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Robert Crumb—Live Online: The Interview That Didn’t Happen

Oh man, that’s depressing.

[Laughs.] Well, that’s why you have press agents. That’s why lawyers tell you, “don’t say anything.”

That’s why you have this whole professional class of liars.

Exactly. Spin doctors and public relations and every goddamn thing, absolutely. Because people will use the truth, if you’re truthful and honest they’ll use it against you. [Groth sighs.] Nobody’s a saint, you know — when you do the kind of fringe stuff that I’ve done in my work, I’m not sure what the fuck I’m doing. That’s why I said in that article, if I’m confronted by some angry child-abuse group I have no defense, I don’t know what to say. I just throw up my hands and say, “I dunno. Maybe I should be locked up, I have no idea.” [Laughter.] People are willing to print my work and disseminate it, and they get away with it.

But then they’ll ask, “Don’t you feel any responsibility to the audience?”

And I say, “Of course I do, but the question of the effect on the audience is not answered, the verdict’s not in.”

In the ’80s they had the Meese Commission to suppress pornography under Reagan. They came out with these phony studies that showed how rapists and people like that had been influenced by pornography. It was completely fraudulent. Playboy did a long series of articles trying to oppose that and show that it was spurious. There were studies done showing there was no relation to pornography and rape or child abuse or anything. Some rapists looked at pornography, some didn’t. Some were actually very repressed, like Christian types, or came from extremely repressive religious families, so no conclusion’s ever been come to about that. The verdict’s not in on it.

No, the Meese Report was entirely rigged.

Yeah, completely spurious. What a sleazy character — Edwin Meese!

[Laughs.] I wonder where he is today.

Yeah, I think he might’ve died.

He might be dead, yeah. [Ed. He is not, alas.]

But I can’t get into an argument like that. Am I nuts? Am I psycho? Like I said, what, I’m supposed to deny. “No I’m not psycho, I’m as normal and sane as you. Perhaps more so”??

On some profound level don’t you believe that’s true?

I don’t know what to believe. I have come to no conclusions. I don’t know anything. I’m less sure of what I believe now than I was 30 years ago.

Why is that, do you think? Is it because you know more and you know more of what you don’t know?

That’s right. I think the wisdom of age is mostly negative wisdom. You come to realize, well, that certainly is not true. Or that’s a big lie. Or that’s a bunch of bullshit. But what the real truth is, you just see more and more the complexity of life.

Truth becomes more and more elusive.

Yeah, I used to be such a strong believer in communism and socialism and stuff.

And even that’s fallen by the wayside?

Well, not entirely, but human nature being what it is, somebody once said, “socialism: great idea, wrong species.” [Laughter.] And you think of the Pharaohs getting the entire population of Egypt to build those pyramids just to their fucking glory. That’s the kind of race we are. [Laughter.] We haven’t come all that far since then. We haven’t come that far since Hitler, and the concentration camps, and the gas chambers, Stalin and Mao, all the people they had killed or sent off to Siberia or whatever. You can go on and on.

I was thinking just last night, that politically, the entire situation just seems completely hopeless.

[Laughs.] A fucking mess.

I mean, perhaps even more so than 20 or 30 years ago. You know what’s going on over here in terms of the Republican candidates, right?

I follow it a little bit. There’s that “Pacman” woman, what’s her name, Bachman?

Michelle Bachman.

Yeah there’s her, and then there’s that guy from Texas, I don’t know what he’s like.

Rick Perry, right. Every single Republican candidate, with the hedging exception of Romney and possibly Huntsman, who don’t stand a chance anyway, does not believe that there’s such a thing as global warming. Which is terrifying.

Well, in the case of global warming, OK, I don’t trust the scientific consensus myself, because there’s too many other areas where scientific consensus is also a put-up job. Nothing is on the level is the problem. I would say in the case of global warming that the precautionary principle should be urgently applied. [Laughs.]

Even if they’re wrong.

Yeah, even if there’s the slightest possibility that they’re right. And seeing the way we squander resources and gorge the atmosphere 24 hours a day, seven days a week with carbons, it could be having a dire effect, [but] scientists don’t know that much. There’s certainly plenty of evidence. It’s just all the money in those kinds of situations. The global warming deniers, that’s mostly based on money, and the threat to industries, and having to retool and everything like that costs a lot of money. And what money interest is there for the people who believe in global warming, the scientists and all them? What possible money interests — OK, maybe some minor thing, perhaps an alternative energy source is a minor possible way to make money.

