Saturday, June 21, 2008

Aline Kominsky-Crumb, "Need More Love: A Graphic Memoir" (2007).

Despite the relative obscurity that most art comix creators toil in, a large proportion of the literate United States has no doubt heard of R. Crumb. The cartoonist has become a sort of cultural icon, from his youthful days in the vanguard of the revolutionary 60's to his eventual embrace by the fine art world. His work has been featured in museum retrospectives and his life has been documented on film by noted director and personal friend Terry Zwigoff (Crumb, 1994). Even though such recognition has chased him to an expatriate existence in France, he remains one of the most important American social critics of our time. Virtually every corner of his psyche has been examined, but still there is a glaring gap in this analysis.

Throughout the last three-and-a-half decades, Robert Crumb has lived and worked with his current wife- Aline Ricky Goldsmith Kominsky-Crumb. This extraordinary woman has made her own significant contributions to comics, and has slowly built a modest following of fans and admirers. Perhaps the second cartoonist to portray herself in a series of autobiographical comix (after Justin Green), Kominsky-Crumb was first recognized for her work in San Francisco, when she joined with a collective of female artists who were putting out an anthology called Wimmen's Comix. As her relationship with her legendary partner developed, she became increasingly at odds with Trina Robbins, who brought a heavy strain of feminism into the the collective.

Kominsky-Crumb would eventually split off to initiate a collaboration with Diane Noomin, and thus the Twisted Sisters series was born. Through this publication, the pair would encourage a broader spectrum of possibilities and perspectives from women artists. Simultaneously the Crumbs put together and co-edited the tremendously influential Wierdo anthology- a project that (along with Art Spiegelman's Raw) carried the banner of "alt-comix" during the vacuous 1980's. The couple produced two other continuing works during this time- their daughter Sophie was born (and she continues the family tradition herself as a talented cartoonist), and they co-created an ongoing saga called Dirty Laundry, in which they play off each other to form an intriguing hybrid of their individual visions.

It's clear to the serious observer of comics history that Kominsky-Crumb would garner serious critical attention even without her association with her illustrious husband. Those who have consistently underrated her influence would do well to check out her 2007 graphic memoir, Need More Love. This nearly 400-page book chronicles her life in detail, incorporating comics, interviews, photos and illuminating self-commentary. Her Long Island-born Jewish obsessiveness, along with her self-deprecating humor, makes this a wonderful introduction to the phenomenon that is Aline Kominsky-Crumb. She is absolutely without shame, and details both the various strengths and embarrassing aspects of her own character.

One need not be a student of Kominsky-Crumb's interests (fashion, physical fitness, dolls, etc.) to enjoy this book. You don't even have to appreciate the raw aesthetic that she brings to her cartooning. If you are at all curious about the life of a trail-blazing artist during the tumultuous years of post WWII America, then you owe it to yourself to check this out. Even if you are merely another R. Crumb "camp follower", there is much information to be mined from Need More Love. Kominsky -Crumb no doubt owes some debt to her intimate association with genius, but the opposite must also be acknowledged. Either way the past fifty years in art comics would have been noticeably weaker without the contributions of this ebullient woman.

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