Published by Taschen, Robert Crumb – The Sketchbooks, 1982-2011 is a six-volume boxed set presenting over 1,300 pages of artwork. Selected by Crumb himself, the drawings in this massive compilation were created between December 1982 through March 2011 and include hundreds of sketches not previously published in other sketchbook collections.
Robert Crumb came to prominence in the late ’60s with underground comics starring his characters Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, and artwork for albums like Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills. His work is controversial in its depiction of women and minorities, but regardless of the subject matter, there’s no deny the talent of his drawing skills as seen on display in this set. His use of shading is absolutely brilliant. He can emulate the style of other artists, like Alex Raymond’s work on Agent X-9. He shows he can make stunningly accurate portraits like the woman with the large white dog waiting to see the veterinarian, done on 12/16/02, and then he makes people more fascinating with his exaggeration of the human form that his art is known for.
In the sketchbooks he practices techniques and explores ideas. He draws comic strip and still lifes. Over the years, he revisits Adam and Eve and people from school, and he gets frequent inspiration from Carol Vinson. Political figures, family members, and movie stars like Buster Keaton and Shemp Howard pop up. The frustration of understanding life is frequently present and since the book offers no commentary to the drawings, one will wonder if we see what is going on in Crumb’s own life or if these are his reflections on life. He remains quite honest about his sexual desires and fantasies, a signature element in his work.
There were two things I found most surprising. Crumb attended a drawing class in London, February 2003, which showed an openness to learning and interacting with other artists, which someone of his stature might think they are above. And he doesn’t deal with 9/11 in these books. Even though he moved to southern France in 1993 and rarely deals with things on a global level, I still thought something so monumental might have garnered a reaction.
Robert Crumb: Sketchbooks 1982-2011 was originally published in a limited edition of 1,000 copies with a signed color art print of the Crumb original The Little Guy That Lives Inside My Brain and a hand-written introduction by Robert Crumb. For those curious about his earlier work, the press notes reveal, “Crumb requested that the books representing the second half of his career be published first due to fan demand for new Crumb material (Volumes 7-12 cover the period 1982-2011, and the forthcoming Volumes 1-6 will cover the period 1964-1981).”
This review was based on PDFs of the set.