoxious bullies. Guys that picked on me, who I was afraid of. That I dodged in the hallways because I didn't want to encounter them. They were often guys who were very popular with the girls. Very cocky, good looking guys who were bullies. And that, for me, was the beginning of, like, this confusion, this puzzle -- what is going on with women? How can women not see that this guy is a total asshole-son-of-a-bitch? Why can't they see it? What do they like about him? He's cute, he's cocky? It took me a long time to figure out that, Oh, they like that cockiness! Because, you know, I was raised by the good sisters of the Catholic Church, who drilled into you that what you're supposed to be is a good boy, and be as polite and thoughtful with girls and women as you possibly can at all times. Be a good boy and you'll get a pat on the head. But wait a minute, now there's these guys who are obviously bad boys. This is in the 50's, with their greased-back hair and bad-boy behavior and punching out guys like me and laughing about it. And, these are the ones that the girls liked? These were some of the most popular guys around? I remember this guy Skutch, who was a bully, who used to beat up my brother Charles. And I overheard these two girls talking "Oh did you hear, Karen got a date with Skutch? Oh my God she's so lucky!" And it just made me sick inside. So your whole life you have to deal with this thing of women being attracted to that sort of male cockiness and arrogance and dangerousness and also, women being attracted to men with wealth and power, who make a lot of money in the world. And thank God not all women are like that. There are some women who are quirky and odd-ball cases. Thank God for them. But I've had this argument with many feminists and they just dismiss you with, “Oh stop whining.” I've tried to tell feminists I'm as afraid of those men as they are dangerous, aggressive men. They don't just pick on women. They might come up to me and punch me in the face on the street just for a laugh, when they're drunk or something. You know when I was a young man, I had to scurry along and try to be invisible to avoid confrontation with those kind of young men because I wasn't a fighter, I was a wimp. And women did not admire or look up to wimps, they just didn't. Sorry. So was I pissed off? Was I angry at women? Yes I was. I admit it, I was a little bit angry towards women. Between the good sisters of the Catholic Church and those high school girls.
Alex: So that Cave Wimp piece you did was autobiographical.
Crumb: Totally. Completely personal story. Cave Wimp says it all.
Alex: So how come you had Cave Wimp drowning in the tar pits? How come you can't give yourself a happy ending?
Crumb:What would be the point of that? The alpha males win. But the Cave Wimp has his moment, he gets laid actually.
Alex: He has fun for a little while.
Crumb: Those girls were fascinated by him as an artist. Funny, how my fortunes with women changed; it wasn't the art itself so much as the position I was put in by fame. Finally attractive women were interested in me, in spite of my geeky gawkiness.
Alex: Yeah, we’ve spoken about how your artwork, for some reason, it’s just not attractive to most women.
Crumb: Nope, not so much.
Alex: The differences between male and female brains. I think it’s a perfect example of how biologically different our brains are wired, that men admire you work and talent, but women, even if you make a drawing of a landscape or whatever it is, they just find it vulgar and unattractive.
Crumb: There are certain young women, certain adventurous women who like bad ass art and music -- women who are attracted to the punk scene, where there are cute males involved doing that rebel posturing thing. So if there’s bad ass artwork with like skulls and dark images -- a lot of girls are attracted to vampires. Tell me, Alex, what is the attraction of young girls to the vampire thing? This kind of scary, but still good looking male who's a vampire? What's that about? The big question is "What do women want?" that's what Freud asked. Who the fuck knows? I don't know what they want, do you? So yeah, you're just gonna piss women off if you're too honest you're just going to piss them off. All the guys I know who are the most successful with women, the seducers and Casanovas, none of them are honest with women. They have a way of talking to women that is totally different from how they talk to their male friends. That's the thing that I didn't get when I was young. I was constantly offending women because I'd talk to them the way I talked to my male friends. I was so dense, so stupid, “Uh oh, what did I say? She's walking out of the room! What did I say?" I said something that I would say to one of my male friends! Big mistake.
Alex: I think, in a way, with all this political correctness, we’re getting farther away from each other, because we’re not dealing with how things are, but how we want things to be. So in a way, we’re not getting any closer to understanding the other’s position.
Crumb: I don't know that that's exactly true. It's an ongoing process. It's like a dialectic. And ok, a truth comes out in the open, you know, child molesting or priests molesting kids or whatever. So then there has to be a big, public argument about it. There has to be. And some people gotta take the fall. They need some scapegoats, somebody's gotta be punished for this. Somebody's gotta have the finger pointed at them. And then, it's out in the open and maybe eventually people come around to some level-headed idea about it. But it has to be argued openly, and that causes antagonism. They form opposing camps, they fragment into little cliques and factions. And some arguments go on for decades and maybe even hundreds of years. Some public arguments never get settled. I mean the whole Jewish thing. As a non-Jew, you can't make generalized criticisms of Jews. You can't do it. They can, Jews do it all the time, make general statements about Jews, but as a non-Jew, you’re not allowed to. So that argument is still a very hot issue to talk about. And the sex thing, the women and men thing. Wow. It has a positive and a negative side to it. I don’t feel too bad about seeing a guy like Harvey Weinstein get his. He's been such an asshole power broker for so long. Fuck him. Let him take the fall. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy, you know. But then the down side is the whole hysteria against a guy like Garrison Keillor.
And that's when people start saying "Whoa, wait a minute, where is this going to end?” As I said, 99% of all heterosexual males, you could find some time in their past where they behaved inappropriately. I’m sure! Except maybe for the best looking, most confident males who just wait for women to give them the signal. I mean, c'mon. Many times I annoyed women with my aggressive sexual behavior. I was out of control. I couldn't talk to women, so I used to do crazy compulsive acts. Many times I had to exert great will power to stop myself. Absurd, but there it is.
Ok. I’ll do what Al Franken did, or Garrison Keillor, "I'm sorry if I offended you. I'm sorry. I feel bad, I feel remorse for my obnoxious behavior. I really do."
Crumb: I do, yes. I do. I think back sometimes and I wince with embarrassment when I think of some of the things I did when I was young. But then, if you're going to be honest with yourself, I think most people have done stupid, obnoxious things when they were young. Or maybe when they weren't so young. Even women, God forbid, have done stupid, obnoxious things. I was talking to Dian Hanson about this whole sexual harassment thing and she said she's worried because when she was young she sometimes would grab men’s penises and stuff. She was kind of aggressive that way, like a man, so to speak. I had to laugh.
Alex: What a character. I remember reading an interview with Camile Paglia about a decade ago, and in it she said, ”Men get it up; women, deal with it!" which I thought was interesting coming from a feminist.Crumb: I remember reading this thing she said which was actually a feminist point of view that I had never seen before which was, "Look at all the great, incredible things that men have done that women have no interest in and would never do, like building giant bridges and skyscrapers. All the things that men have done think about it!" I thought that was a very original observation, coming from a feminist.