R. Crumb: Odds and Ends

Reviews by Steven Heller
602 words4 min read

For me Crumb has been the comics deity since the early 60s when I saw his comic strip travelogue of Harlem, New York, published in the old Help magazine (edited by Harvey Kurtzman) and later his ‘Fritz the Cat’ in the long defunct men’s magazine, Cavalier. I was just a pre-adolescent kid when first introduced to Crumb’s work. Too young to appreciate the craziness of Time cover artist Boris Artzybasheff or MAD magazine artist, Basil Wolverton, I was raised on the dry pabulum of Sgt. Rock and Archie comics. Crumb’s blasphemous disregard for the infamous Comics Code taboos was a revelation and the beginning of a comics resurrection. By my early teens I felt a sense of liberation when Crumb’s more ribald comics began appearing in underground newspapers - and then came Zap #1 jammed packed with anti-social, counter-cultural lunacy. The power of Crumb not only moved me, it influenced a generation of us.


Crumb is arguably the most well documented artist of our time. In addition to his own books, there are Terry Zwigoff’s 1995 documentary confessional Crumb, and Monte Beauchamp’s The Life and Times of R. Crumb an anthology of reflections on his widespread influence. Virtually every detail of Crumb’s work, - from over a dozen personal sketchbooks to a volume of dinner place-mat doodles, as well as a full-size coffee table book – has also been published during the past three decades. So I thought it would be impossible to find even a scrap of minutia that has not been reproduced. But now comes R. Crumb: Odds and Ends a trove of numerous bits and pieces of long lost or forgotten Crumb-stuff culled from his personal archives and selected by Crumb himself. Rather than a trifling catch-all of cast-a-ways, I believe that this book is of the most important Crumb documents yet. Indeed the collection would be impressive if it was just one artist’s body of work, but that it is the detritus that time forgot makes it all the more fascinating. Of course, some very early stuff is shown for the first time: Crumb’s first commercial greeting cards, ironically published by the master of cute, American Greetings, and his sarcastic Monster greeting parodies for Topps Bubblegum Co. that show a cracked comic genius on the ready. Then there are the artifacts that time forgot, but I still remember, like the one that reveals his obsessions with popular culture, the 1965 ode to the tail fin, ‘The Heap Years of the Auto 1946-1959.’ Gratefully preserved are some wonderful covers from 1968 for the East Village Other and my favorite cover for a 1969 Meatball magazine. There are various logos, bookplates, and other pieces of graphic design. And his realistic drawings – man, can he draw – of the famous, obscure, and women (plenty-o-women). But for me the best revelations are the covers for the arcane Winds Of Change newspaper out of Yolo County California, where Crumb lived, and which were produced in the early 80s. This local gazette is a extraordinary showcase for all Crumb’s myriad eccentricities (and a great sampler of his comic hand lettering. The rest of the book includes a fantastic array of drawings, paintings, and even a couple of life-size sculptures of the zofitic lassies Crumb has been known to fondly fondle.

Crumb is not the spokesman for any generation, but he has transformed his quirks into great art. This book is a reliquary of the saint of the absurd, and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that he will always be the god of comics.

  • Art director of the New York Times Book Review and founder and co-chair of the School of Visual Arts, New York MFA/Design Program. He is the former editor of the AIGA Journal of Graphic Design and author or editor of over 80 books on popular culture, graphic design history, and political art. His most recent books include The Graphic Design Reader, Allworth Press, The Education of a Design Designer, Allworth Press, and Counter Culture: The Allure of Mini-Mannequins, Princeton Architectural Press. His forthcoming books include: From Merz to Emigre and Beyond: Progressive Magazine Design of the 20th Century, Phaidon Press, Cuba Style: Graphics From the Golden Age of Design, Princeton Architectural Press, and Graphic Humor: The Art of Graphic Wit, Allworth Press.