Robert “R.” Crumb is one of my favorite artists. Underground cartoonist, designer, illustrator, “drawer”—they all seem like inadequate titles when attached to his body of work. There was a show recently at the Society of Illustrators in New York City that solidly put a piece of punctuation on all the admiration I have for his artwork and talent. Seeing his original art up close, with all its detail, was a thrill. The shine of the ink on the paper, the white-out used to correct or revise . . . and so much of the work was stuff I recognized and had admired for years! I felt like I was being reunited with old friends. He’s a gift to all of us who appreciate good old-fashioned, hand-drawn cartoon artwork.
With this gushing sermon in mind, imagine my thrill when about 25 years ago I ran across a hardbound and slipcased book titled R. Crumb Sketch Book 1966-’67! Published and printed in 1981 by the German company Zweitausendeins and distributed in the U.S. by Blue Angel in Charlottesville, Virginia, the book, with a very colorful “HEAD” graphic, also comes with a separate 24-page booklet of all the text translated into German by Harry Rowohlt. The production value of this tome is amazing. The end papers display a combed-marble technique; the pages are edged in blue and individually numbered with blue numerals as if printed with a rubberstamp; the book is supplied with a silk ribbon for keeping your place for future reference; and the book opens and stays open easily —evidence of top-notch binding. This is a Bible of an artist’s explorations and thought processes all reproduced with as much care, respect, and love, as I’ve ever seen. As far as I’m concerned, only the two Acme Novelty Date-book volumes presenting Chris Ware’s sketchbooks of 1986–2002 come close to presenting an artist’s work in such a personal way.
NOW imagine my excitement when I realized this was to be only one volume of an ongoing series, ultimately producing a total of seven volumes covering three decades of Crumb’s work from 1966 to 1996!
What follows is a brief visual profile using selects from the first volume, which has color images as well as black-and-white. Although the other six volumes have no color in them, they’re still gems and worth grabbing!
In 1993, the Alexander Gallery in New York City held an exhibition of Crumb’s work and produced a limited-edition hardbound catalog of the show. Each edition came with a one dollar bill, with it’s serial number written on the end paper and signed by the Alexander Gallery’s owner, Alexander Acevedo.
More recently, Crumb has been designing graphics (posters, album covers, stickers, etc.) for Eden Brower and John Heneghan’s 1920–30s Country Blues group, Eden and John’s East River String Band. Crumb has played mandolin with them as well!