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posted April 19, 2007


Creators: David Zane Mairowitz, Robert Crumb
Publishing Information: Fantagraphics, softcover, 176 pages, April 2007, $14.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781560978060 (ISBN13)

This is the latest edition of a book that as either Kafka or Introducing Kafka has been in print from various publisher since 1993. In that way, I guess it has a bit in common with past Fantagraphics projects like Tantrum. It's not like certain books have ever become difficult to find in used book stores or even through book sites, but it's nice to have an edition currently in circulation, in front of as many people as possible. David Zane Mairowitz's text dissection of the great author has its strong and its not as strong points. The attention paid to Kafka's strange personal life and interrelationships hits just the right tone between making a case and putting it out there for the reader to decide. But an overall conceit that Kafka was a bigger and greater writer than the adjective Kafkaesque indicates feels like a trick more than it does a revelation.

However, anyone likely to read this and then pick up an edition new or old is probably there for one reason: R. Crumb. At first there's a gimmicky sense to having the notorious outsider Crumb illustrate the life and works of literature's #1 alienated soul. But Crumb quickly reminds that he's good for this job not because of something you can put on a back cover, but because when a subject captures his passion as this one seems to, no one comes close to touching his cartooning for atmosphere, staging, cityscapes and interior designs, and forthright, moment-to-moment storytelling. There's a beauty and texture to Crumb's art during this period that's sort of awesome to behold. Not only does every figure have weight, they seem to have the weight of human bodies, if that makes any sense. Crumb infuses the art with enough of the meaning that the panel to panel shorthand never weighs him down; in fact, there are times when he seems not only a skilled cartoonist but an inventive, playful one -- an energy that's really difficult for a lot of masterful cartoonists to maintain in accomplished work. In the end, I'm not as excited to read more Kafka, but I can't wait for the next R. Crumb.