Who's Robert Crumb?

The R. Crumb Handbook provides even greater insight into the oft-dissected artist.

Thanks to Terry Zwigoff's much-lauded 1994 documentary Crumb, you don't need to be a Zap Comix enthusiast to know who R. Crumb is and why he's so damned special. The priapic cartoonist, chubby-chaser and record collector is ringed by an unlikely aura of intrigue; who knew a googly-eyed old pervert could attract such a vast and worshipful fanbase?

That said, The R. Crumb Handbook (MQ Publications, $25) is bound to be a hit with its target demographic. (You know a book ain't aimed at Crumb newbies when it's cross-marketed with a "Win a Date with Aline Crumb!" promotion, though who could pass up the opportunity to wine and dine the artist's equally twisted missus?) Written by Crumb and Peter Poplaski, the Handbook is a loose collection of world-according-to-Crumb essays accompanied by comics both famous and rare. (Angelfood McSpade, Mr. Natural, and the infamous Family That Fucks Together are all present and accounted for.)

We also hear more (much more) about how Crumb loves getting sexualized piggyback rides from zaftig women, a subject that may have been exhausted in Zwigoff's documentary. Still, the crotchety screeds from an aging Crumb are worth reading; his philosophies on life are remarkably honest, refreshingly pessimistic, and quite poignant. And then there are those comics--Crumb's drawings crawl with energy, and that slavish attention to detail reveals that those comparisons to the Dutch masters are warranted. This book is a must-have for Crumb junkies, and certainly accessible enough for the Crumb-curious. Plus, the firm yellow binding makes this tome feel like the dirtiest textbook you never read. One caveat: Don't page through this on the bus unless you want your seatmate to get up and move. Crumb, bless him, can even offend from afar.

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