Zap Snatch & Crumb: Cartoonist R. Crumb on His Creative Inspirations
The three artists were examining a cover proof sheet, a cartoon drawing of a bristly male nude suspended in foetal position, his genitals a long electric cord plugged into a wall socket. He was surrounded by a burst of yellow that paled out over a blue ground into a billious green.
“It works better than the dick plugged into his ass. This looks more like an embryo.”
“I redrew him. It’s more like the acid vision I had.” The scene was an editorial conference for Zap Comix, the proof a cover for Zap Zero, which is being published simultaneously with Zap No. 3. Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso, two of Zap’s four regular contributors, were gathered in the studio of Robert Crumb, designer of the cover cartoon, Zap’s founder and presiding genius, creator of Angelfood McSpade and Mr. Natural, and also originator of a more recent comic book called “Snatch.”
Crumb (it’s his real name), 25 years old and entirely self-taught, a former designer of comic greetings and bubble-gum cards, is a pioneer and near legendary figure of the underground comic renaissance which is spawning new publications all over the country, the biggest revolution in pop art since the rock dance poster.
It is, in part, an extension of the dance poster, or at least that branch of poster art which emphasized funky farce, hallucinatory metamorphoses, erotic fantasies and native Americana.
It is also a new phase in the tradition of so-called “sick” humor. It was never sick, of course, but is the really sane voice in the wilderness, a parody of “realities” which are themselves gross parodies and therefore striking on both levels, the shock of absurdity and the shock of truth. Crumb is a direct descendent of Lenny Bruce, but working with the tools of a visual age and without Bruce’s alienation, or rather, in an age when alienation is a majority feeling; the inward turning bitterness of isolation has yielded to a sense of solidarity which no longer requires a defensive exclusiveness, but can absorb, synthesize and have genuine fun with all the traditionally maligned trivia of American mass culture.
Zap is the most effective publication of the underground comic renaissance thus far, with the possible exception of Snatch; Zap has been removed from sale in at least three cities (Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Boston) since the first issue came out last March, but a Berkeley book dealer was recently busted for selling Snatch almost as soon as it hit the stands.
A strong ingredient in Zap’s success is the uncanny cohesiveness of its four major artists (Crumb, Moscoso, Griffin and S. Clay Wilson), who are as attuned to one another’s work and receptive to mutual influence as a tightly integrated band. But the main ingredient of both magazines is Crumb, whose cartoon style is a fantastic synthesis of all that was best in the history of American cartooning—Popeye, Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, Little Orphan Annie—with the conviction and integrity of a comic artist of the Thirties or Forties only now coming to the surface.
Crumb’s studio—the back room of a second-story Victorian flat a block away from the ruins of Haight Street—is a cluttered compendium of pop relics: Old and new posters, food containers, toys, tops, bubble-gum cards which he drew during an earlier career as a free-lance commercial artist. Crumb is tall, thin, bespectacled and self-effacing, preferring to let his work speak for itself but eventually warming to your own enthusiasm and rapping with great articulateness.
The underground comics phenomenon is “a weird, parallel thing of my generation now coming to the surface,” Crumb said. “When I started putting out the comic strips, people popped up all over. We’re trying to reproduce the things that turned us on when we were kids.
“I grew up reading comic books and watching television,” he added. “It’s all I know. The artists of any time use what’s available. A certain segment always tries to maintain traditional forms—keep painting alive because painting is great. Bullshit.
“What appeals to me about comics? It’s hard to pin down. The whole thing, the whole media. Just about anything done in it is interesting.
“People still think of comic books as being for kids—books with words are for grownups, books with pictures are for children. It’s the whole McLuhan thing—breaking out of linear ways of thinking.
“Partly, it’s a nostalgia thing. Comics are an American folk art form. The way to turn people’s heads is to take a medium they’re familiar with and then do something new in the old medium. Hippie artists have a tendency to try to be exotic; rather than embracing the whole thing they came out of, they reject it. It turns me on to absorb the whole culture we came out of—comic strips, advertisements, bottle caps.”