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Aline Crumb on Women Cartoonists

And Autobiographical Comics

Published: 12/05/2012 03:42am
We recently had the opportunity to talk to Aline Kominsky Crumb, a seminal figure in American comics. Best known as the wife and collaborator of Robert Crumb, she played a key role in expanding the role of women in comics and as the creator of the first autobiographical comic story by a woman.  In Part 2, we talk about her role in the early history of comics by women and autobiographical comics.  In Part 1, we talked about Drawn Together, Norton’s recently released compilation of her work with Robert Crumb.

You were one of the women in Wimmen’s Comix #1; you were one of the first of the female underground cartoonists that started to be published.  Can you tell us what it was like being a woman cartoonist then and how you’ve seen that change?
At the time I moved to San Francisco in 1971, Trina Robbins and a few other women were starting to put together the first Wimmen’s Comix.  They didn’t even have enough artists, because if you think about it, there were no women cartoonists.  So they were looking for anyone that was interested and I happened to show up at the right time.  I knew Spain Rodriguez and few other male artists so I got in touch with them and they said I could contribute so I did the first story I ever did called Goldie: A Neurotic Woman.  It appeared in that book.

And I met someone on the bus who was drawing and I looked over her shoulder and it was mildly interesting so I asked her if she wanted to be a cartoonist and she said, "Why not?"  I brought her to the meeting and it was Diane Noomin.

That’s how the early comics came together, in a totally loose way, because that was the period of time.  There was a very open-ended possibility.  Because of the success of Zap Comix and other underground comics, there were all these small publishers around and you could get almost anything published.

When I look back at those early Wimmen’s Comix, they are just terrible.  The work is so bad, it’s so unprofessional.  A lot of it’s not funny; a lot of it is sort of humor impaired real militant feminist stuff that’s silly.  Not much of it holds up.  The good part of it was that everybody got a chance; it was very democratic.  The bad part was there was no quality control.

I think now several generations later you’re getting some amazingly talented, professional artists.  Their work is beautifully produced.  It’s on a whole other level--many levels above what was going on then, but at that point you had a lot of freedom.  It went along with the period.

What were your influences?  You came up through undergrounds.  Is that what you read, or were you reading mainstream comics, too?
No, I never read comics until underground comics.  I was really a painter.  I painted since I was really young and was very influenced by German expressionist painters like Alice Neel and loved Frida Kahlo, and I was also influenced by Jewish stand-up comedians like Jackie Mason, Joan Rivers, Don Rickles and Phyllis Diller.  I would say those two things influenced me more than anything else.  So my comics have absolutely no comic references or comic skills or any kind of slick comic graphic art skills.  I’m really from another world completely.

But I was very influenced by underground comics, especially Justin Green’s Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary.  That really set a light bulb off over my head, made me understand a way that I could really express my ideas.  I had a lot to tell about growing up and being alienated on Long Island and I wanted to get a lot of those stories out.  All of a sudden I found a way to do it and they started to pour out.

This takes us to another area-- you were there at the beginning of autobiographical comics.  Is it true that one of your autobiographical comics appearing in Wimmen’s Comix may have been the first published by a woman cartoonist?
It was, as far as I know.  Justin Green is the first person I know who did autobiographical comics but I was the first woman to do it.

A lot of the other women didn’t like it.  They thought no one really wants to read about you and your stupid life.  They were doing more stuff where they were trying to make themselves heroic and romantic, and I was the opposite.  There was kind of a schism in that group of people, which eventually led to a split in the group.  Diane Noomin and I broke off of that group and started to do Twisted Sisters, which was the bad girl comic.

Dawn Together is largely autobiographical too.  The way you depict yourself, is that an accurate picture of who you are and what you think, or are you creating a person?
Well, I have my comic persona, which is all honest, but it’s not all of me.  It’s what I can stand to communicate or what I need to communicate.  There are certain parts that I don’t choose to share with anybody, but what I do write is all true.

That whole world of autobiographical comics has changed since the 70s and there’s so much more of it now.  What are your thoughts on that development?
I’m happy with it, because that’s what I enjoy reading. It’s very interesting and I think there’s some great women storytellers out there.  There’s great stuff--political stuff--like Marjane Satrapi, Alison Bechdel, Phoebe Gloeckner and Carol Tyler--all this really amazing stuff out there.  Incredible work.  I’m really happy to see how it’s evolved. It’s gone way beyond what I ever imagined and I hope it keeps going.

I’ve been travelling the last few years to comics festivals in places like India, and Serbia, and Brazil.  There’s young people doing comics all over and there’s more autobiographical stuff than there was before.  It’s very interesting to see.  It makes me very happy; I’m very stimulated and turned on by that.

Drawn Together is your collaborative work.  What of your individual work is in print and available?
There’s Love that Bunch that came out from Fantagraphics in the 90s and then there’s another book called Need More Love, but that publisher went out of business the day that the book came out.  You can find them in New York at the Strand Bookstore and I don’t know where else.  They’re all around but I have no idea where you can find them.  I appear in a bunch of compilations like the Twisted Sisters book, in individual New Yorkers, and there’s other comics I’ve contributed to--how many, I don’t even remember.  That’s about it for me.

And Robert, I don’t even know where to begin.  Go in and look for the probably hundreds and hundreds of books he’s done.  His stuff is widely published in France as well.  Fantagraphics and Norton are a good start for him that’s for sure.

What are your plans for the future?  We read somewhere that you were thinking about giving up cartooning.
Yeah, I always say that (laughs).  But I also paint and I‘m a grandmother and I teach yoga and I have an art gallery so I’m really busy.  I actually am working on a book but I don’t know if I’ll finish it before I die or not.  We’ll see how fast I work.

I can tell you the title of my proposed book.  When someone saw one of our New Yorker stories, they wrote me an e-mail saying they thought I was a "talentless parasite," and I thought that was a great title for a book.  So that’s the title of my next book.

Drawn Together seems like a great love story.  Can you talk about that aspect of it?
Yeah, I would agree with you.  That’s what I hope people get out of it.  In fact in France, the French version, which came out first, they called it Parle-Moi d’Amour--talk to me about love.  I do think it is a story of an enduring 40-year relationship with all the ups and downs, ins and outs, the banality and the romance and the craziness and everything.  I think you can see the deep bond of these two people in this book and what it takes to get along--the flexibility, the sense of humor you need to be able to stick it out all those years.  That’s really what I want that book to say to people.

I think it is a love story.  It’s even romantic, may I dare say.  I think people should buy it for each other and read it together.  It’s really about a couple and the amazing adventure you can have with another person in this lifetime.

Click here for Part 1.
 
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