Twisted Comix, Bendable Babes
An interview with R. Crumb
Published August 4, 1999 in Dirt

He would do the interview on one condition: He wanted a contortionist who could bend herself into a pose resembling his Devil Girl statue. Not just any contortionist, mind you, but a big woman with massive legs and tits, suitable for riding piggyback. And, of course, she had to have clunky black shoes.

See also...
... in the Dirt section
... from August 4, 1999

Interviewing Robert Crumb, the father of underground comics, creator of Zap, subject of an award-winning documentary and notoriously interview-shy guy, would be a coup. R. Crumb has been called a misogynist, a genius, a racist, and America's greatest living artist. He also happens to live in France, so we couldn't miss the chance to get him one-on-one. But where the hell were we going to find a contortionist?

Well, we couldn't get a professional contortionist, but we did find someone who fit Crumb's criteria. GettingIt invited Tigger LaTwang, go-go dancer, lead singer of the Glamour Pussies, and all-around limber person to meet us at Modernism, a high-brow San Francisco art gallery, before moving on to a local bar.

What followed, aside from Crumb's bending, stretching, pulling, and twisting Tigger, was a free-flowing conversation between Crumb, Terry Zwigoff (director of the documentary Crumb), Missy Axelrod, GettingIt editors Cara Bruce and Mat Honan, and, of course, Tigger.

GettingIt: Who's your favorite comic artist these days?

R. CRUMB: I guess Dan Clowes. I also like Richard Altergun. He doesn't do very much work, but he's great. There's a lot of good comic artists now that are younger kids. It's a young person's medium, comics. It's hard to keep it up when you get older.

GI: What isn't hard to keep up when you get old?

RC: Maybe that's it [Laughs]. You know, you got to be on your toes, quick on your feet, nimble, you know, fast and energetic.

GI: …to be a comic artist?

RC: Yes, to be prolific and keep coming up with funny, amusing ideas and all. You see those old farts that do those strips in the newspaper that are just terrible. They're dead, they're dull, they're boring.

GI: Do you want to talk about the Zap thing? I don't know what you want to call it, a fight? There was a lot of speculation about what happened.

RC: The Zap incident? It's not a big deal. It's all in the comic. I did a two-page comic about it and that's exactly what happened. I explained to those guys years ago that I just kind of wanted to quit the title and let it drop. They just couldn't let it drop. I guess they felt there was still some glory in that title. They felt like they were a rock band or something, "We're like a band, you can't quit, you know. Look at the Rolling Stones, they still go on." [Laughs] But I didn't feel that way. I didn't feel I was in a band [Laughing].

GI: How do you feel about the whole fame thing? Do you have people showing up at your house in France?

RC: Yeah, a guy showed up at my house at like four in the morning once. He had taken a taxi from Marseilles -- which is three hours away. He's knocking on my door and I look out the bedroom window and I look down at him and say, "Who is it? What do you want?" And he says, "Hey Crumb, oh man, I fucked up. I really fucked up." And he actually fell down in the street weeping. And I said, "What the hell? What the hell are you doing?" I was half asleep. He said he took this taxi from Marseilles and he didn't realize it was gonna cost 'cause he didn't realize how far it was to my village. It cost 1000 francs which is like $200.

GI: This is a friend of yours?

RC: No, I didn't know him. He was from New York. He showed up with his Korean wife. She was carrying all the luggage.

GI: Well, did you let them in?

RC: My wife got up and said, "what's going on?" I said, "this guy, he wanted to come in and see me." She says, "Don't let him in." I say, "You can't leave him out there. It's winter. You can't leave him out in the street. He says he doesn't have enough money for the taxi." So, I had to come out and give the cab driver 500 francs and he cursed a bit and left. I let the guy in, and my wife was so pissed off about it. She said, "that's a stupid thing to do, you should have called." The guy says, "I know, I really fucked up." He was really a jerk. So we sat there in the kitchen with him until about 7:30 in the morning and then put him on a bus. I gave him the money for the bus and sent him back to Marseilles.

GI: Is there a big artist community where you live?

RC: There are a lot of artists around there, mostly bad. The French government supports art, they give a lot of money to art. So there's all these bad artists just living off the government. So atrociously bad, you can't believe how bad it is. Openings all the time, so much nonsense, art nonsense and music nonsense, dance nonsense. It goes on all the time there. The French live for the pretty things.

GI: You don't like most modern art?

RC: No, awful. I can't believe it goes on and on, how bad art just goes on, crappy abstracted shit. It looks like, like that stuff we saw yesterday… like stuff by retards.

GI: What did you see?

RC: Student art at the [San Francisco] Art Institute. It was just…wretched. Well, [students] get confused and intimidated by the teachers, and then they don't know what they're doing anymore, they become unsure of themselves, lose their own footing. Same thing in France, the same bullshit.

GI: If you were coming of age in the '90s, would you still go into comics or would you go into computers?

RC: Geez, I have no idea. I would have been raised on a whole different set of cultural inputs. When I was a little kid, comics were at their peak. You know, the first comics of the '40s and '50s. Now there's no good mainstream comics. So, God knows what kids today are influenced by…computer games.

GI: Are you into computers at all?

RC: No, don't touch 'em. It's amazing in America. Everybody I know in America now spends some time on the computer. In France, personal computers are not happening. It's just not happening. Here, it's amazing. Everybody does it at their job, or for recreation, or... People stare at that screen all day, it's incredible. It's what you gotta do now.

