Sunday, November 4, 2007

an old favorite

Robert Crumb has always been one of my favorite artists and certainly one of the least appreciated American cultural chroniclers, at least in this country. He gave up on the place years ago and very sensibly moved to the south of France - nice climate, good cheese, great wine and a population who know how to treat a genius.

Of all his characters Mr. Natural is the most profound example of a practitioner of crazy wisdom. His perpetual idiot student is Flakey Foont who knows Mr. Natural has something special going on but is himself far too literal minded to actually get any of it. No matter how many times Mr. Natural whacks Flakey with a stick or shows him how to get along in the world Flakey always misses the point entirely.

When R. Crumb developed Mr. Natural a lot of people I knew were reading the Carlos Castaneda books about the Mexican mystic Don Juan and his attempts to teach Carlos to be a warrior. Carlos was much more successful than Flakey and in actuality probably invented Don Juan after stealing research done by other anthropologists but that's another story. I think Crumb understood that aspect as well as the basic misapprehension by naive 60's youth of just how tricky the tricksters actually are.

I think if more people had paid attention to R. Crumb's assessment of the state of American culture back then instead of writing him off as an eccentric cartoonist we'd be in a lot less trouble now.


  1. You should always walk with your fingers curled up into your palms, but not in a fist.

  2. Fairlane - that's profound, although I feel like Flakey in my understanding.

    Susan, this is cool and I am only recently discovering Crumb. I've seen some work in the New Yorker a few times (current stuff from France). Have you seen that?

  3. Gary,
    Maybe you should try the Castaneda books too. Fairlane remembers Don Juan's lessons to the potential but very stupid gringo. One of the best scenes in the first book was Carlos trying to find his 'spot' to sit after having consumed his first peyote buttons.

    Yeah, we've been R. Crumb fans from the beginning - used to have all the Fritz the Cat, Zaps and Mr. Natural's but left them in RI. Still have all the Weirdo's (Verre d'Eau now he's in France). An original Mr. Natural sculpture occupies a box in our new storage space since we moved but we do have half a dozen of his etchings done of the village where he lives now.

    As Borat would say,,, niiice!

  4. Cool! And I did read Castaneda, but was too stoned to remember them. I talked my younger brother out of flying like an eagle off a peak near Colorado Springs though - I wonder if he would have really soared?

    Castenada was smart enough to retire young...very young. Which in itself is a form of magic.