Crumb and Mairowitz Introducing Kafka

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 and Robert Crumb

 
 

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.

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Good Ol’ Gregor Brown

Robert Sikoryak is an American artist whose work is usually signed R. Sikoryak. Born in New Jersey (1964), Sikoryak earned his BFA from the Parsons School of Design in 1987. Shortly after graduating from Parsons, Sikoryak worked on staff at Raw (a more intellectual counterpoint to Robert Crumb‘s visceral Weirdo), before embarking on a freelance cartooning career.

He specializes in making comic adaptations of literature classics, producing a mashup of high and low cultures. Under the series title Masterpiece Comics, these include Crime and Punishment rendered in Bob Kane–era Batman style, becoming Dostoyevsky Comics, starring Raskol; and Waiting for Godot mixed with Beavis and Butt-Head, becoming Waiting to Go. In Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, told in the style of Charles Schulz, Sikoryak decides to tell the story as if this was yet another problem of Good Ol’ Gregor Brown

 
 

Tender or Mischievous

Albrecht Durer, Young Hare

 
 

Vincent Van Gogh, Field with Two Rabbits

 
 

Drawing from original manuscript of Alice in Wonderland illustrated by Lewis Carroll

 
 

John Tenniel, White Rabbit

 
 

Illustration by Arthur Rackham

 
 

Salvador Dalí, Down the Rabbit Hole

 
 

Norman Rockwell

 
 

According to Arthur Paul, the designer of the playboy logo, he chose the rabbit because of its “humorous sexual connotation” and also because the representation was “frisky and playful”. The playboy logo is undoubtedly mischievous in its nature.

 
 

Robert Crumb’s drawing

 
 

Andy Warhol

 
 

Boy-By-The-Sea1Terence Koh, Boy by the Sea (2008)

 
 

Jeff Koons

 
 

Illustration by Han Hoogerbrugge

 
 

Chuck Jones and Bugs Bunny

 
 

Rabbits (David Lynch,2002)

 
 

John Updike may have chosen the name Rabbit for his character for its echo of Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt (1922).  Previously to Rabbit, Run (1961),Updike had written a short story entitled Ace In The Hole, and to a lesser extent a poem, Ex-Basketball Player, with similar themes to this series.

 
 

“It had a bed, a table, and a chair. The table had a lamp on it, a lamp that had never stopped burning in anticipation of her return, and on the lamp perched a butterfly with two large eyes painted on its widespread wings. Tereza knew she was at her goal. She lay down on the bed and pressed the rabbit to her face.”

 
 

Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (Robert Zemeckis, 1989). The Wolf and other characters were based on Tex Avery’s Red Hot Ridding Hood.

 
 

The animation of Cool World (Ralph Bakshi, 1992) was strongly influenced by the house styles of Fleischer Studios and Terrytoons. Bakshi had originally intended to cast Drew Barrymore instead Kim Bassinger  in the film’s leading role.

Crumbs Off a Master’s Table

Robert Crumb’s Self-portrait

 
 

Walt Kelly

 
 

Popeye, The Sailor(1933)

 
 

Uncle Scrooge

 
 

Harvey Kurtzman’s comic

 
 

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that Robert Crumb, being as irreverent as he is, made his first sketches imitating the candid contours taken from animated characters created by E. C. Seglar (Popeye), Walt Kelly (Pogo), Carl Barks (Donald Duck) and many more artists from the same batch. What better source for a young boy, whose only amusement and motivation relies on comic books and nothing else?

 
 

Crumb brothers

 
 

This delight was fomented by Robert Crumb’s older brother, Charles. But it was Robert, who, on a most uncommon occasion, asserted his authority on Charles and pressed him to point toward a new direction. Eventually, Robert, Charles and Maxon (the younger brother who is also a talented illustrator) drew scenes from Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. The Crumb brothers’ newly created version of the novel was presented to the rest of “Crumb Comic Company” members: Carol and Sandy; their sisters. Those times would be joyous for the party of five; the sons and daughters of Charles Vincent, their draconian U.S. Marine and Beatrice, their ultra-catholic mother with family ties to Andrew Jackson.

