Transcript for Sophie and Robert Crumb on "Evolution of a Crazy Artist"

Jim Fleming: This hour we're talking about Graphic Novels, and the world of Adult Comics, and there may be no comics artist more celebrated, than Robert Crumb. Known widely as R. Crumb, some of his best known works include Mr. Natural, Artistic Comics, Weirdo, and his 2009 graphic novel The Book of Genesis. One of his latest projects is a compilation - not of his drawings - but those of his daughter, Sophie. It's a kind of biography of drawings, and it's called Sophie Crumb: Evolution of a Crazy Artist. When Robert and Sophie Crumb stopped by our studio recently they told Steve Paulson that Robert and his wife were compulsive archivists of his daugher's drawings, from the beginning of her life.

Robert Crumb: I started archiving her drawings when she was two years old. I dated them and, and, sometimes when, I would ask Sophie, Sohpie what's this drawing mean, what's this going on here? And she would tell me, you know, when she was three years old and I would write down what her explanation was of, of the drawings, you know. This is a snake chasing a girl, so I would write that down.

 

 

Sophie Crumb: In the book, his comments are noted down in the book.

 

 

Robert: Sometimes.

 

 

Sophie: It's kind of funny.

 

 

Paulson: Yeah. Well this is, this is really unusual. I don't think I've ever seen a collection of an artist's work going back to when she was two years old!

 

 

Robert: I've never seen a book like that tracing somebody's development through drawing from the time they first start drawing up until, you know, full adulthood.

 

Sophie: And we had so much stuff, we just had so much of it, like, I haven't done that much stuff with print, I really haven't done that much stuff professionally, but there was so much sketchbook drawings, and just random loose drawings from my whole childhood until now. That was a huge body of, well not work, but it wasn't really work it was just leisure drawing and just personal drawing and diary-type drawing, there was so much of it. Made sense to make a cool book out of it.

 

 

Paulson: Now I find your pictures, I would say, probably around the time you were five or so to be really quite remarkable. I mean, not only your ability to draw representational figures, but just the imagination that you have in a lot of these.

 

 

Sophie: Yeah, it was a little wacky, a little wacky.

 

 

Paulson: It was wacky! So looking back, why do you think you liked making art to much?

 

 

Sophie: Well, seems kind of obvious. You know, I had wacky stuff around me all the time, they were drawing, there were weird paintings on the wall, they were all drawing, they were always encouraging me to draw, always reading comics to me, watching wacky old '30s cartoons, Little Lulu, reading Little Lulu and watching Betty Boop and completely over-stimulated, over-, you know, overly brainwashed with all the 19-, all the stuff. That's party of the crazy yeah.

 

 

Paulson: So, so.

 

 

Sophie: Crazy made perfect sense.

 

 

Paulson: So Robert, was this kind of deliberate to, you know, show your daughters, you know, the Three Stooges and Little Lulu and all these kind of stuff?

 

 

Sophie: Completely deliberate:

 

 

Robert: Yes, it was absolutely deliberate. 'Cause I, im my mind that stuff was, you know I had selected that out from the time I was young as the best stuff of American popular culture, and compared to what Sophie's growing up in the '80s I thought the current stuff from the '80s wasn't very interesting, generally speaking.

 

 

Sophie: And you liked watching Three Stooges with me too, we all watched it as a family.

 

 

Robert: Yeah, I would watch it with her, and read, you know, read the comics to her, and you knowm all that stuff, so stuff that I enjoyed too and I could watch.

 

 

Sophie: We'd do the voices too.

 

 

Robert: Hey Lulu. Hey Toby.

 

 

Paulson: So this is, I mean it is really fascinating, I mean this is sort of, you know, your vision of a, not just a cultural education, maybe a classical education.

 

 

Robert: Yeah, classical education.

 

 

Paulson: So, Robert, what did you think of Sophie's art when she was little? I mean, did you think her talent was unusual?

 

 

Robert: Sophie was...

 

 

Sophie: She's a genius... She's a genius!

 

 

Robert: She was, she definitely seemed completely inclined to spend a lot of time drawing. We didn't have to say "Sophie get to work and start drawing". She liked, drawing, she really took to it, she liked to spend long periods of time concentrating on drawing or making things, she was really good at cutting out little paper dolls, and she'd start making these pop-up books or drawings, when I don't know, she was five years old, six years old?

