As a kid growing up in the 1950s I became acutely aware of the changes taking place in American culture and I must say I didn't much like it. I witnessed the debasement of architecture, and I could see a decline in the quality of things like comic books and toys, things made for kids. Old things seemed to have more life, more substance, more humanity in them.
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 23
What we kids didn't understand was that we were living in a commercial, commodity culture. Everything in our environment had been bought and sold. As middle class Americans, we basically grew up on a movie set. The conscious values that are pushed are only part of the picture. The medium itself plays a much bigger part than anyone realizes: the creation of illusion. We are living surrounded by illusion, by professionally created fairy tales. We barely have contact with the real world.
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 56
About the only power you have is the power to discriminate. Living in a culture like this, you have to make choices and search out what has the most authentic content or substance. In the 1960s, while on LSD, I realized that my mind was a garbage receptacle of mass media images and input. I spent my whole childhood absorbing so much crap that my personality and mind are saturated with it. God only knows if that affects you physically! As a kid I became increasingly interested in earlier periods of culture. I turned into a little nostalgia boy, and I became steeped in the Our Gang fantasy from watching them on TV. So much so, that my speech patterns were affected. The style of those Our Gang comedies was so charming that I started acting and talking like Jackie Cooper and Alfalfa. They had these cute kids, artificial mannerisms. It must have been embarrassing for people to hear me talk like that.
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 60
I took some bad acid in November of 1965, and the after effect left me crazy and helpless for six months. My mind would drift into a place that was very electrical and crackly, filled with harsh, abrasive, low grade, cartoony, tawdry carnival visions. There was a nightmarish mechanical aspect to everyday life. My ego was so shattered, so fragmented that it didn't get in the way during what was the most unself-conscious period of my life. I was kind of on automatic pilot and was still constantly drawing. Most of my popular characters—Mr. Natural, Flaky Foont, Angelfood McSpade, Eggs Ackley, The Snoid, The Vulture Demonesses, Av' n' Gar, Shuman the Human, the Truckin' guys, Devil Girl—all suddenly appeared in the drawings in my sketchbook in this period, early 1966. Amazing! I was relieved when it was finally over, but I also immediately missed the egoless state of that strange interlude. LSD put me somewhere else. I wasn't sure where. All I know is, it was a strange place. Psychedelic drugs broke me out of my social programming. It was a good thing for me, traumatic though, and I may have been permanently damaged by the whole thing, I'm not sure. I see LSD as a positive, important life experience for me, but I certainly wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 132
I was totally amazed. This little home made underground comix thing was turning into a business before my eyes. It went from us going around Haight Street trying to sell these things we had folded and stapled ourselves to suddenly being a business with distributors, lawyers, contracts, and money talk. … The whole thing began to take on a heaviness that I believe had a negative effect on my work. I was only twenty-five years old when all this happened. It was a case of "too much too soon," I think. I became acutely self-conscious about what I was doing. Was I now a "spokesman" for the hippies or what? I had no idea how to handle my new position in society! … Take Keep On Truckin'... for example. Keep on Truckin'... is the curse of my life. This stupid little cartoon caught on hugely. … I didn't want to turn into a greeting card artist for the counter-culture! I didn't want to do 'shtick'—the thing Lenny Bruce warned against. That's when I started to let out all my perverse sex fantasies. It was the only way out of being "America's Best Loved Hippie Cartoonist."
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 163
Before industrial civilization, local and regional communities made their own music, their own entertainment. The esthetics were based on traditions that went far back in time—i.e. folklore. But part of the con of mass culture is to make you forget history, disconnect you from tradition and the past. Sometimes that can be a good thing. Sometimes it can even be revolutionary. But tradition can also keep culture on an authentic human level, the homespun as opposed to the mass produced. Industrial civilization figured out how to manufacture popular culture and sell it back to the people. You have to marvel at the ingenuity of it! The problem is that the longer this buying and selling goes on, the more hollow and bankrupt the culture becomes. It loses its fertility, like worn out, ravaged farmland. Eventually, the yokels who bought the hype, the pitch, they want in on the game. When there are no more naive hicks left, you have a culture where everybody is conning each other all the time. There are no more earnest "squares" left—everybody's "hip", everybody is cynical.
