The Daily


A Kind of Sleaze

January 12, 2015 | by


The New York Observer has an excellent new interview with Robert Crumb, whose response to the Charlie Hebdo attack appeared in Libération this weekend. Crumb has lived in France for a quarter of a century—in typical fashion, he was moved to respond not by any sort of ethical imperative but because he worried what people would say about him if he stayed quiet: “Where’s Crumb? Why doesn’t he come forward? What the hell’s the matter with him?” And, as he makes clear in the interview, his aim was not to be controversial, but personal:

Libération called me and said, “Crumb, can you do a cartoon for us? About what you think about this, you know, you are a major cartoonist, and you live in France.” So I thought about it. I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I’m doing the dishes, or whatever, I was thinking, “What should I do for that cartoon … ” I had a lot of ideas. Other people come up with these, you know, clever cartoons that comment on it, like … This one guy did a cartoon showing a bloody dead body laying there, and a radical Muslim standing over him with a Kalashnikov, saying, “He drew first!” Stuff like that. That’s good, that’s clever, you know, I like that. But, me? I gotta like, you know, when I do something, it has to be more personal. I said, first: “I don’t have the courage to make an insulting cartoon of Muhammed.”

Then I thought, “OK, I’m the Cowardly Cartoonist … As a Cowardly Cartoonist, I can’t make some glib comment like that, you know? I have to, like, make fun of myself.  So instead of drawing the face of Muhammed [laughs], I drew the ass of Muhammed.  [Laughs.] But then I had myself saying, in small lettering, “Actually, this is the ass of my friend of Mohamid Bakshi, who’s a film director in Los Angeles, California.” So if they come at me, I’m gonna say, “No, look, it’s not Muhammed the Prophet, it’s this guy, Mohamid Bakshi.” So, you know.

[…] So, then Aline [Crumb’s wife] had this idea for another cartoon, which we also sent to Libération, a collaboration, that’s showing her looking at the drawing saying, “Oh, my God, they’re going to come after us! This is terrible … I want to live to see my grandchildren!” And then she has me saying, “Well, it’s not that bad. And, besides, they’ve killed enough cartoonists, maybe they’ve gotten it out of their system.”

You can read the whole interview here. (Mohamid Bakshi, by the way, is a pointed reference to Ralph Bakshi, a director and animator with whom Crumb has feuded for some forty years over the rights to Crumb’s iconic Fritz the Cat character.)

Crumb also gave the first interview in our Art of Comics series in 2010, in which he remarks on the reputation of cartoonists and comic-book artists, who in the not-so-distant past were not regarded as artists at all:

The earlier generations that drew comics didn’t see themselves as artistes, you know. They were cigar-chomping newspaper men. A lot of them hung out at the newspaper offices, or even worked there. They were part of that world more than they were artists. They didn’t care about what happened to the original art …

The comic industry had a kind of sleaze about it. The guys who ran it were not well-educated or refined individuals. Comics were somewhat disreputable; they were the lowest of the low in those days. Even other cartoonists, like The New Yorker cartoonists, really looked down on comic books: newspaper-strip artists considered comic books contemptible. The pay was really low. In those days, artists were embarrassed to admit that they worked in the comics industry.

Crumb’s work has seen its share of controversy, too, despite its more personal nature. In the late sixties, he began to draw his sex fantasies and “foist them on the public,” offending the countercultural readership that had come to adore him for LSD-inspired drawings like “Keep on Truckin’ ”:

The people who had loved my work before that, some of them were shocked and alienated by it—especially the women, of course. I lost all the women. I’m not antifeminist. I like strong, independent women, like the matriarchs of Genesis—they ordered the men around. The sex-fantasy thing was a whole other side of myself, and when that started coming out, I could no longer be America’s best-loved hippie cartoonist. Also the racial stuff: the racist images that I used. That also shut a lot of people off about my work. The feminists despised me. I had a couple of defenders among them whose defense of my work was: He’s just being totally honest about the male mentality. He’s revealing the thoughts that most men are walking around harboring about women all the time. I have to agree with that. I just revealed myself.

For more of Crumb’s distinctive brand of ... “self-revelation,” check out his self-portraits.

Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.



  1. Brigham Taylor | January 13, 2015 at 8:40 am

    A quick note: Aline is more than “Crumb’s wife.” Aline Kominsky is a significant underground comic artist in her own right who frequently collaborates with Robert Crumb.

  2. Dan Piepenbring | January 13, 2015 at 8:43 am

    Certainly—I didn’t intend to diminish her with that attribution.

  3. David Williams | January 13, 2015 at 9:57 am

    For the placing of Crumb as part of the 60s letting the suppressed ID hang out with all its dangers, check out “Searching for God In the Sixties” or see “”

  4. estela de arriba | January 13, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Every man has a Price, only the very few have the self sacrifice as his Price. ( read Tomas Moro) he ended in the tower when his friend the KING Henry VIII wanted to marry Anna Bollena
    cherchez la femme

  5. Dave Van Blarcom | January 14, 2015 at 4:19 pm

    Dear R. Crumb,
    Fellow artist here, and hey, you’re so old that you’ve been a big hero of mine since my visits on the Short Line Bus and F train into Greenwich Village as a teen (alright I was 12 when I started). Guess at first it was Zap!Comics and Fritz The Cat at the drive-in, enjoyed your work immensely… Long Live Alf Du Jour!! When I shared your work with friends, they began to look at me as if I had leprosy. So what, I was happy. Just wanted to write & express my admiration for “The Hairy Ass of Mohamid Bakshi” (guessing that’s Ralph Bakshi?). Keep On Truckin’ Mr. Natural!
    Dave Van Blarcom
    Ramsey, NJ

  6. John Watson | January 15, 2015 at 8:31 am

    I’ve been waiting to see if R. Crumb would have a response to the killings, and I must say, this did not disappoint. I wonder though, if it is significant that while Crumb says “Mohamid Bakshi” in the interview, in the strip, he writes it as “Mohamid Bakhsh”. Meta-cowardice on top of cowardice?

  7. Mike Harman | May 4, 2015 at 11:42 am

    We owe a lot to Crumb, for his bravery, intrepidation, and sanity in the face of terrible odds.

  8. John Michael Berryman | May 24, 2015 at 5:27 pm

    It’s wonderful Mr crumb was fortunate enuff to escape the petty hum-drum drudgery of the commercial artists life.The wounded warrior could now follow his muse and offer us a mordant vision of post-modern amerikka with his undeniable fine caustic artistry and occult wit.
    You don’t have to agree,
    he’s an artist recording
    his personal perceptions
    of HIS life and demons.Love or hate him,
    he’s politically incorrect thankfully. Keep on truckin r. self righteous carping “don’t mean shit” parphrasing my personal guru. Hope you won’t mind; I’ve used mr. natural as a web name knowing it hasta be copyright protected. I’ll stop at once on request. Sue if you must I unnerstands as a kindly old 68 yrs fool but essentially penniless pauper as well.I’ve loved your work greatfully and have
    dispute with none which being a stone skeptic is
    remarkable in itself.Screw the critics. I may have had too much wine weed and acid n opiates etc in my day to seem rational, but inside I’m ever-still a clear light. Cheers to yuh me buddy,
    snuggiebutt17 @g mail.c×1024.jpg

3 Pingbacks

  1. […] his work has matured over the years, taking on serious subjects like the book of Genesis and the Charlie Hebdo massacre. For an artist with such peculiar personal focus, Crumb is surprisingly versatile, but it’s his […]

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