Literature, Autobiography, and the Quest for Self
A thorough engagement with the literary, spiritual, and intellectual underpinnings of a great comics creator
Robert Crumb (b. 1943) read widely and deeply a long roster of authors including Robert Louis Stevenson, Charles Dickens, J. D. Salinger, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and Allen Ginsberg, as well as religious classics including biblical, Buddhist, Hindu, and Gnostic texts. Crumb’s genius, according to author David Stephen Calonne, lies in his ability to absorb a variety of literary, artistic, and spiritual traditions and incorporate them within an original, American mode of discourse that seeks to reveal his personal search for the meaning of life.
R. Crumb: Literature, Autobiography, and the Quest for Self contains six chapters that chart Crumb’s intellectual trajectory and explore the recurring philosophical themes that permeate his depictions of literary and biographical works and the ways he responds to them through innovative, dazzling compositional techniques.
Calonne explores the ways Crumb develops concepts of solitude, despair, desire, and conflict as aspects of the quest for self in his engagement with the book of Genesis and works by Franz Kafka, Jean-Paul Sartre, the Beats, Charles Bukowski, and Philip K. Dick, as well as Crumb’s illustrations of biographies of musicians Jelly Roll Morton and Charley Patton. Calonne demonstrates how Crumb’s love for literature led him to attempt an extremely faithful rendering of the texts he admired while at the same time highlighting for his readers the particular hidden philosophical meanings he found most significant in his own autobiographical quest for identity and his authentic self.
"Excepting a few obscure studies and essays, no one has pursued this otherwise obvious avenue of research into both comics and Crumb. Calonne has done excellent work gathering up the proliferate allusions throughout Crumb’s oeuvre, and he has made outstanding observations on Crumb’s drawing style and changes over the decades. R. Crumb: Literature, Autobiography, and the Quest for Self is extensive, evocative, and invaluable. "- D. K. Holm, editor of R. Crumb: Conversations