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 180
I was lucky to be part of the "underground comix" thing in which cartoonists were completely free to express themselves. To function on those terms means putting everything out in the open—no need to hold anything back—total liberation from censorship, including the inner censor! A lot of my satire is considered by some to be "too hard." My "negro" characters are not about black people, but are more about pushing these "uncool" stereotypes in readers' faces, so suddenly they have to deal with a very tacky part of our human nature. … Who did I think I was appealing to? I don't know. I was just being a punk, putting down on paper all these messy parts of the culture we internalize and keep quiet about. I admit I'm occasionally embarrassed when I look at some of that work now.
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 256
People have no idea of the sources for my work. I didn't invent anything; It's all there in the culture; it's not a big mystery. I just combine my personal experience with classic cartoon stereotypes.
Comment made to the press in 1976, quoted in The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 260
The fine art world and the commercial art industry are both all about money. It's hard to say which is more contemptible: the fine art world with its double talk and pretensions to the cultural high ground, or the world of commercial art trying to sell to the largest mass market it can reach. A serious artist really shouldn't be too deeply involved in either of these worlds. It's best to be on the fringe of them. In general, if you want to be a success and make the money, you have to play the game. It's no different in the fine art world, it's just a slightly different game. Essentially, you're marketing an illusion. It's much easier to lie to humans and trick them than to tell them the truth. They'd much rather be bamboozled than be told the truth, because the way to trick them is to flatter them and tell them what they want to hear, to reinforce their existing illusions. They don't want to know the truth. Truth is a bring-down, a bummer, or it's just too complicated, too much mental work to grasp.
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 297
My generation comes from a world that has been molded by crass TV programs, movies, comic books, popular music, advertisements and commercials. My brain is a huge garbage dump of all this stuff and it is this, mainly, that my work comes out of, for better or for worse. I hope that whatever synthesis I make of all this crap contains something worthwhile, that it's something other than just more smarmy entertainment—or at least, that it's genuine high quality entertainment. I also hope that perhaps it's revealing of something, maybe. On the other hand, I want to avoid becoming pretentious in the eagerness to give my work deep meanings! I have an enormous ego and must resist the urge to come on like a know-it-all. Some of the imagery in my work is sorta scary because I'm basically a fearful, pessimistic person. I'm always seeing the predatory nature of the universe, which can harm you or kill you very easily and very quickly, no matter how well you watch your step. The way I see it, we are all just so much chopped liver. We have this great gift of human intelligence to help us pick our way through this treacherous tangle, but unfortunately we don't seem to value it very much. Most of us are not brought up in environments that encourage us to appreciate and cultivate our intelligence. To me, human society appears mostly to be a living nightmare of ignorant, depraved behavior. We're all depraved, me included. I can't help it if my work reflects this sordid view of the world. Also, I feel that I have to counteract all the lame, hero-worshipping crap that is dished out by the mass-media in a never-ending deluge.
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 363
What the hell is this?? Who can tell me?? Does anybody know?? How can I find out more about it?? One thing's sure: the human mind can't "know" it...why does one want to "know"?? Is it a quest for "freedom"? One no longer wishes to be a puppet dancing on the strings of...of what? Animal instincts?? Learned reflexes? Programmed behavior?? Ingrained habits of perception?? How limited are we by the experience of our senses, by our physical nature?? To be fully alive is a stupendous struggle! We want the rewards without the struggle--- ---a fatal error! ...No such thing as an easy life! Everybody has a hard time...struggle or die! To find out what's really going on it's necessary to get around the ego..an art requiring persistent and determined effort...Me, me, me...myself & I...oh no!!! Trapped in my stupid self!
From his sketchbook (28 March 1998), reproduced in The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 372
I never had a strategy in my dealing with other humans! I've always been very passive socially. I went along with their agenda. I had none of my own! Left to my own devices I stayed in my room or wandered aimlessly in the streets, fantasizing about bizarre things I yearned to do to big ladies, or filled with self-pity and resentment. I was helpless in the presence of other people! My main concern was to make them like me by being as agreeable as possible, and secondly to impress them with my brilliance, my sharp wit, my originality, and my fundamental saintliness. Over time, and after years—decades—of diligent practice, I became very good at this cute little performance of mine. But this performance was improvised in the moment, catered to suit whoever I happened to be with. There was no strategy. It was always an effort. Only in solitude was I completely relaxed. Funny thing...