There’s no substantial economic incentive to push that agenda.

Certainly not huge ones: there are huge economic incentives to deny global warming. When you compare the two and weigh the balance any levelheaded person would tend to trust the people yelling about global warming being a danger [rather] than the ones who are saying, “no, no, it’s not.”

It’s like a “who would you buy a used car from” type of principle there. [Laughs.]

Have you seen a documentary called Collapse?

No, I haven’t seen that one.

Oh, brother.

[Laughs.] Jeez.

You watch that and you want to slit your wrists.

Did you see Gasland?

No.

Oh you’ve gotta watch that one. Oh my God. It’s about the fracking thing.

Oh right, right, right, which they’re doing in Canada a lot, right?

All over North America: They’re doing a lot of it in the United States, there’s hundreds of thousands of these gas wells. You’ve gotta check out Gasland, absolutely. There’s a big fight in France now, they’re trying to stop them from putting in these natural gas wells. They basically inject chemicals down into these, what do you call them, veins of gas under the ground and break up the shale, the rock, so the gas escapes and then they can mine the gas that way. But in the process they completely fuck up the groundwater, and they’ve done this all over America. This guy did this documentary went around and talked to these ranchers — it’s mostly in rural areas where they can get away with it. These ranchers have been tricked into letting them put these gas wells on their property, and their water supplies are completely fucked up.

Did you see Food Incorporated?

No.

Oh, another documentary you gotta watch. That’s really well done.

You know I have my big argument. I’ve been, in the last five, 10 years doing a lot of reading, investigating about medical science and there’s so much fraud in the whole research establishment now, and lying and covering up and pharmaceutical interests. It’s just endless layers of evil. [Laughs.]

And it all comes down to: Follow the money.

Yeah. I got into obsessively keeping a file of investigations. A lot of it comes off the Internet. You can become a connoisseur of that stuff, you can start to perceive which is the most cogent and intelligently done investigation, and which are nutty, which are just kind of paranoid lunacy. You get to be a pretty good judge of that and you can start to detect PR, phony stuff even in books, and in articles about medical discoveries that are just strictly a sales pitch: complete sales pitch. And doctors are almost all taken in, they can’t perceive this, it’s incredible how naïve they are.

Or don’t want to perceive it, yeah.

Well, yeah, they’ve been programmed, they’ve been brainwashed for years and years through their whole career; the whole medical system is based on money.

Has doing this research made you feel paranoid?

Yeah, just a tad. [Laughter.] But as the saying goes, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

That’s right. [Crumb laughs.]

(continued)

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42 Responses to Robert Crumb—Live Online: The Interview That Didn’t Happen

  1. Chance Fiveash says:

    It’s always a pleasure to read an interview with Crumb as interviewed by Groth. Wonderful.

  2. Tom Stein says:

    Truly inspirational thoughts and comments for R. Crumb! It gives me courage to stay on the rightgeous path, despite all adversity that’s out there!

  3. Pingback: Robert Crumb and Gary Groth on almost everything | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  4. I’m impressed Crumb is so politically informed. Naomi Klein. Wendell Potter. Food, Inc. The guy could do a Pacifica show and guest blog for digby.

    But we’d rather he’d draw another book.

  5. Ron Wilkinson says:

    Great interview. Lots of parallel experiences in my life. Of course I’m close to his age so that’s a good part of it.
    I appreciate that he put it out there and mixed it into his art and story telling.
    It, his comics, definitely gave me something. They are entertaining and give me a sense of relief- that it is not that bad, this life is not that bad.
    Ha ha!!

  6. Linda says:

    Loved it.

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  8. Uland says:

    I’m sorry, this just comes off as whiny and entitled, as though it’s “manipulation” to print a story containing opinions not shared by Crumb and Groth.As though Crumb believes he should be treated differently than any other artist.

    I mean, Crumb used to own being a sleaze-merchant, and clearly did his best to offend middle-America sensibilites. That Conservatives might be alarmed at their Federal government sponsoring ( paying Crumb, I’m sure) a show of his comic art…Well, yeah.

    And for him to back down— as though he’s above the kind of cultural stew he’s exploited for decades— is just wimpy and lame.

    If any federal grant/funding went to any artists that offended the Cultural-Left’s sensibilities, we’d see the same sort of Huff pieces coming from their side of the fence.