 
 

Girl Standing at the Window (1925), Salvador Dalí

 
 

Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity (1954), Dalí

 
 

 
 

Robert Crumb was born on August 30, 1943, in Philadelphia, the city where America declared its independence from the English crown and fittingly, Robert declared his own independence as soon as he could. At an early age he liberated himself from the religious beliefs and severe discipline that would be a spanner in his childhood works. Crumb did serve in the Army, though little of that time is worth noting.

Crumb’s personal and artistic transcendence occurred when he was still very much an introverted and shy boy. But like Stevenson’s Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, young Robert turned into a fearless ‘monster’ while he was drawing. That peculiar hormonal boiling, felt by every adolescent, ran alongside society’s collective interest in sex which was in the air at that time. 1955’s Kinsey Report and the debut of Playboy magazine with Marilyn Monroe on the cover and centerfold in 1953 literally thrust the topic of sex squarely in the public eye.

There are some critics who have vehemently compared him with the great satirists François Rabelais, Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain. The fact is, nobody can be indifferent in front of a Crumb drawing (you love it or you hate it). Due to the polarized reception of his work, he has been wrongly accused by some of misogyny, meanness and downright immaturity. That lack of understanding is actually due to the overwhelming honesty expressed in his drawings. For someone with a narrow, square mind it might be uncomfortable or difficult to digest Mr. Crumb’s autobiographic Epicureanism, as it is rife with explicit sexual connotations. As for subjects, style and generation, he is closer to Henry Miller, Céline, Norman Mailer and Charles Bukowski (who Crumb would later collaborate with). To a man, none of the aforementioned has been known to be interested in pleasing well-mannered crowds or being politically corrects.

 
 

 
 

In his youth, Crumb often showed his classmates the comics he was doing. In one of those panels was the prototype of what later became the milestone character from the crumbianesque iconography: Fritz the Cat. (Initially titled Fred the Cat.) He kept the idea in the inkwell until 1965, when he decided to publish it in Help!, a magazine by James Warren. A year before, Crumb illustrated his Big Yum Yum Book, which he drew in 1963 and which was finished the year he met Dana, his first wife.

Help! showcased several artists whose works were part of the counter-culture movement of the comic underground: Skip Williamson, Gilbert Shelton and Jay Lynch. Along with Crumb they would quake the foundations of comics, a land heretofore strictly reserved to children and teen readers but not anymore. Before Help! Crumb launched Foo, a humorous fanzine inspired by Mad. As a staunch follower of Harvey Kurtzman, illustrator and director of Mad, Crumb concocted a plan to get an interview with Kurtzman, who was impressed enough that he employed him at the subversively juvenile magazine.

 
 

Mr. Natural

 
 

In 1967 he moved to the hippie movement epicenter, San Francisco, where Mr. Natural was born. Philadelphia’s Yarrowstalks had provided the fertile ground from which would spring, Mr. Natural. Throughout this period, Crumb tried hard to be hip; he wanted to enjoy free love, but alas, he couldn´t get laid. He claimed he didn’t fit in because he looked like a cop from the “vice squad.” Janis Joplin (by this time, he had drawn the artwork for Big Brother and The Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills album cover) once asked him: “Crumb, what’s the matter, don’t you like girls?” She advised him to get with the program; grow his hair long, wear billowy shirts, satin jackets and platform shoes but Crumb, an iconoclast, refused to wear the fashions of the day.

 
 

 
 

Although he eschewed the trappings of hippiedom, Crumb experimented heavily with LSD. It was while he was having a “bad trip” in 1965 or 1966 thereabouts, that Robert Crumb’s style of drawing changed radically. He began sketching characters that were more cartoonish, wearing high-heel shoes and images he never drew before. Crumb’s comic artwork started to elicit harsh commentary. Numerous critics cited his pictures of overly sexualized women, often in subservient roles, calling him “the chief sexist of underground comics”. It could be said that on one hand, due to the LSD, he lost consistency but, on the other hand, he was able to create comics thoughtlessly. He didn’t give a damn if they were silly. He only cared about his sordid epiphany and those ideas were immediately accepted. Psychedelic and hippie aesthetic were in bloom all around Fog City.

