Sunday, September 30, 2007

HOW DID CRUMB DO IT?

In my opinion Crumb was the best practicing artist in any medium of the 60s and 70s. No easel painter or photographer captured the times like he did. Maybe it's worth taking the time to figure out how he did it.

For most people the "Cheap Thrills" album cover (above) was the first Crumb that they saw. It really stood out on the rack. Other covers had the usual near- monochrome, four mean-looking guys on a rooftop. There was nothing mean about Crumb's cover; it was colorful and full of fun. One of the advantages of cartooning is that it lends itself to bright, attention-getting colors.


Crumb shocked everybody with his gritty, realistic inner city landscapes (above). Older people didn't seem to mind this ugly and depressing architecture but young people were steeped in bright mod fashions and appealing images in movies and magazines and they hated the old stuff. Nobody knew exactly how much they hated it until Crumb came along and satirized it.


City streets began to fill with black people wearing outrageous clothes. Nobody would give it a second glance now, but back then white suburbanites were constantly surprised by it. Crumb's the only one who bothered to draw it.


Back then adults didn't watch TV much and they were worried about the effects of TV on kids (above). They had good reason because the modern, clean, exciting world we saw on TV made the ugly, slow-mo real world seem intolerable. Once again, only Crumb bothered to draw that.



Other artists like Peter Max tried to come up with pretty, contemporary styles to represent the modern world. Crumb used a gritty, 1920s style (above). Max misread the generation. He thought theirs was just another fashion change. He failed to get a sense of how deeply the hippies were disgusted by the ugliness around them and how much they wanted warmth and personal connection. Crumb's style was the only one that reflected that.


There was a new kind of sexuality on the streets (above) but normal artists weren't picking up on it. Glossy magazines had pictures of slick models wearing weird, high-fashion mod clothes but that was the world of glamour...it didn't have much to do with what was on the street. Crumb was the first to suggest that the casual clothes real girls were wearing were sexy.

Crumb resisted getting into a rut. Sometimes he would do fine-artsy type pictures like the one above.

Young white suburbanites had mixed feelings about the newly liberated blacks (above). On the one hand they welcomed the "soul" and style of the blacks, on the other hand they feared the ignorance and coarseness that some blacks brought with them. Young whites of the period were firmly and idealistically committed to civil rights, but they must have found themselves wondering if they had opened Pandora's Box. Only Crumb managed to capture this anxiety.


Are there any parallels to today's situation? What should cartoonists be drawing now? That's a tough question but I'll take a stab at it. My belief is that, unlike the hippies, this generation doesn't want to have its nose rubbed in the ugliness of modern cities. Underground comics that stress sloppy, depressing environments are missing the mark and will fail. The society that's coming will reward artists who can create romantic alternatives to what we have now. That's why the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films are so popular. 'Just my opinion. I could be wrong.


The one thing I'm certain of is that you better fill your sketchbooks with drawings of baggy. It's going and it won't be here much longer. Emo guys are wearing stovepipe jeans and emos are the new trendsetters in suburbia.
It's too late for anybody to be the Robert Crumb of the baggy set but you'll still regret it if you don't draw it. Bald heads, bling, long shapeless t-shirts and baggy pants were God's gift to this generation of cartoonists. Skateboard magazines fail to capture it because they have to flatter their audience and try to portray it in a swashbuckling light. Only cartoonists can unearth the true, flamboyant ignorance (I mean that in a complementary way) embedded in the style.








Saturday, September 29, 2007

PHILOSOPHERS I DON'T LIKE

Actually I do like Nietzche in the sense of having affectionate feelings for him, I just don't buy into a word of what he says. I'm always amazed when fans of his tell me that they felt liberated after reading him. Nietzche had no intention of liberating people like them. He would have been appalled at the thought! His desire was to subordinate them to a new master, the superman.

I hate to say it, but Nietzche was not a nice guy. He was reputedly nice to his students and friends and some of his writings have an appealing quality, but when it came to content he was able to steel himself to astonishing harshness. He didn't care who got hurt. His philosophy seemed to be, you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs.


Of course the National Socialists loved Nietzche, in fact it's hard to imagine nazism without Nietzche. Fans like to say that his name was hijacked by thugs who didn't understand him, but I think they understood him surprisingly well. If you read what Nietzche actually said you see dozens of parallels with the kind of things that came out of Germany in the 30s. I don't think Nietzche would have approved of Hitler or the Holocaust but that doesn't let him off the hook. The spirit ofNational Socialism owed a lot to Nietzche and it's silly to ignore that.



One of the reasons Nietzche is so hotly debated is that his opinions are so hard to pin down. He's both mild and harsh in the same book, sometimes in the same paragraph. Nice guy, hard guy...it depends which sentense you're reading. It's well known that he was clinically crazy later in life but, reading him, it's hard to resist the notion that he was skewered even in mid-life. He had tons of literary talent but it's hard to imagine that he was ever taken seriously as a philosopher.


The other guy that I don't like is Machievelli. He looks like such a sweet guy in the portrait above, but he was anything but sweet in "The Prince, " which is a truly disturbing book.

I'm familiar with the argument that he was the founder of modern political science and was simply trying to save his city from ruin. It doesn't wash. We already had political science written by the Greeks and Romans. Machievelli simply added venality to it. As for the city falling apart, you wonder if the cure was worse than the disease.
The harm might have been contained if only a handfull of princes had the book but the printing press made it accessable to everyone. All of a sudden lots of ordinary people were wondering if they should fight dirty to get what they wanted. People who stuck to traditional ideals of honesty and charity must have found themselves wondering if they were patsies. I like the modern world but it has an undeniable coarse and abrasive tone to it. Machiavelli's one of the people responsible for that.



