Drawn Together is the collected collaborative work of underground comics superstar team Aline and Robert Crumb. Married for over thirty-five years, they have shared their personal relationship through uncensored autobiographical comics. Covering 1974 to 2010, it charts their critical and financial rise from (literally) a trailer in California to a chateau in France. Individual vignettes are hit or miss, but overall we are given a portrait of a successful, long term, non-traditional relationship. They have an open marriage. The entire volume is evidence that the strongest couples are those in which the constituent personalities are complementary, as opposed to clones, of one another.
What’s lacking is the narrative arc of Aline’s underrated mixed media biography Need More Love. That book is a life affirming exploration of being damaged and the journey we are all on to fix it. It is an antidote to the negative portrayal of Aline found in Terry Zwigoff’s biopic of her neurotic husband, simply titled Crumb. If Need More Love is about the ability of people to change, Crumb is about one artist’s psychodynamics trapping their owner in an obsessional loop. Its vision may not be hopeful, but is it shockingly honest and simultaneously enlightening like turning a light on in a darkened room. The room being Robert Crumb’s bizarre childhood.
Though Crumb ranks as of the best films of the 1990s, Robert’s actual comics have never spoken much to me. I don’t possess his self-loathing nor his sexual obsessions. In this regard, Robert’s influence on other comics auteurs has been negative. Artists like Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, and Chester Brown share his technical excellence but also his misanthropy and confessional self-indulgence. The library owns numerous examples of Crumb’s work in this, for him, classic mode, but if you wanted an alternative you could check out his illustrated version of The Book of Genesis. I couldn’t think of anything more boring than Robert Crumb illustrating the Bible but it was a bonafide event when it was published a few years back.
I would be remiss not to mention the Crumbs’ daughter Sophie’s recently published notebooks Sophie Crumb: Evolution of a Crazy Artist. The aesthetic relevance vs. cash cow status of that particular artifact is up to the reader. I would call out the haters who say the same thing about Need More Love. My opinions deserve the same scrutiny.
Crumb, Need More Love, and Drawn Together intimately document one couple’s decades long artistic and romantic life. It’s one for the history books. I feel privileged to have been witness. It has filled me with fascination and joy.
Looking for the some great presents this holiday season? Try Popmatic Podcast‘s best of the year picks. Something for everyone – even your grumpy uncle. Think about it this way: he’s not going to like whatever you get him anyway so just get him whatever pretentious thing Bryan recommends.
Hagio revolutionized Japanese “girl’s comics,” or Shojo manga, by broadening the subject matter to include death, ghost stories, and sexual confusion. Hey – it’s all my favorite stuff in one place! But I was a little let down as the intended audience was obviously someone a little younger than me. Maybe I am just a snoot. Still, Archie this is not. If ambiguously gendered mystical melancholia is your thing this book has it in heaps. Recommended for Morrissey fans.
The stories that hit the mark the most for me: “Iguana Girl,” a refreshingly mature take on being the runt of the family, and “Angel Mimic,” which flips the script on the student-teacher crush scenario.
Making this work more valuable is the front (or is it back?) matter by translator Matt Thorne that includes a rundown of notable Shojo manga artists and a long interview with Hagio. Drunken Dream and Other Stories is window to a world of art not many of us have access to.
Joyce Farmer was out the comics business a number of years until the death her parents forced her back to the drawing board. The result is Special Exits. The graphic novel chronicles Farmer’s experiences being the primary care giver to her father and mother-in-law during their final years. By interspersing flashbacks of her parents’ lives the book becomesa biography of her parents as much as Farmer’s own memoir. It is an emotional bulldozer. Special Exits seems a sure bet to enter the small canon of graphic novels whose universal appeal transcends the bias of those who normally avoid the format. Highly recommended.
As our nation emerges from years of isolation from Iran and attempts to engage a nation whose actions are frightening, this autobiographical graphic novel serves as an excellent primer on the history of Iran’s theocracy. For readers not tuned into graphic novels, don’t be deceived by the comic book format. Satrapi, born in 1969, is a child of the revolution but also the child of progressive, well educated parents who are at first elated by the overthrow of the Shah. They are quickly disillusioned when the Islamic regime evolves into the same sort of totalitarianism and fear suffered under the Shah. Marjane’s story continues in Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return.
How many of us think graphic novel when they think historical biography? Forget Doris Kearns Goodwin, if you want a slice fascinating history check out Chester Brown’s Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography.
Riel was a French-speaking populist leader that led an armed rebellion against the English-dominated Canadian government. Arguably pushed into role of public spokesmen, the religiously intense (perhaps insane) Riel is the most interesting person you never learned about in school. (Did you learn anything about Canadian history in school?) In contrast to the violent tumultuous subject matter, Brown’s pages are each broken into six uniform squares. By strictly adhering to the comic strip format Brown represents visually, and simultaneously comments upon, the academic distance of the historian.
Don’t let the format turn you off – this is art and reading for thinking adults. Truth is always stranger than fiction, but you’ve never seen it presented quite this way before.
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