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

“Where Has it Gone, All the Beautiful Music of our Grandparents?” Weirdo #14 (Fall 1985)

Bill’s next question: “Do you listen to your record collection when you work?”

No. I don’t. I can’t have background music on when I work. I take a break: listen to some records.

So you work in silence.

I do. The more silence the better. Then all I can hear is the insanity in my brain, [Groth laughs.] the crazy monologue that goes on in my head all the time. [Laughter.] I can’t have music in the background. The music I like is too distracting. I stop and listen to it.

Because you’re incapable of not stopping and listening to it?

It takes me away too much. When I listen to music I listen totally. I put the record on, I sit there and close my eyes and listen to it. In the process, if you do that, if you give your full attention to music when you listen to it, you automatically become a connoisseur, because then you can’t tolerate music that’s mediocre or less than great.

What about when you’re inking? That doesn’t require the same kind of focus as writing or penciling, does it?

No. Can’t do it, can’t do it. I dunno. I can’t have the music on while I’m inking.

His last question is, “If we live in a godless universe, how do you explain Dream Fluff Donuts?” [Crumb laughs.] He said you would get that.

[Laughs.] Well, obviously that’s a great paradox [Groth laughs], which seems that it’s not the right question. Wrong question.

Yeah, he’s not asking the right question. It’s the opposite. How do you explain God if you live in a Dream Fluff Donut universe? For which there is no answer!

Jaime Hernandez: “How have you found the process of aging to affect your work, work practice and your attitude toward your work?”

That’s a good question. I’m much less motivated to draw than I used to be — much less. So much ink has gone under the bridge. And at the same time, I’ve just been constantly bombarded with people wanting things from me, and the value of the work and all that. It all mitigates against sitting down and drawing. All that. And when people are quarrelling about the value of an old drawing, that’s just very demoralizing. Like two years ago I agreed to do that sketchbook series for Taschen. So, Dian Hanson is saying, “When are you going to do it, when are you going to do it, now you got a deadline, where is it?” So I have to spend like a month putting that together, instead of drawing. Or, OK, there’s this French guy that does this series of reprints of my work, and he does a beautiful job, beautiful job. That Cornelius company, you’ve seen their books?

Yeah. I have.

They’re beautiful. Beautifully done. The production values are tops, first rate. So every so often I have to re-work an old drawing for the cover of that series, so that’s what I’m doing right now, I’m re-working an old drawing for that. And I have to do a color guide; I have to do some lettering for that. And then I have a job here, I have this local woman who’s doing a documentary about this village, and she wants me to do the cover. So I have that job, and like that.

Now, does that specifically have to do with aging? Or is that just tangential problems having to do with your eventual fame?

Well, it’s the accumulation of your karma, of your life. This is where mine has ended up. And I’ve watched this process happen over the last 20 years, 30 years, 40 years, whatever, of this life eating away at my motivation to draw. And I draw less and less and less and less over the years, and now I even marvel at the amount of sketchbook drawing I did in the ’90s. Even in the early 2000s compared to now, I almost never draw in sketchbooks any more. Just never do it. I used to take it everywhere and draw. Now I don’t even bother.

You once told me that if you didn’t draw every day, you didn’t feel right, or you felt badly.

Yeah, and for years it was a battle, just a battle against all of these complications of life to keep drawing. I mean, life’s always a battle for everybody. But, gradually, bit-by-bit, my will to keep doing it’s been eroded.

[Laughs.] Jesus Christ.

It’s true. But look, I’ve done thousands and thousands of drawings, how much drawing do you have to do in one lifetime? I’m not as motivated to prove myself. OK, I’ve proved myself, I did that. I’m actually much more motivated right now to study and learn. I read voraciously now, more than I ever did in my life. I always have like five books I’m trying to get through, and they’re not novels, believe me, they’re books packed with information. It’s so hard to retain, I have to keep notes and everything. [Laughs.]

Were you a big reader of fiction?

No. Never. I read some fiction, but I’m not a big reader of fiction.

Gil Kane once told me that as he got older he read less and less fiction, and he had been a big reader of fiction, but he read less and less fiction and more for information.

Huh! Oh yeah?

Yeah.

Is he dead now?

Yeah. Yeah, he died in 2000.

Oh. Interesting man. I remember meeting him at that one public affair of some kind or another.

Oh, yeah, yeah, you were on a great, two-person panel, in Dallas, where you talked to each other.

Dallas, right. He was interesting, very interesting guy.

Yes, he was. He was a great guy.