From his sketchbook (16 February 1998), reproduced in The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 380
I'm such a negative person, and always have been. Was I born that way? I don't know. I am constantly disgusted by reality, horrified and afraid. I cling desperately to the few things that give me some solace, that make me feel good. I hate most of humanity. Though I might be very fond of particular individuals, humanity in general fills me with contempt and despair. I hate most of what passes for civilization. I hate the modern world. For one thing there are just too goddamn many people. I hate the hordes, the crowds in their vast cities, with all their hateful vehicles, their noise, their constant meaningless comings and goings. I hate cars. I hate modern architecture. Every building built after 1955 should be torn down! I despise modern popular music. Words cannot express how much it gets on my nerves—the false, pretentious, smug assertiveness of it. I hate business, having to deal with money. Money is one of the most hateful inventions of the human race. I hate the commodity culture, in which everything is bought and sold. No stone is left unturned. I hate the mass media, and how passively people suck it up. … I hate having to eat, shit, maintain the body—I hate my body. … Nature is horrible. It's not cute and lovable. It's kill or be killed. … How I hate the courting ritual! I was always repelled by my own sex drive, which in my youth, never left me alone. … I hate the way the human psyche works, the way we are traumatized and stupidly imprinted in early childhood and have to spend the rest of our lives trying to overcome these infantile mental fixations. And we never fully succeed in this endeavor. I hate organized religions. I hate governments. It's all a lot of power games played out by ambition-driven people, and foisted on the weak, the poor, and on children. Most humans are bullies. Adults pick on children. Older children pick on younger children. Men bully women. The rich bully the poor. People love to dominate. I hate the way humans worship power—one of the most disgusting of all human traits. I hate the human tendency toward revenge and vindictiveness. I hate the way humans are constantly trying to trick and deceive one another, to swindle, cheat, and take unfair advantage of the innocent, the naïve and the ignorant. I hate all the vacuous, false, banal conversation that goes on among people. Sometimes I feel suffocated. I want to flee from it. For me, to be human is, for the most part, to hate what I am. When I suddenly realize that I am one of them, I want to scream in horror.
"The Litany of Hate" in The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 386.
As a matter of survival I've created this anti-hero alter-ego, a guy in an ill-fitting suit—part humunculus and part clown. Yep, that's me alright … I could never relate to heroes. I have no interest in drawing heroic characters. It's not my thing, man. I'm more inclined toward the sordid underbelly of life. I find it more interesting to draw grotesque, lurid, or absurd pictures, and I especially enjoy depicting my fevered sexual obsessions.
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 393
My work has a strong negative element. I have my own inner demons to deal with. Drawing is a way for me to articulate things inside myself that I can't otherwise grasp. What I don't want to do, what I dread more than anything, is to leave a legacy of crap. I don't want my work to be tossed in the dustbin of history, and become more of the second rate, mediocre junk that future connoisseurs will have to move out of the way so they can get at the good stuff.
The R. Crumb Handbook by Robert Crumb and Peter Poplaski (2005), p. 394
Killing yourself is a major commitment, it takes a kind of courage. Most people just lead lives of cowardly desperation. It's kinda half suicide where you just dull yourself with substances.
I wasn’t that passionate about it [the radical counterculture]. I agreed with it, but at the political demonstrations I would get very nervous when people started chanting in unison. I didn’t like that. I usually disliked those smash-the-state kind of guys, even though I agreed politically with them. I took LSD, I said “groovy” and “far-out,” but I was kind of a detached observer.
I was taking LSD periodically, every couple of months. I was in a strange state of mind, influenced by these visions. … I was trying to draw it in my sketchbook, and that began to coalesce into these comic strips that were stylistically based on grotesque, vulgar humor comics of the thirties and forties. … All of those characters came out of that crazy visionary period that I couldn’t shut off. It was spontaneous, but I was so crazy, I was really out of my mind, it was like schizophrenia. It was like what produces art by crazy people in a madhouse. Anything could be an influence, anything I heard. I was in Chicago in early ’66 and the radio was on, there was some tune playing, it was a black station, and this announcer said, That was Mr. Natural. I just started drawing Mr. Natural, this bearded guru-type character in my sketchbook, it just came out.
For a while I was most well known for that [the Janis Joplin album cover], and for “Keep on Truckin’.” That was a drawing that came out of LSD trips, and the words came from a Blind Boy Fuller song from 1935. I drew it in my sketchbook and then for Zap. It sort of caught the popular imagination. It became a horrible popular thing.
I was never as cocksure again after that first LSD inspiration. Especially with fame and reputation. You become very uncertain, you have to follow your own act. I never did get that kind of spontaneous cocksureness back again. It’s like going from being the observer to the observed. I had been used to being invisible when I was young. After I became well-known, it was very hard to be anonymous in the world. Of course, at first I liked all the attention. Suddenly, good-looking girls were interested in me! Wow! I couldn’t believe it.