GI: Have you seen eBay?

RC: Yeah, it's amazing. It's impressive as hell, incredible. Revolutionary.

GI: Isn't some of your art on eBay?

RC: Oh, yeah. It's amazing. But I'm not attracted to it. It's amazing but I guess I'm stuck in the 19th century. I guess I don't read too good.

GI: You like the physical paper?

RC: Yeah, I like paper and pens and stationery supplies…

GI: And girls.

RC: Guh-guh-guh-girls. Real girls that you can feel, and they're rubbery and warm.

GI: That's why you can't give up the Devil Girl statue. How long did it take you to make?

RC: Months and months of labor… every day. It was an incredible amount of work. I'll never do it again [Laughs].

Part of the problem was that I wanted the anatomy to be correct with that statue, you know, like working on that knee that's jutted up, I got all these women and I would be like: "Can I see your knee?" I couldn't get the knee right. Every woman's knee was different. No two knees are alike.

Of course actually getting somebody to get anywhere near that pose was impossible. I have photos of some Chinese contortionist girls who can actually sit on their own head like that [Laughs]. But they didn't have the right build. But at least they're in the right position [Laughs].

GI: Did you make that for yourself, originally?

RC: Yeah, sure. I made her so I could climb on her. I spent so much time and so much concentration working on her that, as the form started to really become sharp and clear, she started talking to me. I was with her so much, obsessed with her, really…It was so weird to just start hearing her voice while I was working on her, you know. She'd say, "put little hearts on my socks!"

GI: You actually heard her talking?

RC: Yeah, I'd hear her voice in my head. Very strange.

GI: Did she suggest that you put her little pussy there too?

RC: No, that was my idea.

GI: So why do you hate women? [One of the most common criticisms leveled at R. Crumb is that he's a blatant misogynist.]

RC: Why do you hate men? Everybody… it's the battle of the sexes. Love 'em, hate 'em, you know how it is. You go around and around with it.

GI: But why do you like to bend 'em?

RC: Why do I like to bend women? It's thrilling. And they're so bendable. Women are way more flexible than men. It's a thrill. I don't know. Why do guys develop any fixation, fetish? It's a mystery.

GI: You're very particular about the shoes women wear.

RC: I'm very particular about the shoes, yes. They have to be just so. It's embarrassing, all that stuff, but there it is, you know. The thing about all those embarrassing fetishes is you feel real lonely with those things. You're hiding them inside yourself and there's this strong desire to talk about it, to share it, and nobody really wants to hear about it. It's almost a suffering thing to go around harboring these fetishes.

GI: How's your sex drive? How would you compare it to your youth?

RC: When I was young I could get it up for any girl in any situation. I got it up in situations -- now looking back -- I can't believe. The girl had a polio leg, all kinds of really...I was desperate. But now everything has to be just so and all the particulars have to be in place. I have to practice this kind of Tantric sexual yoga stuff in order to keep the...You have to pace yourself as you get older. When you're young you're just obsessed. I was obsessed. That's all I ever thought about, morning, noon and night.

GI: You're not as horny now?

RC: Slightly less horny. You get more control of your urges. It's easier to control, that's all. Less tendency to be always touching yourself down there.

But there's other things in life. When I was young it was just impossible. I used to think I should control it, but I couldn't. I think it would be a good idea to be less obsessed and work on other things, spiritual things, like that [Laughs]. It just wasn't possible until, I don't know, last week [Everyone laughs].

GI: Your head is still always turning.

RC: I guess that's true. It always embarrasses my daughter Sophie. She says "Dad, you're so obvious. Stop it!" A couple of times she physically took my head and turned it back around [Laughs].

GI: How old is your daughter?

RC: She's 17.

GI: She grew up in France, right?

RC: Yeah, she was nine when we moved there, so she's totally French. Not totally, actually. She's not as deferential to men as the French girls are. She wasn't raised that way. French girls her age are almost all focused on what the boy wants to do and what the boy likes. She's more independent than that.

Some French boys like that, some of them don't at all. I'm glad she's not like those French girls.

GI: How does Ailene [Ailene Kominsky, RC's wife] feel about these yearly trips you make to visit girlfriends back in the States?

RC: You'd have to ask her. I don't know. [Pauses] She puts up with it.

GI: What does Sophie think about it?

RC: She puts up with it too. She doesn't approve of it very much either. I don't really talk about it with Soph too much, I don't tell her what I'm doing down here. I don't tell her I'm going to fuck some other girl or anything. And she doesn't ask.

GI: Well, Sophie's read all of your comics now I guess?

RC: No, Sophie has not read my comics. She doesn't want to know. She can't handle it, you know. She's too young, she just doesn't want to look at it -- to see that her daddy drew all this raunchy, perverted sex stuff. She really can't deal with it. Someday I think she will, but...I don't even think I could have dealt with my own comics when I was that age. When I was 17, I couldn't have looked at it, either.

GI: Do you have anything you're working on right now you'd like to talk about?

RC: I just finished a comic book which I just gave to be published to Last Gasp. It's called Mystic Funnies…It's got mysticism and sex in it.

GI: Robert, you did the cover to this record [referring to "Cheap Thrills" playing on jukebox].

RC: I did the cover to this record?

GI: Yeah. This is Janis Joplin. You did the cover to this record.

RC: [Laughs, sarcastically] Awesome.