The early sketchbooks of America's favorite dirty old cartoonist are compiled in a new $1,000 six-volume box set from Taschen: Robert Crumb, Sketchbooks 1964-1982.

“In this earliest work we see the pre-fame Crumb, the pre-marijuana, pre-acid, pre-San Francisco shy goofy boy who was just glad to have scored a chubby, ordinary wife,” editor Dian Hanson tells Co.Design.

"In my youth I had a serious case of graphomania," Crumb writes in the book's introduction. "I hid from the big bad scary world behind my sketchbook."

“The early color work will be a surprise to many who think of him only as a pen and ink, or, famously, a Rapidograph artist," Hanson says.

Since he started using it in 1964, the Koh-I-Noor Number Zero Rapidograph, a technical pen originally designed for architects, has been Crumb's drawing tool of choice.

Crumb started his career drawing novelty cards for the oppressively wholesome American Greetings--a job he found unbearable.

He credits LSD with freeing him up to express feared fantasies in drawings that would lead fellow comic Joyce Brabner’s character in American Splendor to label him “polymorphously perverse."

The third volume is a celebration of the female nude at its most grotesque, hairy, and Amazonian.

Crumb's beloved female sasquatch rambles throughout, evolving from doodles to (very) fleshed-out drawings.

Crumb's deranged sensibility eventually led one Australian tabloid to label him a "self-confessed sex pervert."

It also helped pioneer the underground comix movement and turned Crumb into one of today’s best-known comic artists.

Crumb confesses that he went back and reworked many of the drawings in these sketchbooks that were done during his years of daily pot-smoking and heavy tripping.

Though these images seemed great to his stoned mind at the time, he later realized that drugs made him forget about the technical side of drawing.

Crumb's catchphrase “Keep on Truckin’” appears for the first time in these sketches, as does his character Mr. Natural, “in a wilder, grumpier form than the old soul we came to love,” Hanson says.

“It’s hard to tell looking at his work what might have been drug influence and what’s just the working of his brilliant, eccentric and highly fetishistic mind. I know his fantasies have not changed since he stopped with the LSD," Hanson says.

Each of the 1,000 limited edition copies of the box set comes with a signed original Crumb color print. Maybe selling the print on eBay someday will make the book pay for itself--as the cover art for Mr. Natural #1 sold for $101,575 at Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries in 2007, it's a real possibility.

Co.Design

The Drug-Fueled Early Sketches Of Comic-Book Legend R. Crumb [NSFW]

Sketchbooks from 1964 to 1982 show the evolution of the cartoon world's most notorious dirty old man.

Cartoonist R. Crumb started his career drawing novelty cards for the oppressively wholesome American Greetings—a job he found unbearable. After a particularly enlightening LSD trip in 1966, he decided to quit greeting cards and move to San Francisco’s hippie paradise, where he would spend his days drawing an oversexed feline con artist named Fritz the Cat, a spiritual guru named Mr. Natural, and hundreds of hairy-legged, amply-bottomed women. Though his deranged sensibility eventually led one Australian tabloid to label him a "self-confessed sex pervert," it also helped pioneer the underground comix movement and turned Crumb into one of today’s best-known comic artists.

Now, Crumb’s sketchbooks from this drug-fueled formative era are compiled in a $1,000 six-volume box set from Taschen: Robert Crumb, Sketchbooks 1964-1982. "In this earliest work we see the pre-fame Crumb, the pre-marijuana, pre-acid, pre-San Francisco shy goofy boy who was just glad to have scored a chubby, ordinary wife," the book’s editor, Dian Hanson, tells Co.Design. (Crumb would divorce this first wife, Dana, and go on to marry comic artist Aline Kominsky. He also briefly dated* Hanson, former editor of Juggs Magazine and Taschen’s current Sexy Books editor.)

In 1,344 pages of work hand-picked by the artist and reproduced directly from his sketchbooks, we see the shy, goofy greeting card illustrator flower into the dirty old master cartoonist we know today. "In my youth I had a serious case of graphomania," Crumb writes in the book's introduction. "I hid from the big bad scary world behind my sketchbook." And he got a ton of work done that way. Over the 18-year period, "his style becomes tighter and more uniform, his subject matter less restrained," Hanson says. "The early color work will be a surprise to many who think of him only as a pen and ink, or, famously, a Rapidograph artist." Since he started using it in 1964, the Koh-I-Noor Number Zero Rapidograph, a technical pen originally designed for architects, has been Crumb's drawing tool of choice.

Drug imagery crops up in the late ’60s, with one rainbow crayon picture of a tree labeled "My LSD Coloring Book." Crumb's catchphrase "Keep on Truckin’" appears for the first time, as does Mr. Natural, "in a wilder, grumpier form than the old soul we came to love," Hanson says. The third volume is a celebration of the female nude at its most grotesque and Amazonian—Crumb's beloved female sasquatch rambles throughout, evolving from doodles to (very) fleshed-out drawings.

Crumb confesses that he went back and reworked many of the drawings in sketchbooks that were done during his years of daily pot-smoking and heavy tripping. Though these images seemed great to his stoned mind at the time, he later realized that drugs made him forget about the technical side of drawing. "The line quality became loose, formless, slovenly," he writes in the book's introduction.

"He’s tightened these images up, redrawn the lines, making many images in effect new," Hanson says. "It’s hard to tell looking at his work what might have been drug influence and what’s just the working of his brilliant, eccentric and highly fetishistic mind. I know his fantasies have not changed since he stopped with the LSD." Crumb credits LSD with freeing him up to express feared fantasies in drawings that would lead fellow comic Joyce Brabner’s character in American Splendor to label him "polymorphously perverse" (a bit less damning than the tabloid's label).

By the mid-’70s, "his style is perfected, his fantasies complex," Hanson says. "I suppose that so-called subversion is at its height." But the shock value wanes in Volume 6, when Crumb’s daughter Sophie is born. "A whole soft and loving side kicks in," Hanson says. In some ways, it might seem like he’s come full circle, back to the goofiness of his pre-drug whirlwind and settled down as a family man of sorts. "Has he grown less subversive now? He’s grown old, is a doting grandpa, and works less, so on paper, yes. In his mind? I think he’s the same guy, full of unusual and sometimes unpopular, but always interesting, opinions."

Each of the 1,000 limited edition copies of the box set comes with a signed original Crumb color print. Maybe selling the print on eBay someday will make the book pay for itself—as the cover art for Mr. Natural #1 sold for $101,575 at Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries in 2007, it's a real possibility.

Robert Crumb, Sketchbooks 1964-1982 is available for $1000.

*Hanson clarified the nature of the relationship in a follow-up email: "We were never partners or full time lovers or anything. He and Aline have an open marriage and when he and I met in the 80s we hooked up, so to speak, a very small number of times and then continued to this day as friends."

[Images: Courtesy of Robert Crumb/TASCHEN]

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1 Comments

  • Wagner Ferreira

    I love the work of Robert Crumb and I recomend everyone to watch "Crumb", an intimate portrait of the controversial cartoonist and his traumatized family and "The Confessions of Robert Crumb", where he presents himself. To konw more, go to IMDB.