Introducing Kafka, also known as R. Crumb’s Kafka, is an illustrated biography of Franz Kafka by David Zane Mairowitz and Robert Crumb. The book includes comic adaptations of some of Kafka’s most famous works including The Metamorphosis, A Hunger Artist, In the Penal Colony, and The Judgment, as well as brief sketches of his three novels The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika. The book also details Kafka’s biography in a format that is part illustrated essay, part sequential comic panels. The book was released as part of the Introducing… series by Totem Books; the popularity of Crumb’s renditions of Kafka’s works led to additional printings under the title R. Crumb’s Kafka,and its most recent edition by Fantagraphics Books (2007) is simply titled Kafka.
R. Crumb’s Kafka goes far beyond being explication or popularization or survey. It’s a work of art in its own right, a very rare example of what happens when one very idiosyncratic artist absorbs another into his worldview without obliterating the individuality of the absorbed one. Crumb’s art is filled with Kafka’s insurmountable neuroses. They are all there: Gregor Samsa’s sister, the luscious Milena Jesenska, the Advacate’s “nurse” Leni, Olda and Frieda, and the ravishing Dora Diamant-drawn in that mixture of self-command, tantalizing knowingness, and sly sexuality, that amazonian randines and thick-limbed physicality that is Crumb. . . Crumb’s idiosyncratic illustrations add a new dimension to the already idiosyncratic world of Kafka.
The Czech author once wrote: “What do I have in common with the Jews? I don’t even have anything in common with myself.” Nothing could better express the essence of Franz Kafka, a man described by his friends as living behind a “glass wall.” Kafka wrote in the tradition of the great Yiddish storytellers, whose stock-in-trade was bizarre fantasy tainted with hilarity and self-abasement. What he added to this tradition was an almost unbearably expanded consciousness. Alienated from his roots, his family, his surroundings, and primarily from his own body, Kafka created a unique literary language in which to hide away, transforming himself into a cockroach, an ape, a dog, a mole or a circus artiste who starves himself to death in front of admiring crowds.
David Zane Mairowitz’s brilliant text and the illustrations and comic panels of the world’s greatest cartoonist, Robert Crumb (himself no stranger to self-loathing and alienation), help us to understand the essence of Kafka and provide insight beyond the cliche “Kafkaesque,” peering through Kafka’s glass wall like no other book before it. The book is a wonderful educational tool for those unfamiliar with Kafka, including a brief but inclusive biography as well as the plots of many of his works, all illustrated by Crumb, making this newly designed edition a must-have for admirers of both Kafka and Crumb.