 
 

And talking about shoes, in 2009 Crumb collaborated with a collection for Vans. Model Sk8 Hi (Mr. Natural‘s artwork featured on both the upper and the sole) and Slip-on (Fritz the Cat art extended all over the upper)

 
 

Despite the smashing success of the film and the societal borders it overstepped (it was the first “X Rated” animated movie), Crumb loathed the cinematographic adaptation of Fritz the Cat (1972), directed by Ralph Bakshi. During the seventies Crumb and his second wife, Aline Kominsky, lived in isolation on a farm far from the city. Aline shared his passion for illustration. During this time, somewhat surprisingly to those who didn’t know him, Crumb opted not to design a sleeve for The Rolling Stones. He was developing an autobiographic comic book based on his troubles with women. He admitted cynically that those troubles finished when he finally achieved his fame.

Robert Crumb is a famous, if compulsive, collector of early blues recordings and he founded his own old-timey revival band, R. Crumb and His Cheap Suits Serenaders in which he plays the banjo. Serendipitously, thanks to his addiction to old recordings, Crumb would meet Harvey Pekar at a record shop. Together, they would create the epic comic book American Splendor (1976) with Pekar writing the text and Crumb illustrating the panels.

In March 1981, Crumb created the comics anthology, Weirdo. After only ten issues, Crumb handed over the direction of the magazine to Peter Bagge who had approached him with the same youthful exuberance which Crumb had exhibited when he met Kurtzman at Mad. After 17 issues, the editorial reins went to Crumb’s wife, cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb (except for issue #25, which was again edited by Bagge). The three editorial tenures were known respectively as Personal Confessions, the Coming of the Bad Boys, and the Twisted Sisters.

In 1993, Crumb and Aline settled down in a small village near Sauve, in the south of France. It was there that Terry Zwigoff went looking for Mr. Natural’s author to get permission for Zwigoff to do a documentary about his life and work, simply titled Crumb (1994). The film was critically acclaimed, winning the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at 1995’s Sundance festival, Best Documentary 1995 by the National Board of Review and many other awards for non-fiction and documentary films. Zwigoff would continue to pay homage to Crumb in Ghost World (2000), his adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ eponymous graphic novel. Zwigoff added a character into the plot: Seymour, a blues music collector performed by Steve Buscemi.

Crumb-Kominsy couple conceived an “editorial child”, Self-Loathing Comics. It is, as the name suggests, a dark humor series about their experiences in the French village where they live.

In 2012 Crumb appeared on 5 episodes of John’s Old Time Radio Show where he talked about old music, sex, aliens, Bigfoot and played 78rpm records from his record room in Southern France.

Although Robert Crumb is not publishing as often as he used to, whenever he does it, he never disappoints the gourmands of Made in USA comics.

 
 

 

English grammar corrections by Paul Klees

Janis and Bobby

Janis Joplin’s Self-portrait

 

Janis and Robert Crumb

 

Drawings by Robert Crumb

 
 

“Yeah, Janis, she was my buddy—poor thing. She was a very talented, gifted singer, but she got sidetracked by fame and her life went into a disastrous tailspin. In her last days she was surrounded by sycophants and music business hustlers just full of bad advice for her. She was young and, in spite of her tough, hard drinking exterior, she was innocent. She just wanted to please the crowds, who got excited when she screamed and stomped her feet and carried on histrionically on stage. The crowd loves a good show. The drawing of her that you have here is a remake of an earlier drawing I did of her back in 1969 when she was still alive. It presents this screaming showbiz Janis as she came to present herself to the public, the Janis that sweated blood to please the crowds. But personally, I think she was a better singer years before that, when she sang old time Country music and Blues in small clubs. She was great then, a natural born country girl shouter and wailer in the good old-time way. Just my opinion.”
 