  9. tom clifford says:

    Robert Crumb was a great 60’s countercultural artist and all that, but thinking he’s going to get assassinated by some Mark Chapman type nut is plain ol’ daft. Nobody gives that much of a fuck about him, except a coupla hundred TCJ online readers…

    Let’s face it, all that old blues musician art and Bible interpretation is a boring as batshit. Nobody cares about his later stuff.

    Can someone tell him to start talking lots of drugs again?

  10. Kim Thompson says:

    My rebuttal: (1) No, we wouldn’t. (2) If we did, the lefties would be assholes, it wouldn’t clear the righties of their assholishness.

    To see this as anything other than a political hit (in which Crumb was just collateral damage) pandering to the public, using that child-abuse lady as a blunt instrument, is a little naive.

  11. TimR says:

    “Well, in the case of global warming, OK, I don’t trust the scientific consensus myself, because there’s too many other areas where scientific consensus is also a put-up job. Nothing is on the level is the problem.”

    So true, and such a pleasure to see Crumb saying this. So many people seem to take science, well, as a matter of faith, without any skepticism whatsoever.

    I’m more in the global warming skeptic camp, but I appreciate that he’s at least aware of all the weird politics and machinations behind the popular science blatted out through the news organs.

    “And what money interest is there for the people who believe in global warming, the scientists and all them? What possible money interests — OK, maybe some minor thing, perhaps an alternative energy source is a minor possible way to make money.”

    I have read that there is a potential to make money through the carbon credit trading scheme — that it would be another potential financial bubble for G Sachs and the other vernicious knids to stick their feeding maws into. Al Gore was heavily invested in companies having to do with this. Search for a blog under key words “activist teacher” for more details. Also “rkmdocs.blogspot.com” and scroll to the bottom of his (early in the archive) post about global warming:

    Cap-and-trade has nothing to do with climate. It is part of a scheme to micromanage the allocation of global resources, and to maximize profits from the use of those resources. Think about it. Our ‘powerful factions’ decide who gets the initial free cap-and-trade credits. They run the exchange market itself, and can manipulate the market, create derivative products, sell futures, etc. They can cause deflation or inflation of carbon credits, just as they can cause deflation or inflation of currencies. They decide which corporations get advance insider tips, so they can maximize their emissions while minimizing their offset costs. They decide who gets loans to buy offsets, and at what interest rate. They decide what fraction of petroleum will go to the global North and the global South. They have ‘their man’ in the regulation agencies that certify the validity of offset projects, such as replacing rainforests with tree plantations, thus decreasing carbon sequestration. And they make money every which way as they carry out this micromanagement.

  12. George Bush (not that one) says:

    Dose Crumb and put him in a room with Jodorowsky. Fritz the Metabaron !

  13. Uland says:

    How many films,books,etc., come under fire for promoting values the left doesn’t approve of? Ivan think of plenty. Now imagine they received Federal funding.Do you really think Slate would be cool with Gibsons The Passion getting NEA funds, or ,say soething like Friedkins Cruising?

    I don’t see it.

    Also, I think it’s often difficult to draw a line between “hit piece” and genuine concern.You might think the lady is nuts, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t believe what shes saying. Crumb is nuts too, of course. It’s his bread and butter. That anyone would be surprised at people thinking his filth is filthy…

    Any state thinking they should send tax money his way seems insane to me.

  14. Greg says:

    Uland – Why are you even here?

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  16. Uland says:

    “And what money interest is there for the people who believe in global warming, the scientists and all them? What possible money interests — OK, maybe some minor thing, perhaps an alternative energy source is a minor possible way to make money.”

    70 billion in the last 15 years in Federal funding alone went to researchers wanting to study APGW. That’s a pretty good reason to “hide the decline”.

  17. Uland says:

    Two uninformed guys blathering. There’s no incentive to promote Global Warming? — Cap and trade, Carbon offset markets (the largest energy companies not having to worry about competition because they can gobble up “carbon credits”), billions in research money, alternative energy scams ( Solyndra). Come on guys.

  18. Well, you’re the expert.

  19. DiamondDulius says:

    That’s still minor when compared to the oil industry, which is the point, I think… and I don’t believe you can legitimately call a “scam” an incentive…

  20. kim deitch says:

    Tom. Speak for yourself when you say things like that. I find your manner to be totally offensive. Where do you get that stuff anyway? Let’s hear your idea of what’s good.

  21. patrick ford says:

    I notice Fantagraphics is going to reissue Crumb’s “Your Vigor For Life Appalls Me.”

