R. Crumb is a Underground Comics creator best known for Zap Comix, "Keep on Truckin'", Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural and the album cover for Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills. He began his career working for Topps and the American Greetings corporation; there, he drew several of the earliest Fritz the Cat comics and the graphic novel Oggie and the Beanstalk. He had some work published by Harvey Kurtzman in Help! magazine, but experiences with LSD led him to create some of his best-known comics, which he either published himself or submitted to other underground publications.
Some of this work earned him a lot of criticism from other underground cartoonists and social commentators. Works depicting Blackface-inspired imagery and use of the N-Word earned Crumb false accusations of racism, even though the comics were actually a satire of racism, not racist work in of itself. Harder to deny, however, was Crumb's rampant misogyny: his comics frequently featured women being beaten up and raped, and even enjoying being sexually assaulted. Crumb commentators have associated this viewpoint with Crumb's then-unhappy marriage, noting that after remarrying and having a daughter, Crumb has drawn significantly more feminist-themed material since the 1980s.
Became famous again in the 1990s as the subject of the critically-acclaimed biopic Crumb, which is similar in many ways to American Splendor, the semi-autobiographical adaptation of the life of fellow underground cartoonist Harvey Pekar, which Crumb also contributed to. Other artists heavily influenced by Crumb include Bill Griffith, Larry Gonick, and (early) Art Spiegelman.
Most recently, Crumb illustrated a comic book adaptation of the Book of Genesis. No, really!
R. Crumb provides examples of these tropes:
- Art Evolution: Crumb's art style has become more realistic over time.
- Art Shift: After Crumb began using LSD.
- Author Appeal: Crumb explains his ideal female body type here.
- Blackface: This imagery is frequently satirized in Crumb's work, which was ironically accused of being racist itself, even though the intent was actually to satirize racism. Considering American Splendor and his more realistic portrayals of African-Americans (including portraits of blues musicians he admired), Crumb did not use blackface imagery outside of his satires (including "Angelfood McSpade" and the parody ad for "Nigger Hearts").
- Batman Gambit: Mr. Natural uses this, making people even angrier because they realize how predictable they are.
- Born in the Wrong Century: Crumb is very fond of the 1920s and 1930s and generally hates almost any aspect of modern life after the 1940s. It's a theme that can be found in his work as well.
- Butt Monkey: Flakey Floont
- Creator Backlash: Crumb hated the Fritz the Cat movie so much he killed the character shortly after. Fritz is killed by a jealous ex-girlfriend while he's on his way to a talk show to promote his movie.
- Creator Thumbprint: Among his non-sexual interests include classic cartoons and comics, blues and jazz music. He has an express dislike for modern-sounding music, recounting that he "fell asleep" at The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix concerts, and thought that certain modern blues musicians would be more appealing to him if they played acoustic guitars, finding the sound of the electric guitar to be intolerable. Crumb also founded a retro-based band, the Cheap Suit Serenaders, which plays 1930s acoustic jazz and blues songs. (Another known member of the band, Terry Zwigoff, later directed the documentary Crumb, and some mainstream films like Ghost World, Art School Confidential, and Bad Santa.)
- Everybody Must Get Stoned: Many of his best-known Underground Comics were created under the influence of LSD use, which significantly affected his art style.
- Fetish Fuel: It's never disputed by fans or critics that many of the fetishes depicted by Crumb in his comics are his own, and he even admits as such that Author Appeal heavily applies to his works. Crumb enjoys bean-shaped bodies and piggie-back rides.
- He's said that he learned how to make comics by drawing women for his personal use.
- Foot Focus: More of a style than a fetish, but R. Crumb's work is known for characters with comparatively tiny heads, big noses and outrageously disproportionate feet. Female characters, however, are zaftig, with huge thighs.
- Furry Fandom: Mostly enjoyed and drew only Funny Animal comics when he was younger; later in his career, he became less interested in this genre, and rarely draws anthropomorphic characters these days.
- He-Man Woman Hater: Many of Crumb's comics were blatantly misogynistic, depicting abuse, assault and rape of women. His portrayals of women got better in the 1980s, however.
- Hermit Guru: Mr. Natural.
- Incest Is Relative: One of Crumb's most infamous stories, "Joe Blow," depicts this in father/daughter mother/son variance.
- Jesus Was Way Cool: "Cheezis K. Reist in: Hamburger Hi-Jinx", in which an Angel Unaware learns about the Circle of Life from a talking hamburger and relish.
- Journal Comic: Dirty Laundry, which he co-wrote with his wife.
- Matzo Fever: Frequently references his love of Jewish women in his comics.
- Mushroom Samba
- New Age Retro Hippie: Mr. Natural and his friends are the ur-example. Especially as they were stereotyped as such in R. Crumb's comics before anyone outside San Francisco knew what a hippie was.
- Non-Standard Character Design: Alice would draw herself in Dirty Laundry while almost everything else was drawn by Robert. This led to an in-comic argument over her art skill.
- Parody: Often, due to the Mad influence.
- Popcultural Osmosis: Even if you've never heard of his work, you've seen "Mr. Natural" and his famous motto, "Keep on Truckin'!!" and other big-footed Crumb characters on the mudflaps of hippie truckers and bikers everywhere.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Outside of his parodies, LSD-inspired comics and Funny Animal work, Crumb is best known for autobiographical material drawn people and events in his real life. Crumb also drew some of the artwork for Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, which is in the same vein, although not quite as grotesque as Crumb's often-disturbing depictions of his sexual history and fetishes.
- The Sixties: Icon of the 1960s and 1970s, but broke into mainstream attention again with the movie Crumb.
- The Bible: Adapted and drew The Book of Genesis Illustrated. Played straight throughout.
- Underground Comics: Considered by many to be the Trope Codifier
- Write Who You Know: Many of the characters in Crumb's comics, particularly his autobiographical work, are drawn from his actual friends and family.
- Zeerust: Many of Crumb's early comics are drawn in a style deliberately imitative of old 1920's-1930's era comics and advertisements, right down to the racial caricatures.