Kind of Twisted and Memorable Characters

Illustration by John Tenniel

 
 

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are fictional characters in an English nursery rhyme and in Lewis Carroll‘s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). Their names may have originally come from an epigram written by poet John Byrom. The nursery rhyme has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19800. The names have since become synonymous in western popular culture slang for any two people who look and act in identical ways, generally in a derogatory context.

Carroll, having introduced two fat little men named Tweedledum and Tweedledee, quotes the nursery rhyme, which the two brothers then go on to enact. They agree to have a battle, but never have one. When they see a monstrous black crow swooping down, they take to their heels. The Tweedle brothers never contradict each other, even when one of them, according to the rhyme, “agrees to have a battle”. Rather, they complement each other’s words. This fact has led Tenniel to assume that they are twins, and Martin Gardner goes so far as to claim that Carroll intended them to be enantiomorphs — three-dimensional mirror images. Evidence for these assumptions cannot be found in any of Lewis Carroll’s writings.

The words “Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee” make their first appearance in print in “one of the most celebrated and most frequently quoted (and sometimes misquoted) epigrams”, satirising the disagreements between George Frideric Händel and Giovanni Bononcini, written by John Byrom (1692–1763):

Some say, compar’d to Bononcini
That Mynheer Handel’s but a Ninny
Others aver, that he to Handel
Is scarcely fit to hold a Candle
Strange all this Difference should be’
Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee!

Although Byrom is clearly the author of the epigram, the last two lines have also been attributed to Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. While the familiar form of the rhyme was not printed until around 1805, when it appeared in Original Ditties for the Nursery, it is possible that Byrom was drawing on an existing rhyme.

 
 

Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum features as the opening song on Bob Dylan‘s 2001 album Love and Theft.

 
 

The track includes many references to parades in Mardi Gras in New Orleans, where participants are masked, and “determined to go all the way” of the parade route, in spite of being intoxicated. “It rolls in like a storm, drums galloping over the horizon into ear shot, guitar riffs slicing with terse dexterity while a tale about a pair of vagabonds unfolds,” writes Kot. “It ends in death, and sets the stage for an album populated by rogues, con men, outcasts, gamblers, gunfighters and desperados, many of them with nothing to lose, some of them out of their minds, all of them quintessentially American.

They’re the kind of twisted, instantly memorable characters one meets in John Ford‘s westerns, Jack Kerouac‘s road novels, but, most of all, in the blues and country songs of the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. This is a tour of American music—jump blues, slow blues, rockabilly, Tin Pan Alley ballads, Country Swing—that evokes the sprawl, fatalism and subversive humor of Dylan’s sacred text, Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, the pre-rock voicings of Hank Williams, Charley Patton and Johnnie Ray, among others, and the ultradry humor of Groucho Marx.

A Paranoia Theme

Leave Me Alone, a song featured on Michael Jackson‘s seventh studio album, Bad in 1987, was a response to negative and false stories about Jackson that frequently appeared in the media and tabloids post-1986 after the monumental success of Thriller. Beginning in 1986, the tabloids began to publish false stories about Jackson, one of the first being a story claiming that Jackson slept in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to slow the aging process. A picture leaked out to the media of him lying down in a hyberbaric chamber at a hospital he visited. An unknown person took the picture of Jackson while he was testing out the chamber out of curiosity.

 
 

 
 

When Jackson bought a pet chimpanzee named Bubbles, the media viewed it as evidence of Jackson’s increasing detachment from reality. It was also reported that Jackson had offered to buy the bones of Joseph “The Elephant Man” Merrick; Jackson stated that the story was “a complete lie”. These stories inspired the nickname “Wacko Jacko”, which Jackson acquired the following year, and would come to despise. Another frequent response from the media was about Jackson’s plastic surgery. Jackson’s manager said of the media’s criticism towards the topic, “So many terrible things have been written. Okay, so he had his nose fixed, and the cleft — big deal. I got news for you, my nose has broke five times. It’s been fixed twice. Who gives a shit? Who cares? Elvis Presley had his nose done. Marilyn Monroe had her nose done, had her breasts done? Everybody’s had it done.”

The song has been viewed as having a “paranoia theme”, a theme that Jackson had frequently used on previous studio albums. The Atlantic felt that Jackson showed “obvious expressions of distrust” in the song and that the song was one of multiple songs where Jackson’s “persistent loneliness in his music” was “prominent”.In 2009, J. Edward Keyes, of Rolling Stone, described Leave Me Alone as sounding like “vintage Michael” and the song works because of its music, “a batch of thick chords for Jackson to vamp over”. Keyes noted that the song was a “kind of darker inversion” of The Way You Make Me Feel, and that Leave Me Alone was “worked-up and angry, and Jackson’s aggressive scraping of the high notes makes plain his frustration.”

 
 

 
 

The music video for Leave Me Alone, was directed by Jim Blashfield, produced by Jim Blashfield and Paul Diener and released on January 2, 1989. The video was also featured in the 1988 film Moonwalker. In essence, the video is an amusement park consisting of stylistically crude images based around Jackson’s successful career since 1982’s Thriller. There is an emphasis on the tabloid view of Jackson’s personal life and public image, referring to the nickname “Wacko Jacko” given to him by the press, and the various headlines associated with him in the 1980s. Lampooning rumours that he tried to purchase Joseph Merrick’s bones, Jackson dances with stop motion “Elephant Man” bones in the video. This particular segment (without the image of the bones) was used for the single’s cover art, and the boneless video segment was featured in Moonwalker trailer.