    What are the odds that collection of letters could be brought up to date, at a minimum the letters to TCJ would be wonderful. The Mineshaft letters would be tremendous to collect, but I wouldn’t want to see their back issue sales affected.

    Thanks again for a great interview, and I’m really happy this worked out in print as opposed to having to watch it on video.

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  23. Charro says:

    ” Whiny and entitled”, for not liking what this conglomerate controlled, corporate media churns out? Your point of view has no validity in this respect. We have every right to expect the news to address the whole of an issue and not just sensationalism, soundbytes, or propaganda, ‘right or ‘left’.

  24. patrick ford says:

    So I’m coming out of the drug store with a can of almonds and a newspaper, and there is a guy outside talking about how the moon landing was faked.

    Me? I walk on by.

  25. Anthony Thorne says:

    A great, thoughtful interview full of interesting commentary and funny observations from both Groth and Crumb. Lovely stuff.

    “thinking he’s going to get assassinated by some Mark Chapman type nut is plain ol’ daft. Nobody gives that much of a fuck about him, except a coupla hundred TCJ online readers…”

    You sadly overestimate the mentality of angry tabloid readers down here in Australia, who could easily be provoked to lynch Nelson Mandela if they were persuaded that he’d interfered with their daily diet of sport, beer, and letting working-class Aussies receive a ‘fair go’. Rabble-rousing commentary surrounding the exhibition of the Andres Serrano photo ‘Piss Christ’ led to one reader attempting to carry the picture out of the gallery, and two others attacking it with a hammer. I doubt either had heard of Serrano or his photo before the ‘appalled’ newspaper and TV stories got going. Readers of The Daily Telegraph and Herald-Sun would neither have known nor cared about Crumb’s status as an artistic treasure – they would have viewed him as a perverted Yank who blithely drew pictures of pedophilia for jollies, or worse. Add Government funding of left-wing art exhibitions to the mix – taxpayers having their money spent on ‘sick filth’ – and the controversy could quite easily have run for the entire duration of Crumb’s stay, plenty of time for some red-faced lout to try and make his point to Crumb face-to-face. Australia’s most vituperative shock-jock, Alan Jones, commands a huge Sydney audience and was able to start race riots in the streets a few years back. If he’d started up on the subject – and I guess he would have eventually – Crumb’s visit would have been an ugly one. I’m sad that the event was affected, that Crumb pulled out and the conversation between Groth and R.C wasn’t able to occur before an Australian audience, but if we [Australians] are happy to have our public discussion become increasingly shrill and conservative and right-wing, we can’t complain if others not gripped by the same mindset decline to go along for the ride.

    If Crumb’s still drawing covers for book anthologies, one more I’d like to see comes to mind – THE COMPLETE HUP. That said, if ZAP is getting the deluxe hardcover treatment, can someone [Fanta?] gather the complete WEIRDO issues next, whacked-out photo montages, editorials and all?

  26. Great stuff. Too bad the comments section isn’t trollfree though.

  27. They didn’t say anything disagreeing with Crumb was manipulation, Crumb was saying it was manipulation to send some woman who doesn’t know anything about his work pictures that they know she’ll be offended by out of context and then use quotes by her because they know it will look bad to offend somebody in her position, since she’s supposed to be an advocate for a good cause. And obviously, that is manipulation.

  28. Groth says:

    Thanks to Anthony Thorne for elevating the level of discourse in the Comments section. I was getting worried that my interview was being read mostly by idiots — always a depressing possibility.

    Crumb very explicitly said that he himself wasn’t that worried about physical harm, but that his wife and daughter were, and that he didn’t want to put them through a week of worry. Crumb wanted to go but not enough to put his family through that stress. He put his family’s interests before a public event. What a sick pervert.

  29. TimR says:

    I think I know who you’re directing that at, but for all I know you might be talking about Crumb..?

    Quote: “Well, in the case of global warming, OK, I don’t trust the scientific consensus myself, because there’s too many other areas where scientific consensus is also a put-up job. Nothing is on the level is the problem.”

  30. patrick ford says:

    Tim, Your first thought is correct. It absolutely isn’t Crumb I was talking about.

    Substitute “flat Earth” or “Jesus told me in a dream the world will end in seven days” for “fake moon landing” if you like.

    I agree with Crumb’s sceptical view of modern science (particularly where money is an issue). but I think there are some things which are beyond dispute.

