By: Robert Crumb
Though the debate over whether Crumb’s work is juvenile pornography or inventive, sexually-charged satire has hopefully been left behind with the seventies, it is difficult to believe that the “nasty, negative, misanthropic sex pervert” – as Crumb himself describes his public image in this book’s introduction – has a sweeter side. But in this collection of his less depraved, frustrated illustrations, we do see a somewhat serener element of the underground comix pioneer.
Many of the images here are simple still life illustrations and sketches of Crumb’s family and interests, specifically blues musicians and old celebrities. For those who have seen the documentary Crumb – I can only assume that anyone who would buy a book like this has – which concluded with Crumb and his family migrating to France, it is interesting to see how his work has mellowed. The tranquil Gallic landscapes and balloon discourses between Robert and his daughter and wife depict someone who has found happiness… or as much as someone such as Crumb could. Or maybe that’s just because this book excludes his naughtier stuff.
But tranquil Gallic landscapes are not what we want from Robert Crumb. While many of these images would have been welcome diversions in a more comprehensive collection, in this context they feel like the “safe bits” of an R rated movie edited together for a family friendly trailer. Ultimately, The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb is a book for enthusiasts of Crumb’s art and humour, and underground comics in general, though minus his perverted wit his illustrations lack their trademark character.
I generally, often begrudgingly, force myself to add some form of rating to these reviews, if only to gauge them alongside other, similar works. But here I shan’t. Though I will suggest that anyone wishing to sample Crumb’s world for the first time should definitely look elsewhere. My Troubles With Women, for example.