Listen to a scratchy “R. Crumb and His Cheap Suit Serenaders” album, bite into a “Devil Girl Choco-Bar (It's BAD for you!)” or follow the misadventures of Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat: All roads lead to Robert Crumb. Known for his voluptuous women, skinny, sex-crazed men and subversive cultural commentary, the artist could be called sexist, racist or genius — but don't dare call him predictable.
For his latest trick, the perverted uncle of underground comics is bringing a whole new readership to (of all things) the Bible. Avid Crumb fans are more likely to expect tiny men crawling into an earth mother's nether regions and out her mouth than to see his interpretation of the Begats, or all 50 chapters of the Book of Genesis. But the first book of the Bible may be thematically closer to traditional Crumb material than is first obvious. Incest, sodomy, prostitution, lust, violence and bloodshed not only are salt and pepper in the Old Testament, they're also the meat, potatoes, side courses and desserts. Moreover, R. Crumb's fascination with Jewish women just may have found its climax in the likes of Eve, Judith and Rachel, who all bear a striking resemblance to his wife, Aline Kominsky Crumb, a comic genius in her own right.
While Robert Crumb is known for subverting the ordinary into the profane, it's remarkable to see his trademark style used to depict the sacred. Anyone who's seen Terry Zwigoff's 1994 documentary, “Crumb,” will agree that the artist has a complex raft of issues. Born in Philadelphia in 1943, he took first job as a greeting card illustrator for American Greetings in Cleveland, Ohio, resigned to a life of comics, cats and old records. But when the proverbial lightning bolt of fame struck through the guise of Zap Comix in '60s San Francisco, Crumb was catapulted into an orgiastic, prolific and well-documented life. The outcast's outcast now lives in the South of France with his wife and daughter.
An excellent exhibit of Crumb's work, “Zap! Comic Prints,” is on display at the University of Richmond, and FranAoise Mouly, art editor for The New Yorker magazine, will interview Crumb at the Carpenter Theatre on Oct. 27, an appearance sponsored by UR's Modlin Center.
“This is a once in a lifetime event, because Crumb doesn't like people,” says Patrick Godfrey, owner of Richmond's Velocity Comics. “It will be a while before he finishes another book and he's not getting any younger.”
“He's literally a living legend,” Godfrey says — “as important as any comic artist out there. There are only a small handful of people who've earned the reputation he has.” Godfrey adds that “The Book of Genesis” is flying off his shelves. All reet! At long last hip bibliophiles have a suitable gift for the next family bar mitzvah or baptism.
Robert Crumb and FranAoise Mouly will be at the Carpenter Theatre on Oct. 27 at 7:30 p.m., as sponsored by UR's Modlin Center, Velocity Comics and Chop Suey Books. Call 800-745-3000 or visit ticketmaster.com for tickets or visit modlin.richmond.edu for information.