Comically Contentious

At the opening ceremony of the second edition of the annual Comic Con India in Delhi last week,an unusual figure was at the centre of all attention.

Written by Shantanu David | Published: February 23, 2012 3:26:13 am

Robert Crumb,the acknowledged father of the underground comics genre,was in Delhi for the second edition of Comic Con India

At the opening ceremony of the second edition of the annual Comic Con India in Delhi last week,an unusual figure was at the centre of all attention. Dressed in a quiet charcoal grey suit,Robert Crumb looked like a college professor than anything else.

However,if Don McLean put the “American” in apple pie,then Crumb is the man who brought in the “X” into comix (slang for alternative comics genre).

Crumb’s characters and graphic novels made their creator famous (some might say infamous) the world over. Displaying an overt sexuality,combined with a blatant disregard for “morality and normalcy”,Crumb’s works are regarded as pioneers of the alternative comic genre. Fritz the Cat,Mr. Natural,Devil Girl and Crumb’s other comics have enthralled generations of comic book aficionados. Known for their anti-establishment themes,the comics fueled,and were fueled by,the counter culture movements of the ’60s and ’70s.

It’s only when one meets the man that one realises how much scholarly effort the artist and writer puts into his work. His Book of Genesis (published in 2009) is loved by many — and reviled by some — for its graphic visualisations of the Old Testament. Crumb said,“I consulted three versions of the text — two out of which were Jewish and the third was a King James version. It was a collation of stories from three different versions.”

Accompanied by his wife and fellow underground comic artist,Alina Kominsky-Crumb,this was his first visit to India. Crumb noted,“India is a place that I have been reading about since I was a kid. I wasn’t even aware that there was a Comic Con in India,and so,when I was invited here as the guest of honour,I jumped at the chance to be able to see India.”

One of Crumb’s most popular characters,Mr. Natural,a “self-described” ascetic guru and voluptuary,is said to be partly a caricature of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While Crumb says Mr. Natural wasn’t based on one person,there are certain influences of Indian mysticism. He said,“In the ’60s and ’70s,we were influenced by movements such as Hare Krishna. I used to read a lot of Yogananda,Mahesh Yogi and others,and some of it manifested in Mr. Natural.”

When questioned about the overtly sexual tone of his work,Crumb joked,“Twenty years of psycho-analysis hasn’t helped me figure out why there’s prevalent sexuality in all my work. Sometimes,when I look back at my work from the ’70s and ’80s,I’m really embarrassed,especially now that I’m a grandfather.”

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