Robert Crumb. November, 2008

 
 
 
“Sad case, very sad case. She tried to act like she was hard and tough, but she wasn’t at all. She was soft and vulnerable. She drank a lot, and got a lot of bad advice. She was surrounded by vultures and vampires and scoundrels, and they just did her in. She finally ended up face-down in her own vomit alone in some hotel room; too much heroin and alcohol, 27 years old.
 
Fame killed her. She couldn’t handle it. It was awful. The last time I saw her alive she had just bought this big fancy redwood mansion somewhere in Marin County. She had this big housewarming party and she invited me and Wilson. So we show up and there are hundreds of people there. And I didn’t even get to talk to her because, guess why? Because she had this circle of people around her that was impenetrable. A circle around her so tight, I could only stand on my toes and wave to her and she waved back and that was it. That was the last time I saw her.
 
Gilbert Shelton knew her when she was completely obscure in Texas, when she was still singing old time music. She was great at that! Gilbert played these tapes for me once of Janis singing with this country band, and it fit perfectly with her style, I thought. Because she’s a real redneck shouter, you know. But much later, after Big Brother and Holding Company, I think she was getting some bad advice in the music industry. They wanted her to sound more like, you know, Aretha Franklin, or I don’t know, somehow more sophisticated and black or something. But she still screamed and hollered because that’s what the audience liked. And she really wrecked her voice doing that.

When I first met Janis in the spring or summer of 1968, she was already a big deal in the Bay Area, I don’t know about the rest of the country. But it was easy to be around her. She was a regular gal, you know, and she was kinda homely. I mean, I was always extremely intimidated by beautiful women, and since Janis was like this plain, regular gal, she wasn’t intimidating to be around at all. I didn’t see her all that much. She liked to drink too much, and get high too much. She hung around this group of girls – not when I first met her, but like a year or so later – this group of women who were really hard-assed and scary. They sort of attached themselves to her and they were into, you know, hard partying and drinking. They were sort of rough and tough and challenging, a little bit feminist but with a tough girl attitude. Like, ‘What can you show me? What kind of man are you? Can you out-drink me? I bet you can’t. I bet you’re just a pussy.’ That kind of thing. They were kind of intimidating. There was this one girl named Sunshine. She was a hard case. Another one named Pattycakes. [laughs] And Janis had this other friend who was kind of her bodyguard, this big girl who looked rather masculine, but she was the nicest one actually. She was sort of Janis’s valet after she got famous. But these people just attached themselves to Janis like leeches. But that’s what happens when people get famous. And Janis, she was kind of innocent, she didn’t know what was going on completely. She was young and naive, insecure and all that stuff. But you had to like her because she was very vulnerable kind of person. Not a tough person really. But you know, like I said, she tried to act tough, but she really wasn’t. But those other people around her, they were tough, hard cases; hustlers, hangers-on, opportunists.”
 
CRUMB ON OTHERS, Part Three

Crumb’s comments on the famous and infamous, compiled by Alex Wood.

 
 

 Janis and Kris Kristopherson

 

Kris Kristofferson did not write Me and Bobby McGee for her friend and lover Janis Joplin. In the original version of the song, performed firstly by the country singer Roger Miller, Bobby was a woman. Sex and a few of the lyrics were changed in order to Janis’s cover. Kristoferson states that he drew inspiration from the film La Strada (Federico Fellini, 1954).

 
 

Natural Selection

Walton Ford, a "rara avis"

 
 

Walton Ford was born in New York’s asphalt jungle at the end of the 60’s. He graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA degree. Though he first inspired to be a filmmaker, Ford would soon trade his camera for brushes, palettes, canvas and any other artistic supplies for printing and painting stills taken from wildlife.

 
 

Falling Bough

 
 

Even as a toddler he felt fascinated by fauna. His parents encouraged his love of nature by taking him on Canadian getaways and to the Museum of Natural History in New York. Thanks to frequent visits to those places, his devotion for Akeley’s dioramas grew up. Biologist and sculptor Carl Ethen Akeley is considered the father of modern taxidermy.