 

 

Sophie: Hundreds of paper dolls.

 

 

Robert: She'd just cut out these intricate things so, sort of exceptional.

 

 

Sophie: The key is that it always stays play and never becomes work. The key.

 

 

Paulson: Is that, is that possible? To keep it always as play? I mean, I should think that it'd be harder once you sort of really find to draw...

 

 

Sophie: Well, I would like to. I would like to. That's why I'm not really careerist. I like to draw in my sketchbook more than I like to, you know, make money or make drawings for money or make drawings with the intent to sell them. That's why the book, the book, you know, has that much stuff in it, that much interesting stuff I guess. Because I didn't do it thinking about anyone else but my personal liking. Stream of consciousness.

 

 

Robert: The keyword there is money. When you have to start doing it for money, that's when it becomes work.

 

 

Sophie: Yeah, then it becomes a chore, and then you're thinking too much, and it just takes away from the...

 

 

Robert: If you have to sell, or if you have a boss that wants you to draw certain things, or...

 

 

Sophie: It hurts the art.

 

 

Robert: It does yeah. Problem is we all have to make a living in this world.

 

 

Sophie: I know, I'll sweep, I'll sweep the streets.

 

 

Paulson: So Robert, when you, when you look back over your career Robert, how much of it would you say, was for money, and how much of it was just because it was what you wanted to do?

 

 

Sophie: You always wanted to be a famous, famous artist.

 

 

Robert: I would say I'm more entrepreneurial than Sophie, I always was.

 

 

Sophie: When you were you, you always said you wanted to be a big, famous, well-known cartoonist.

 

 

Robert: I wanted recognition for my work. That was my way of over-compensating for the fact that I was extremely alienated, unpopular with girls.

 

 

Sophie: Well you got what you wished for.

 

 

Robert: Everything I wanted, everything.

 

 

Paulson: So comics was the magic ticket.

 

 

Robert: I got it all!

 

 

Paulson: Now, you obvious, Robert, are a very proud parent. I mean, you know, you were one of the editors of this book of Sophie's art. You are, of course, also a legend in the world of comics and here was your daughter, also drawing comics at an early age, and I could imagine you might respond in a couple of ways. You could be very encouraging, or you might think that maybe she'd be better off trying something else.

 

 

Sophie: Like law school

 

 

Paulson: Or different kind of art that didn't resemble her father's so much in some ways.

 

 

Robert: Well, you know, I always kind of worried about her being the daughter of a famous person. That's always, you know, can be a problem for anybody who has a famous parent, you know. Do they follow in the footsteps, you know, Jane Fonda or something?

 

 

Sophie: But did you think I was good enough at the comics to pursue it, or you weren't going to be be like "Yeah, she shouldn't really, get into that", you know.

 

 

Robert: Quite the opposite, the opposite that she's so good that, if she starts to do what I did and make comics, that she's going to get a lot of, you know, flak for it.

 

 

Sophie: I think you're the only person in the world that thinks that because I'm not that good at drawing comics, actually. Who thinks that.

 

 

Robert: You actually are, in fact. But Sophie didn't show that much like, motivation to do art as a career, you know. I think she felt that she should or ought to make a living with her skills, but she really...

 

 

Sophie: 'Cause whenever I'd try to start to or I did publish a few comics it always just became a chore that would just like mess with my head. 'Cause I would start "ah they'd compare me with the legend". I mean yeah, and they did, they bashed me to, you know, pieces, and yeah that whole, putting it up for the world thing doesn't work for me.

 

 

Paulson: So, I have to ask about that. Here you were, you know, working in the same field as your father. How much did that weight on you?

 

 

Sophie: It was hard. It was hard but it got better when I moved out. I got away from them, kind of found my own identity and grew up a little bit in my early 20s. Got better and managed to actually finish a few comics. Before that as a teenager I was real frustrated with myself and never thought I was good enough, blah blah blah. Then I managed to actually finish a few comics, and put them out, but there's too much, baggage behind that. I don't want to be a big famous cartoonist, and I never will, obviously. I'm not, no, I'm not, you know, I don't have the humour, I don't have the...

 

 

Robert: You've got the humour. You've got everything it takes except the motivation to be commercially out there, that's all.

