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The Complete Crumb Comics Volume 17
posted September 2, 2005


Creators: Robert Crumb
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics Books, 122 pages, $18.95
Ordering Numbers: 1560975369 (ISBN)

The Complete Crumb Comics is a throwback to the way most cartoonists had their work collected 10-15 years ago, in magazine-dimensioned books about twice the thickness of a European album, frequently numbered so that you can buy them all. For Robert Crumb, the approach makes a lot of sense. He works primarily in short stories, he's worth the treatment, his minor stuff is worth seeing, and his stuff was published pretty much all over the place and hard to track down individual piece by individual piece.

The reason I note the series right now is this particular volume, the latest, proves to be a pretty great stand-alone book. The big stories here -- "Cave Wimp" and the final "Mode O'Day" story -- offer up what Crumb himself rightly calls more complex narratives than we're used to seeing from him. But the gems are all the small stuff that he was doing during this time. The Premiere story Crumb goes to the Oscars story is here; I still find hilarious the panel where Crumb sees a lost-looking Spike Lee and thinks about approaching him, and I'm not sure exactly why. It's fairly amusing throughout. Crumb's Harvey Kurtzman tribute, working in an approximation of Kurtzman's style is really interesting from that standpoint, although it's not an experiment that really bears repeating, and Crumb's obvious affection for the man. One of the most famous short comics of all time, "A Short History of America," shows up here. There's a pretty good Aline jam short ("Our Lovely Home"), a couple of solid stand-alone stories -- one featuring Crumb ruminating on his life ("I'm Grateful! I'm Grateful!") and the other showing him on the make that as I recall is a favorite of his publisher ("Memories Are Made of This") -- the technical showcase Vues De Sauve portfolio, and a really nice selection of off-hand drawings including a number of personal cards. Heck. even the introduction proves worth reading, as Crumb describes his relationship with the Mitchell Brothers and the effect some movie script writing had on his comics.

It's a really solid presentation of some stellar work -- if this were the entirety of Crumb's career in comics, it would be a pretty formidable career. The only things that worries me is that previous covers to the Complete Crumb Comics series are starting to show up as selections in the book, which makes me wonder how it's all going to end. Fortunately, I'm told it's a rejected cover copy, and Crumb's career shouldn't end up devouring itself.