 
 

Litographic folio by Audubon

 

Illustration by Edward Lear

 
 

At first glance, Walton Ford’s stunning high definition and large scale watercolors evoke 19th century naturalistic plates made by John James Audubon, George Catlin or Edward Lear. This makes sense, as Walton drew his inspiration from them. When we stare at his pieces, a brand new world is revealed: a complex, uncanny and disturbing one, full of symbols, hidden jokes and references to operatic characteristics related to natural history representative themes.

 
 

Page from the original Pancha Tantra

 

Pancha Tantra cover

 

Pancha Tantra

 
 

Beasts and birds that wander around in the life-size paintings of this contemporary artist are never mere subjects, but dynamic actors that struggle in great allegorical fights. They are an extensive set of plates that subsequently were scraped together for a de-luxe limited edition of the book Pancha Tantra, released by Taschen. Pancha Tantra is a 3rd century anthology of Hindu animal tales, written in Sanskrit, centuries before La Fontaine or Aesop wrote their fables.

 
 

Space Monkeys

 
 

Watercolor techniques demand precision and Walton’s work is nothing if not precise. He stays away from unfinished or sketchy allure. Paradoxically, that kind of impressive hyperrealism that seems an impromptu note is very typical of him. It happens because he thinks nature is always unpredictable. Sometimes wild life is cruel, untamed, irrational, tender, perturbing… in other words, always multifaceted. Nature is never static, although he may paint an animal posing in fraganti.

 
 

Avatars, The Birds of India

 

The Orientalist

 

Baba

 

Buddha Purmina

 
 

Marginalia written with elegant old-fashioned calligraphy is an infallible element of his drawings. In these annotations he synthesizes the rest of the exposed message. It is an epilogue, a key that allows decoding the mystery around the image.

 
 

The Red Kite

 

Bula Matari

 

Boca Grande

 

Borondino

 

Serprent Eaters

 

A cabin boy to Barbary

 

An encounter with Du Chaillu

 

La forga de un rebelde

 
 

His pieces have political commentaries. He said, “I use a source that comes from the period that suits the natural history image, like this Alexander Kingslake book called Eothen, which is a beautiful book. And I try to bring it up to date and think about how it affects the way we think today and how similar the nineteenth century is to now. That moment of empire is almost the same. That moment of fear and first contact and misunderstanding and misapprehension is exactly what we’re going through right now. And we haven’t seemed to figure anything more or less out since then. You still feel like you would be carefully shot and carelessly buried if you made the wrong move.”

 
 

Madagascar

 

Eothen

 
 

Besides Eothen, there are other sources of backing: Benjamin Franklin’s letters; Leonardo da Vinci’s diaries; testimonies from a zoo manager; excerpts from José Martí, Ernest Hemingway or Marquis of Sade’s books; or The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by E.P. Evans (1906). In Walton Ford’s paintings we can notice an approach to Goya, Rembrandt, Brueghel, Durer, or even Robert Crumb’s humor. Nonetheless, Walton insists that Audubon (the Haitian artist who claimed to be a Jacques Louis David pupil) is his main inspiration.

 

 

Chaumière de Dolmancé

 
 

“Part of the reason I got interested in using watercolor is that I was interested in painting things that looked like Audubons. They were like fake Audubons, but I twisted the subject matter a bit, and got inside his head, and tried to paint as if it was really his tortured soul portrayed. As if his hand betrayed him, and he painted what he didn’t want to expose about himself. And it was very important to me to make them look like Audubons, to make them look like they were a hundred years old—like he painted them but that they escaped out of him. Almost like A Picture of Dorian Gray, but a natural history image.”

 
 

Ornithomancy

 
 

“And once I was sort of finished with that, I realized that I sort of did those for my own amusement. And I was doing bigger oil paintings; I was doing constructions at that time. I was doing all kinds of stuff, trying to find my way. You go through these periods in your artistic evolution where you’re trying a bunch of different things out. And that was just one of the things I was trying out at that time. And I felt like it was more successful than most of the other things I attempted to do, partly because I had all these years of drawing, since I was a little kid. So, they were more convincing, right off the bat.”