 
 

 
 

In the video, there are images of shrines to actress Elizabeth Taylor, a real life close friend of Jackson. Throughout the video newspaper headlines, published by “National Intruder”, with bizarre titles are shown, such as “Michael’s Space-Age Diet” and “Michael Proposes to Liz”. Another notable scene in the music video was a nose being chased by a surgical scalpel, which was reference to Jackson’s plastic surgery being criticized by the media. At the end of the video, it is revealed that a gigantic Jackson himself is the amusement park. He breaks free, tearing the park to pieces. That scene is a somewhat reminiscent of Gulliver’s Travels, where Gulliver eventually breaks free from the Lilliputians’ grasp from Lilliput.

Primness and Feminine Outlook

Title page of the 1909 edition of Emma, illustrated by C. E. Brock.

 
 

“I planned the match from that hour” ~ Volume I, Chapter I

 
 

“As she was so fond of it, it should be called her cow” ~ Volume I, Chapter IV

 
 

Frequently coming to look ~ Volume I, Chapter VI

 
 

He was very sure there must be a lady in the case ~ Volume I, Chapter VIII

 
 

“You and I will have a nice basin of gruel together” ~ Volume I, Chapter XII

 
 

She left the sofa ~ Volume I, Chapter XV

 
 

“Ma’am…do you hear what Miss Woodhouse is so obliging to say about Jane’s handwriting?” ~ Volume II, Chapter I

 
 

“He thought I had much better go round by Mr. Cole’s stables” ~ Volume II, Chapter III

 
 

He stopt…to look in ~ Volume II, Chapter VI

 
 

Very busy over parish business ~ Volume II, Chapter VIII

 
 

“I have the pleasure, madam, (to Mrs. Bates,) of restoring your spectacles, healed for the present.” ~ Volume II, Chapter X

 
 

“Ah! he is off. He never can bear to be thanked” ~ Volume II, Chapter X

 
 

What was to be done? ~ Volume II, Chapter XI

 
 

“Half an hour shut up with my housekeeper” ~ Volume II, Chapter XIV

 
 

“I see very few pearls in the room except mine” ~ Volume III, Chapter II

 
 

The terror…was then their own portion ~ Volume III, Chapter III

 
 

“I shall be sure to say three dull things as soon as ever I open my mouth, shan’t I?” ~ Volume III, Chapter VII

 
 

“Jane Fairfax!–Good God! You are not serious?” ~ Volume III, Chapter X

 
 

Mr. Perry…with a disengaged hour to give her father ~ Volume III, Chapter XIII

 
 

“my dearest, most beloved Emma–tell me at once” ~ Volume III, Chapter XIII

 
 

“She absolutely refused to allow me” ~ Volume III, Chapter XIV

 
 

“He did not know what was come to his master lately” ~ Volume III, Chapter XVI

 
 

There was no longer a want of subject ~ Volume III, Chapter XVIII

 
 

Charles Edmund Brock (5 February 1870 – 28 February 1938) was a widely published English line artist and book illustrator, who signed his work C. E. Brock. He was the eldest of four artist brothers, including Henry Matthew Brock, also an illustrator. He studied art briefly under sculptor Henry Wiles.

He received his first book commission at the age of 20 in 1890. He became very successful, and illustrated books for authors such as Jonathan Swift, William Thackeray, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, and George Eliot. Brock also contributed pieces to several magazines such as The Quiver, The Strand, and Pearsons. He used the Cambridge college libraries for his “picture research.” Brock is best known for his line work, initially working in the tradition of Hugh Thomson, but he was also a skilled colourist.

He and his brothers maintained a Cambridge studio filled with various curios, antiques, furniture, and a costume collection. They owned a large collection of Regency-era costume prints and fashion plates, and had clothes specially made as examples for certain costumes.Using these, family members would model for each other.

Brock did not publish any more work after 1910.

The approach of C.E. Brock’s work varied with the sort of story he was illustrating. Some was refined and described as “sensitive to the delicate, teacup-and-saucer primness and feminine outlook of the early Victorian novelists,” while other work was “appreciative of the healthy, boisterous, thoroughly English characters” – soldiers, rustics, and “horsey types.” Other illustrations were grotesqueries drawn to amuse children looking at or reading storybooks.

A Particular Group of Writers

Homer

 
 

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

 
 

Jonathan Swift

 
 

Herman Melville

 
 

Franz Kafka

 
 

Kurt Vonnegut

 
 

Joseph Conrad

 
 

Charles Dickens

 
 

William Faulkner

 
 

Leo Tolstoy

 
 

Alice Walker

 
 

William Butler Yeats

 
 

Jules Verne

 
 

Louisa May Alcott

 
 

Ann Rice

 
 

Marcel Proust

 
 

Edgar Allan Poe

 
 

summersfrost591a8f029af251061ea181ae372a2c90Robert Frost

 
 

Walt Whitman

 
 

Virginia Woolf

 
 

Illustrations by Mark Summers

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