R. Crumb rarely grants interviews, but he did get on the phone this week with Los Angeles Times writer Deborah Vankin, who will be covering the more literary-minded end of the comic sector for Hero Complex, and the conversation veered from corporate greed to senior sex to his upcoming work with his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb.
DV: What comics are you reading these days?
RC: All I read anymore is investigative journalism. You name it. Scandalous political stuff, the pharmaceutical industry, all that crap. I’m fascinated by that stuff. There’s many heroic underappreciated investigative journalists. Celia Farber, Jon Stauber – “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You” is a great book. Naomi Klein – Jesus, I read her latest book and found that really impressive. “The Shock Doctrine.”
DV: “Genesis,” which was a success both critically and commercially, is behind you, what are you working on these days?
RC: Aline and I are working on a collaborative book together. It’s from WW Norton. Since “Genesis” sold well, they’re up for anything I’m involved in. We did stuff for the New Yorker over the years, short pieces, and before that we did comics together. Mostly it’s gonna be a gathering up of older stuff that we did for the New Yorker. And we’re doing one new story.
DV: Is it autobiographical?
RC: Yeah, yeah, kinda. It’s about getting old and failing. Aline says it’s about senior sex.
[At this point Aline yells in background: “It’s not a pretty sight!”]
DV: But you guys have been married a long time now. You must have a good thing going. Any advice?
RC: It’s been a long time, we got married in ’78. If you’re jealous it’s doomed. Doomed. The two people have to respect each other and give each other room to breathe.
[Another yell from Aline: "Slack on the leash!"]
DV: You left the U.S. 19 years ago — how’s life in France?
RC: It’s good, life is good here. Good quality of life. All I can say is: You can keep Los Angeles. No, seriously, what’s not to like? You’re not constantly bombarded … there’s some room to breathe from that constant corporate propaganda that America is saturated with. You don’t know how saturated you are with that. Here it’s not to the degree that it is there. They resisted. The French hold onto their traditions. I was always so alienated in America. My work was this constant reaction to that. And I don’t have that here. So it’s different.
DV: That must have some influence on your work.
RC: Yeah, probably. I couldn’t characterize exactly how, but I’m sure it has. Maybe I’m less angry. I don’t know. Actually, I’m not less angry. When I go back to America, after a few days I am once again filled with this kind of angry alienation and disgust with this thing there that America has got – you have no idea how pervasive it is there. The public relations and propaganda put out by the corporate mono-culture there is so pervasive. When I’m over here, I look at America and think,‘Why are people not more angry about what’s going on? Why are the people not more up in arms?’ I mean the banks and all that stuff? Good God. How can they stand it? The thing about the corporate approach is it’s smart and it knows how to distract people really well with entertainment. It doesn’t just take, it gives back in this smarmy way… they give you this seemingly McDonald’s version of the good life which is completely phony and fake, from top to bottom. It pacifies the people.
DV: So do you come back to the U.S. for inspiration, then — if you could call it that? To get in touch with what triggers this anger – which, then, informs you work?
RC: I don’t go back for that reason, but it certainly brings it all back, the bile starts to rise. It’s keeps your edge up. [Aline yells something in the background.] Aline says to say that it’s her mother every year in Miami, just to get a dose of that. She goes to the beauty parlor there just to have that experience.
DV: Have you connected with the art or cartooning community in France?
RC: No. We have nothing to do with the cartooning world here, nothing whatsoever. Our daughter does more than we do. She knows some of the young French cartoonists.
[Aline again: “Speak for yourself!”]
HC: Do you miss it – the Zap comix days?
RC: No, I don’t. That was like 30, 40 years ago, that’s long gone. I have no interest in that anymore.
– Deborah Vankin
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UPDATE: An earlier version of this post had a headline that misstated R. Crumb’s quote from the body in the article. The old headline incorrectly cited it as “I’m a lot less angry.”