Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 283 (11/13) -- The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb

I surely can't be the first person to point out that The Sweeter Side of R. Crumb -- the 2006 collection devoted to his "nice" work, suitable for women and children and those of delicate persuasions -- is able to be as sweet as it is primarily because it's made up of single drawings, mostly from life, rather than stories. In other words, it's sweet because it's made up of moments when Crumb's eyes communicated directly with his drawing hand, leaving his roiling brain out of the loop entirely.

This new paperback edition adds an introduction by Crumb -- hand-lettered, or at least so it looks, on the page facing the copyright notice -- to the 104 pages of sweetness and light originally contained in the hardcover. It's arranged mostly chronologically, though most of the drawings here -- and they are, almost entirely, drawings rather than comics, though there are a number of pieces that appear to be illustrations or covers -- come from the '90s and early '00s. There are sequences of empty French streets, scenes from nature, Crumb's wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb posed in various outfits, copies of various photos (from family members, old yearbooks, etc.), and the inevitable flood of old or retro musicians, in various jazz or "ethnic" styles. Crumb's drawing skills are deeply impressive, but this is just a book of random drawings -- excellent, lovely drawing, yes, even "sweet" drawings, I suppose -- but without any larger artistic or story-telling aims.

Perhaps there aren't enough "nice" Crumb comics stories to fill a book of the same title, but, still, I can't help but feel that an opportunity was lost here -- these drawings aren't really Crumb being "Sweet," but him exercising his artist's eye for detail, light and dark, and line. It's a book of interest to serious students of Crumb's art -- and for Crumb completests -- but otherwise isn't a very good introduction to his work, nor is it terribly interesting to fans of Crumb's stories. But it is sweet, so it's certainly what it claims to be.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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