Childhood & Early Life
He was born on August 30, 1943 to Charles Crumb and Beatrice as one of their five children. His father had been a Combat Illustrator in the United States Marine Corps. His parents had an unhappy marriage because of which the children suffered.
He loved the animations of Walt Kelly and Fleischer Brothers, and started to draw his own comics along with his brothers. The boys even went door-to-door selling the comics they had made!
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After graduating from high school he went to Cleveland where he found a job at American Greetings where his work was to draw novelty greeting cards. A bohemian at heart who never feared to steer clear of conventions, he met many likeminded individuals during this period.
The greeting card work did not thrill his young mind for long. He began drawing cartoons in his free time and tried selling them to comic book companies with little success.
The cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman printed some of Crumb’s works in 1965 in ‘Help!’ a humor magazine he edited. Encouraged by this, he moved to New York in the hopes of working with Kurtzman, but the magazine’s publication was stopped shortly afterwards.
A disappointed Crumb went on to illustrate bubblegum cards for Topps for a while. Failing to find any meaningful work, he returned to Cleveland and rejoined his old job.
In 1966, he began experimenting with LSD along with his wife, Dana. Using drugs severely altered his thinking, perception and attitude towards life. All this while he had been holding on to a job he hated, but the drug induced such a high that he was unable to cope with his mind numbing job any longer.
During the 1960s counterculture movement was building up in the US and Crumb ditched his job to move to San Francisco to join the movement in 1968. Even though it seemed a rash decision at that time, it would prove to be pivotal in the cartoonist’s career.
He published the Zap Comix #1 in late 1968, at the height of the youth counterculture. It featured his satirical cartoons. Initially 3,500 copies were printed ushering in the underground commix era.
His works became very popular during the late 1960s and 1970s for his satirical humor and explicit sexual content. Crumb was a highly creative person whose works in the underground comics’ scene made him a much loved figure of the counterculture era.
During the 1960s he created the comic book character, Mr. Natural, who first appeared in the premiere issue of ‘Yarrowstalks’. The character who had magical powers, cosmic insights and strange sexual habits was one of Crumb’s most liked creations.
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In 1972, he created the character, Fritz the Cat, an anthropomorphic cat who has wild adventures, often of sexual nature. This comic strip became extremely popular and appeared in magazines like ‘Help!’ and ‘Cavalier’.
He also used to illustrate album covers and from 1974 to 1984 he had drawn at least 17 album covers for Yazoo Records and Blue Goose Records. Some of the covers he illustrated were ‘Cheap Thrills’ and ‘The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead’.
Along with David Zane Mairowitz, he authored ‘Introducing Kafka’, an illustrated biography of Franz Kafka with comical adaptations of some of Kafka’s most famous works. The book was also printed under the title ‘R. Crumb’s Kafka’ in order to cash in on the cartoonist’s popularity.