Thursday, September 27, 2007

BACKSTAGE AT THEORY CORNER

Tour Guide: "Did you know that every year hundreds of parents and children from local schools take the Theory Corner Tour? Here's the latest bunch, anxiously gathering up their cameras and autograph books as they pull into the parking lot."


Tour Guide: "The studio's all abuzz because today we're filming 'Halloween Story.' It's the scariest thing we've ever done here."

[If you haven't read it yet, "Halloween Story" is the post beneath this one.]
Tour Guide: "The sets are massive! It takes rows of powerful arc lights just to make the the living room set look authentic. Wait, there's Uncle Eddie now! Maybe we can get him to say a few words!"



Uncle Eddie: "Hi kids! Boy, did you luck out! We're just about to film the climax of the story! You're gonna die when you see this!"



Uncle Eddie: "Here's Kali, the photographer! Hey Kali, meet your fans! She's really got a knack for horror! She's always saying, 'More extreme! Exaggerate!', and I do. Gee, I hope my mother doesn't see this stuff!"



Uncle Eddie: "OK, it's time to shoot! You kids stand over there, and don't touch anything! All right, gotta do my breathing exercizes...find my center...that's it...focus on the imaginary kid I'll be talking to..."


Uncle Eddie: "OK...... ready!"



Uncle Eddie "Sooooo little Trick or Treater, you want candy! Candy's all that matters to you, isn't it? I went to all the trouble of putting this bread and butter together but no, that's not good enough for you! It has to be candy!"



Uncle Eddie: "JEZEBEL! People like you give kids a bad name!



Uncle Eddie: "Here, I know you'd like this bread if you only tasted it. Let me cut a slice for you!"


Uncle Eddie: "I KNOW YOU'RE GONNA LIKE IT!!!!"


Kid: "WAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!! (CRIES)


Uncle Eddie: "Huh? What? Hey, it's just a story! Aw, poor little kid! Here, take this lollipop! Er... maybe the tour oughta move on to the next thing."


Angry parents glower at Uncle Eddie as they pass.


Uncle Eddie: "Heh, heh...happy, um... halloween!"


Tour Guide: "This part's for adults only. Fans of Theory Corner know that we frequently have beautiful women discuss philosophy! We get into some pretty heavy stuff here!"


Tour Guide: "Theory Corner spares no expense to find women who actually like philosophy! Lots of times the discussion goes on for hours after the shoot. Sometimes...


Tour Guide: "AAAAAAAA!!!! Who let the little boy in here!?"


Uncle Eddie: "What's the matter!? Are you all right, kid!? Here. Put your head down, you won't feel so sick that way! You know, I know it's hard to believe, but someday you'll actually like to see women like that...honest! Trust me! Um...you're not gonna sue are you?"


Tour Guide: "Well, that's the tour! What do you think?"


Kids: "YAAAAAAAAAAAAYYY!!!!!!!!!



Wednesday, September 26, 2007

GOODBYE!


I'm out of here! I just don't get enough responses to keep a daily blog going! I went to a lot of trouble to put up something decent last night and by mid-afternoon I got only four replies. Four! Man, you guys are hard to please! "Today-I-clipped-my-toenails"-type blogs get more than that. I'm gonna book!
Thanks to all the regulars whose kind letters kept this going for 520 posts. Sorry I had to delete the post containing your current comments in order to put this up. They were all very, very much appreciated. I have a feeling most of us will meet sometime in the future! For now, so long!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A HALLOWEEN STORY

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT.......

SFX: (Knock! Knock! Knock!)


Man: "Hold your horses! I'm coming, I'm coming! Who is it? Whaddaya want!?"



Man: "Oh, a trick or treater! Is it that time of year already? Hmmm. Well come in! Come in!"



Man: "Have a seat! Oh, you'd rather sit over there? Wouldn't you rather...but that's that's alright. Sit wherever you want."


Man: "That was my wife's chair before...before... the accident."


Man: "Actually she was just my last wife. I've had five. They all had...er, accidents. Heh, I guess the house is unlucky."


SFX: Lightning



Man: "Now I know you probably want some candy! Of course you do, you're a kid Well, you're gonna get some! Yesireee!"



Man: "Mildred! Are you listening up there in heaven!? I wanna give this nice kid some candy! Now don't disagree! I promised her candy and I'm gonna give it to her!'


Man: "Huh!? What's that? Candy's too good to give away!? But what about the little kid? What does she get? "


Man: "Oh no! (Gasp!) Not that! It's too gruesome!"


Man: Oh well, whatever you say, dear!


Man: "Now see what happens, kid? You got me all upset. I need to relax. Let's smoke a pen. That always makes me feel better."



Man: ""Ah, a Bic! Bics smoke better than Parkers. It's a better grade of plastic!"



Man: "My first wife used to smoke pens with me."


Man: "Actually, you remind me of her."



SFX: Lightning again.


Man: "How 'bout some bread and butter?"



Man: "You're not interested in bread & butter? Oh, I forgot! You said you wanted candy! "



SFX: Knock! Knock! Knock!



Man: "Huh? Oh, it's more trick or treaters!



Man: "We'll have that bread & butter some other time. You look kind of anxious to leave, anyway."


Man: "By now! See ya later! Don't run too fast!"



Man: "Haw,haw,haw,haw! The old psycho trick always works! Now I have all the candy for myself!"

Man: "Let's face it! Candy bars are too good for kids!"


Photographs by Kali Fontechio