Monday, December 13, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 313 (12/13) -- Sophie Crumb: Evolution of a Crazy Artist

There are certainly artists whose work up to the age of twenty-nine would easily justify a major retrospective: Keats, Byron, and Shelley in poetry, for example, and Mozart in music. Several visual artists showed amazing talent early, as well -- Millais entered the Royal Academy at eleven, and, of the current generation of cartoonists, Bryan Lee O'Malley was two-thirds through his "Scott Pilgrim" series at that age.

Sophie Crumb (born September 27, 1981), on the other hand, has a very thin resume up to this point: she produced two issues of Belly Button Comix (in 2002 and 2004), and did some art seen in the movie Ghost World. Oh, and, possibly more importantly, she's the daughter of underground cartoonist superstar R. Crumb (and only slightly-less-major feminist cartooning icon Aline Kominsky-Crumb). So it is very, very easy to be cynical about a book presenting Sophie Crumb's artistic journey -- since she hasn't arrived anywhere in particular, as far as most of us know -- particularly when it comes edited by the three Crumbs, published by R. Crumb's usual publisher, and full of work Sophie produced before she could legally drink.

Sophie Crumb: Evolution of a Crazy Artist does look very much like what Norton slotted into the schedule when they realized they wouldn't get another R. Crumb book for a while after The Book of Genesis, but that's no reason to take someone else's cynicism out on Sophie, or to dismiss her book out of hand. It does show one young artist's development, from an exceptionally early age -- the first piece in here was created when Sophie was twenty-six months old -- up through sophistication and publishable work. (Part of the point of Evolution of a Crazy Artist, though, is to avoid work that was published, so every page in here has sketchbook drawings and other things that have never been seen before outside of the Crumb family living room.)

Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with Sophie's Belly Button Comix, so I can't speak to the question of how Evolution traces her development to that pinnacle. She does complain, on a number of sketchbook pages in her late teens, that she doesn't have a specific style, and that rang true to me -- she showed flashes of being a mature artist in terms of technique from around the age of ten, and was consistently technically accomplished by her mid-teens, but there's no sign here that she has yet developed a specific, individual style. (The question behind that, of course, is if a personal style is necessary -- but I suspect the real underlying cause is that Sophie Crumb has spent too much time in sketchbooks and not enough creating art, of any kind, for an audience.)

There are some notes by Sophie, on each section (divided chronologically into three-to-five year periods), but nothing more extensive, and no notes on individual drawings. It's exactly what it claims to be: selections of the better pages from the sketchbooks of a young woman who can certainly draw, but hasn't particularly done much with that talent yet. It will be of the highest interest to stalkers of the Crumb family, or otherwise fanatical fans of the elder Crumbs -- there may be some fanatical fans of Sophie herself, I suppose, but that group is likely to be quite small. But, since we don't know this "crazy artist" from any real body of finished work, seeing her evolution is less than enthralling.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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