Robert Crumb, world-famous illustrator and definite pervert, got his start in the underground comics scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book
is a collection of his best work from the last 50 years (it's got kids stuff, too, which is pretty fascinating). The volume is a welcome reminder that, screwed up as Crumb may be, he's also a tremendously talented, utterly original artist. He artistically embodies a certain segment of the '60s, and as that fades even further into history, Crumb's material becomes more important. Is The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book
funny? Yes, certainly, in a coarse, Rabelaisian way; you'll either find it a hoot, or horribly racist and sexist. And it's not for the kiddies, obviously. But R. Crumb is so well known by now, that you probably know which group you fall into, the lovers or the haters. The lovers will find this book a wonderful treat.
Since Crumb is still widely considered an "underground" comix artist and best known for his hippie-era work, this lavish mounting of his art may seem inappropriate or ironic. But few other figures in the comics field really merit such treatment, nor would their work profit as much from this volume's oversize pages and high-quality reproduction. The collection samples the full range of Crumb's diverse production, from juvenilia and psychedelia to lovingly rendered sketchbook pages and recent autobiographical, confessional stories. Almost as rewarding are Crumb's hand-lettered commentaries, scattered throughout, that reveal the idiosyncrasies and obsessions behind the comics, which viewers of the acclaimed documentary film Crumb
(1994) will recognize. Although, unfortunately, it covers up Crumb's distinctive crosshatched line work, the addition of color to much of the originally black-and-white art may enhance its appeal for some, and although 40 bucks may seem steep for a "comic book," this is a thoroughly worthwhile purchase for libraries that don't want to commit to Fantagraphics' ongoing complete Crumb project. Gordon Flagg