Thursday, September 3, 2009

Robert Crumb Versus Junk, Part 2

  I'm not going to dig them out, but among Robert Crumb's collected works are a couple of autobiographical items of note.

  One is his written account of preparing for his relocation to France about 20 years ago. He describes the years of accumulated "junk" that he and his wife, Aline, had to discard, and marveled at how it built up within their lives.

  Another is a comic, another autobiographical piece, in which he describes his fascination with historical documents and ephemera from the past. One panel shows him hovering over a photo with a magnifying glass. He remarks that there is enough material from the past for a lifetime of inquiry. You may recall it as the one where he says, "People's faces were different then, but how?"

  I don't envision Crumb as a computer and internet enthusiast, though his kids may be. I don't know if he is aware of "webcomics," that there are over 10,000 of them, that they are mostly of disappointing quality, and that some of the blame traces to him. It's not his fault that people have been inspired to go free-form with comic art since the first issues of Zap, and that the internet makes (in theory) an attractive distribution platform. (Certainly, the internet is more to blame than Crumb.)

  Of course, I'm not here to hang this particular crime on old Robert C. It's really the law of unintended consequences at work.

  We are now flooded with inferior comics, of which webcomics has a reputation as being the most degraded. In fact, we are flooded with everything: there is no longer material for a lifetime of inquiry, but an eternity. We no longer have accomplished Royal Smart Persons because it has become increasingly challenging to be masters of any domain with breadth.

  I have an advantage over many peers. I have been reading comics of all types since I was a boy, and I have a couple of decades of experience on the average webcomic creator today. I have read and re-read, studied, copied and traced, to better my skills.

  I would not publish anything I produced before I was about 28. It was around then that some of my work began to achieve acceptable levels of quality, and was well-received by some readers.

  Some creators have blossomed earlier, and have performed better work at a younger age. So much the better for them, and for the audience.

  With so much humdrum work being cranked out every day, one wonders why the bother. I do wonder what makes people do comics, especially ones that are time-consuming to write and draw regardless of whether they are good.

  I have my own ideas, and may write them down here at some point, but perhaps if there are any readers left they would like to comment. It would help if you mention your comic, with no need for apologies. This is a question for discussion, not judgment.