OK, just a couple more here. I’ve got a couple of questions related to Genesis. Gilbert Shelton asks: “Why doesn’t Adam have a beard?”

[Laughs.] Why didn’t Adam have a beard.

[Laughs.] That’s a stumper.

He grows a beard I think after, doesn’t he grow a beard after he’s banished from he garden?

Maybe, I’d have to check that.

I think he grows a beard when he’s old. Wait a minute. Hold the phone. [Laughs.] [Long pause.] Yeah. Adam has a beard when he’s old. I guess I thought when he’s in the Garden of Eden he’s still just a boy; he’s still just an adolescent. I guess he could still have a beard, but…

That’s a pretty damn good answer. That should satisfy Gilbert. [Crumb laughs.]

From The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb

His second question: “I’m also curious about where he got all those authentic-looking faces in the genealogies. Surely, he didn’t make them all up.”

Well he’s right. I didn’t make them up. [Groth laughs.] Most of them I got from photos out of books. I have these books called The Secret Museum of Mankind, two old books and they have lots of photos that were taken in the ’20s, I think, and they’re just full of photos of people in the Middle East and like that, and other sources. I accumulated and gathered photos of people from that region of the world, from the Middle East, North Africa and Afghanistan too. When Afghanistan was in the news, lots of great photos of these Afghani warrior guys, these Taliban guys, were great. They’re very biblical-looking guys: the bearded guys with towels on their heads. [Chuckles.]

So you interpreted these photos?

Yeah, yeah. I spent a lot of time going through stuff looking for photos, like the old National Geographics and stuff like that.

The amount of detail you put into those relatively tiny portraits was amazing.

[Laughs.] Yeah. I’m an obsessive-compulsive person.

Here’s the question you’ve been waiting for. It’s from Trina [Robbins].

Oh yeah?

Now, I was hoping she was gonna nail you for your racism or misogyny or whatever other politically incorrect impulse you indulge in, but she told me she couldn’t come up with a question about any of that. I mean, I didn’t actually ask her to do that specifically, but…

Well, I guess she’s had her say about that.

She wrote back and told me she couldn’t think of a question to ask you, but then a couple days later I got a question from her, and she wrote: “OK, I understand that you drew Genesis because you’re fascinated with Mesopotamian mythology, and you wanted to see that period illustrated correctly and authentically, as it has never been before, and you succeeded. But why Genesis? Why not, for instance, Gilgamesh, which, if I could draw like you, is the one I would illustrate?”

Well, that’s a good question, actually, an intelligent question. I’m a bit surprised. [Laughter.] I thought about Gilgamesh and other Sumerian legends, but there’s just not enough there, the translations of those things are not adequate. They’re still working on ’em. And Gilgamesh and all that stuff is very fragmentary, it’s all fragments. There’s just not enough there. And, I thought about that a long time ago actually, doing that stuff. But there just was not enough to chew on.

And also, there’s something iconographic about Genesis in Western culture. And like I often said, I first thought I’d do Adam and Eve in a jokey way: make a send-up of Adam and Eve, because Adam and Eve is such a powerful thing in our culture. But when that didn’t work, I thought of doing the whole thing, copy it straight out of the Bible and interpret it in an illustrational way. And even then I didn’t think of doing the whole damn Genesis until [Denis] Kitchen came up with that idea of getting some publisher to pay a lot of money to do all of Genesis. And I stupidly just said, “Oh yeah. OK.” [Laughter.]

“Adam and Eve: Our First Parents” from a 2003 sketchbook, reproduced in The R. Crumb Handbook

Sounds like a good idea.

There it is. People say, “Why did he do it,” and I think, “Yeah, why did I do it?”: just kind of dumb reasons.

So in retrospect, are you pleased that you spent four years doing that?

Am I pleased?

Yeah, do you think that was four years well spent, that you wouldn’t have spent doing something else that would’ve pleased you more?

Well, complicated question. The fact that the text was all there already, once I got going on it, it was just a matter of keep on going ’til the end, the last page of chapter fifty. [Laughs.] It’s like I got on this track, and that was it. There’s no agonizing over it once you’re on that track, you gotta see it through, no matter how long it takes. I wasn’t sure how long it would take. I thought maybe I could get it done in a year and a half, when I first started it. But once I got a third of the way through, I realized it was going to take a lot longer. But there was no turning back at that point.

Can’t do half of Genesis.

Yeah.

(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.

  7. Pingback: Robert Crumb and the Australian interview that didn’t happen The Daily Cartoonist

  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. Artie Romero says:

    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. Rick Worley says:

    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. Artie Romero says:

    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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