 

 

Sophie: Yeah, I don't want to be that professional. I don't care if my whole life I'm just drawing in sketchbooks and then living a nice life with my family. That sounds fine to me.

 

 

Robert: That's pretty French. That's a really bizarre drawing you're doing here while we're talking.

 

 

Sophie: I know, it's twisted.

 

 

Paulson: Now I can't see it, can you describe the uh?

 

 

Sophie: Thank God.

 

 

Robert: It's this girl with these giant breasts, and then down below where the sex organ is supposed to be there's like a keyhole, and then these spread, kind of balloony legs. It's bizarre.

 

 

Paulson: Okay, well. I'm glad you mentioned that, because, I mean Robert of course, you are famous, perhaps, notorious, for the way you draw women. Often with, huge breasts and large behinds, they're often leered at by rather creepy and repulsive men.

 

 

Robert: Including myself.

 

 

Paulson: Sophie, I, you know... What did you think of this? You know, the way your father would draw women.

 

 

Sophie: You know, kind of embarrassing, kind of weird, kind of. But he doesn't have a pervert or bizarre behavior towards his family like they always say so. Gets in comics, stays in comics. What happens in comics stays in comics. I tend to like, I tend to or tended to roll my eyes when it gets too devil girls decapitated and stuff and I'm like, no, no.

 

 

Paulson: Do you think there's any kind of inherited quality? I mean the fact that art runs so strongly in your family?

 

 

Robert: Yeah, well all I know is Sophie really took to it. She took to it. Well I don't know whether it's genetic or how much of it is family influence, but it's true that there's a strong, impulse in drawing in my family.

 

 

Sophie: The question in the book was...

 

 

Robert: My two brothers both were exceptional artists also. Part of the thing that makes an artist exceptional like Sophie is that she just kept doing it. Just kept at it.

 

 

Paulson: So, so, Robert, did you know from a very young age that you were going to be an artist? I mean, that this is what you're going to do with your life?

 

 

Robert: Yes I did, because my brother Charles told me that's what I was supposed to do, and that's what I did. Because he made me feel that I was, nothing, unless I was drawing, so I knew from the time I was eight years old, nine years old, that's what I was going to be doing. I was going to be a cartoonist.

 

 

Sophie: Did you like it? Did you enjoy it, or did you want it? Or did he just like, tell you, and ordered you?

 

 

Robert: That's a good question. I, didn't always enjoy it, it was like a job, I had to do it.

 

 

Sophie: Forced, and gave you that work ethic.

 

 

Robert: I was just kind of a wimpy kid, like passive and wimpy, I just kind of... He was very dominant.

 

 

Sophie: Charles was a real genius.

 

 

Robert: Yeah he was a genius, behind the whole thing.

 

 

Sophie: And he was so crazy that he never got out of his house. Out of his mom's house. Too much of a genius.

 

 

Paulson: So Robert, when did you, when did you know that like, professionally this was you thing, that you were good at it?

 

 

Robert: I couldn't do anything else. I had no other skills, I was completely imbalanced. If I wasn't going to be an artist for a living I would have to, you know, be a stock clerk. Actually when I left home, I didn't even think I was good enough to be a professional artist. I went to Cleveland and I looked for jobs as a stock clerk at the department stores. I went to Ohio state employment agency and...

 

 

Sophie: He's also completely socially handicapped.

 

 

Robert: Yep.

 

 

Sophie: You can't drive, you can't swim. You're dyslexic. You're blind almost. He compensates all that by just drawing all the time. See I want to have a life. I don't want to be like that. I like to drive. I want a motorcycle.

 

 

Robert: That's healthy.

 

 

Sophie: Yeah, I'm not that imbalanced, so I'll never be a huge famous legend. I don't want to be. I want a life. I understand you like, compensate all that.

 

 

Paulson: So a certain amount of imbalance...

 

 

Sophie: That's where genius comes from.

 

 

Paulson: Genius comes from imbalance.

 

 

Robert: Absolutely.

Fleming: Sophie and Robert Crumb have collaborated on several comic strips. Sophie's produced her own series: Bellybutton comics, and is a co-editor with her parents of Sophie Crumb: Evolution of a Crazy Artist. They spoke with Steve Paulson.

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