  31. patrick ford says:

    As pointed out by Anthony, Crumb very well could have been in danger. Absolutely a possibility. No one said it was a certainty. It is almost certain that had he gone the trip would have been a very bad experience.

  32. TimR says:

    Mainly being rhetorical, I just wasn’t sure you had noticed that Crumb practically endorses the “conspiratorial” view you were mocking.

    I think there are various economic/ideological pressures on *both* sides of the global warming issue, not exclusively on the big oil side.. This whole carbon credit trading regime sounds like a bit more than chump change to me, not to mention the additional control it would offer to ruling class interests over virtually every human activity.

    Another thing that gets me about the global warming issue, as long as we’re on it.. (and as unpleasant and vitriolic as the conversation always seems – not you Pat, I just mean in general) — My intuition (I won’t pretend to be able to speak to the science, I’m annoyed when laypeople make authoritative claims on it as if they could speak to the science of it) is that we would be better served to focus society’s efforts on the pollutants that cause straightforward health problems in the population – very direct cause and effect ill effects, for instance the problems in my part of the country with coal-fired power plants. Clean that stuff up! But the very tenuous claims that are much more arguable (given the *natural* climate shifts that have occurred over the aeons), about global warming, strike me (again as an admitted non-scientist) as much more easily prone to ideological bias infecting the science on all sides.

    (hope this writing isn’t too unpolished.. just my 2 cents here)

  33. patrick ford says:

    A couple of things Crumb said in the interview reminded me immediately of a quote from Jack Kirby.

    Crumb:

    “We haven’t come that far since Hitler, and the concentration camps, and the gas chambers, Stalin and Mao, all the people they had killed or sent off to Siberia or whatever. You can go on and on.”

    “Well, as compared to in the past when you had brutality and cruelty and everything, and we still have, so what’s specifically detestable about the modern world that’s different from times past is that now they’ve developed such a very clever way of perception management and persuasion and deception, that this has become huge and elaborate.”

    Kirby:

    “We always try to fix our faces. Don’t we look great today? Do we look like the people who built Dachau? No we look as if it never happened. Do we look like the people who committed atrocities in WWII and all the wars before that? No we don’t look like those kinds of people.

    I think we are living in medieval times. It’s only 40 years ago we cooked people in ovens. How sophisticated is that? We can pat ourselves on the back, and say we’re living in a high tech age, but I think we’re still medieval.”

  34. patrick ford says:

    Tim, I really was commenting on avoiding bufoons.

    Let’s just say if I come out of the drug store with a can of cashews and a newspaper, and see a guy dressed in a Batman costume I give him a wide berth.

    As to global warming. Crumb was clear he thought there was a very legitimate concern.

    I think he was more interested in saying people should be sceptical in situations where money plays a role. As he indicated the really big money is interested in disputing the role of man made air pollution.

  35. TimR says:

    You disposed of those almonds pretty quickly. j/k…

    “Crumb was clear he thought there was a very legitimate concern.”

    Not at all! He said he doesn’t trust institutional science one iota, basically, just that if there’s the slightest chance they could be right, it’s too catastrophic to risk it. I suspect that if he read some of the risks of implementing a carbon trading regime, and who the interests are behind doing so, he might weigh the risks

    differently.

    Quote: “I don’t trust the scientific consensus [on global warming] myself, because there’s too many other areas where scientific consensus is also a put-up job.”

    That you call a view of global warming science as “very legit”?

  36. TimR says:

    … let me edit that.. I agree he thinks the “concern” is legit. Not necessarily the science though.

  37. indig says:

    Love Crumb. Love Groth.

  38. Good interview, gentlemen. That was a good idea, getting questions from other cartoonists. It is always a pleasure to hear from Groth or Crumb, and the interaction here was especially stimulating. Thank you!

  39. bjenny says:

    Fantastic interview!

  40. julian says:

    Great interview, informative and insightful..R. Crumb’s work has been a touchstone over the decades for many fans, fellow artists, etc– He’s devoted his time and talent to pursuit of his own unique vision of life, warts and all, and the world is a better place for that. ‘Nuff said.

  41. Andrew MacDonald says:

    Thanks for this wonderful interview. I had tickets to see Crumb and travelled interstate to see him. So this makes up for it somewhat. (Am I bitter? Just a tad.)

    Terry Zwigoff, though, is wrong. There wasn’t a hoople head or ageing hippie in sight, just a lot of nice folk who were interested in comics as an art form.

    He can check with Jim Woodring if he doesn’t believe me.

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