Cartooning couple Aline and Robert Crumb have made their bed together, literally, throughout 35 years of marriage while supporting each other in individual and conjoint artistic careers. Intensely private yet disarmingly public, Aline has become a mistress of satiric confessional comedy, both in solo comics and in the comics of Drawn Together (Liveright: Norton. 2012. ISBN 9780871404299. $29.95). In this synergistic collection of mostly autobiographical anecdotes from the 1970s onwards, she and Robert draw themselves into a sort of “reality comic” approach, sharing panels as they have shared their somewhat Bohemian lives and libidos with friends and lovers over the decades.
MC: These stories certainly show that you and your husband share a sense of humor, very important in marriage! Which stories are your favorites?
AC: There are different aspects of the book that interest me—they are very different for me. In the beginning, we did these stories not with the intention of publishing them but to amuse ourselves. They are kind of open-ended and free-form. Sometimes they’re not coherent, but they have surprises, like aliens show up, Timothy Leary shows up. There’s a certain freedom that I like about them, but I don’t think they all work as coherent stories in the same way, for example, that the stories we did [later] for the New Yorker work, which had a three-page limitation, and we had an assignment—there were restrictions. I think these were very coherent and more sophisticated as stories.
The last story we did just to shock. As old people, we wanted to do something about senior sex, since I think there’s nothing more disgusting to most people than the idea of that. So I really wanted to do something that returned to our raunchiest roots. People said, well, Robert did Genesis, they’ve gotten soft in old age, those were the critiques I’ve heard over the last 10 years, so we wanted to go against that idea. And I have to say I was really attached to that story!
So I think they are interesting in different aspects. As, you could say, which period of your life do you prefer? When you’re in your 20s, or when you’re more stable in middle age, or later when in a certain way you have nothing to lose? I think the book follows the general pattern of life.
MC: I love that one where he tells you to think up the punch lines, and you say, “Awright, but you hafto do the vacuuming then!” There’s a real sense of give and take: in your art, in the candid exchanges about your mutually enjoyable and sometimes explicitly drawn sex life, and in your daily tasks. Do you still make the bed together every morning?
AC: Yes, we do. We’ve made it, like 30,000 times. The tedium and reassuring aspects of it are equal. It’s like I can’t believe we’re still doing this [and] “isn’t it wonderful, we’re still together after all these mornings still doing this.” It’s like a meditational Zen.
MC: You have a degree in fine art and have done many colorful and charming paintings apart from comics. Have you thought of making your paintings available in an art book or online or as prints? Are you still painting?
AC: I did have a big show in New York at the Adam Baumgold Gallery in 2007, and I sold a lot of the work. And I have a gallery, actually, with other artists in the village I live in, in France. I’ve been very active in the arts scene locally where I live.
Making a book of just art—I haven’t thought about it, but my next book I’m planning will be a combination of comics with text and illustrations. I’m working on the illustrations now. They’re drawings using colored pencil, watercolor, and ballpoint pen. One of the stories is going to be about Miami, about my mother’s beautician—this woman who’s blond and who has [had] everything [cosmetically] redone. I made 22 minutes of film with my cousin for a documentary, and did a lot of drawings of the beautician and her customers, so I’m going to use that work in the book.
MC: Your heavily illustrated biography, Need More Love, is in nearly two hundred libraries. Do you have any stories about being in libraries yourself?
AC: I had two refuges when I was a kid, because I grew up on Long Island where it was a cultural desert. There were no books in my family and no culture. My two places of refuge were art class and the library, the school library. I read a lot, and I drew, and that’s what got me through.
[About Need More Love in libraries:] I had no idea—the company that published it went out of business the day the book came out. I was at the New York Public Library giving a talk—I was greatly honored to be invited to the New York Public Library. One of my friends in the audience sent me a text message [that the publisher went out of business]. It was really a messy thing. They were very unprofessional as publishers. It was really a disaster in terms of business. But in the end, that book had a life of its own, and everywhere I go in the world, people have that book…. We went to India for a comics festival last year and tons of people had my book. How did it get there?
MC: Need More Love has an appeal from an art angle, not just a comics angle.
AC: That’s what I was trying to do…. Comics have been a part of my life but not all of my artistic life. I wanted to make a book that was a broad representation of my artistic career. People only know me as Robert’s wife. So I wanted to make a book that shows my whole life in a more well-rounded way. Obviously my connection to him is very important—we’ve been together a long time.
MC: I love the way you draw yourself dressing—you say “like a Christmas tree,” but it’s a stylish and fun tree, especially with your purple-rose-colored hair. Why do you think so few older women do their hair in funky colors?
AC: I’m not at all homophobic, but I think that a lot of gay men hairdressers tell women when they’re a certain age that they have to get a hairdo, they have to look like they’re sophisticated, and neat and orderly, but it totally desexualizes women. Older women aren’t supposed to be sex objects any more—that’s why I wanted to do that senior sex story. There’s a big taboo against staying sexy when you’re older. I just look like a decrepit teenager now—I haven’t changed my style at all. And I think our generation is a little more like that. But I have friends who got helmet hairdos when they turned fifty and they look just like matronly old things, and it’s mostly the hairdo.
MC: You’ve talked about a split between people who like comics about glamorous and heroic women, and those such as yourself who take a “tell it straight” approach. With reality TV so popular now, it seems you were ahead of the curve on that one. What do you think?
AC: I think so. I’m the first woman to have done autobiographical comics, in the early ‘70s. I was influenced by Justin Green, and his comic book, Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary. His work gave me the way to have my voice in comics. I really liked underground comics but I didn’t really relate to them as a way that I could work until I saw his work, and then a light bulb went off over my head.
I draw about myself because I’m not sophisticated enough as an artist or writer to write about anything else or to make up characters. So for me there wasn’t really a choice. Also, I had this miserable childhood and was so alienated from where I grew up that I had this huge thing I had to get out of me, and comics are a great art form in which to do that. I had all these stories built up in there, and I had to get them out. I was compelled to do them. It wasn’t because I thought it was a cool thing to do or because I was trying to be innovative, it was because it was the only thing I could do.
MC: When you and your husband report on events like Fashion Week or the Cannes Film Festival, you take positions of both insider and outsider, switching back and forth. That makes these stories especially entertaining and insightful. Will you be doing more cartoon journalism?
AC: Absolutely. When we travel, we always keep a notebook. Our next piece is going to be about Serbia because we just went to Serbia, and to the comics festival there, and that was really interesting and strange. We’re working on it now, and we’re going to submit it to the New Yorker.
MC: So many bits in Drawn Together just crack me up. Like when you make a spiritual case for your facelift by asking Robert, “Do you think God wants to be surrounded for eternity by a bunch o’ ugly ol’ wrinkly things?” Or when you’re deciding what to wear when you’re visiting your daughter Sophie’s squatter housing, followed by an event at Dior. Or when at the Crumb family reunion, Sophie (who draws and writes herself in this story) exclaims in relief, “And I thought my cousins would be a buncha Republican cheerleaders on speed! Whew.” Why do you think some of your critics seem so totally deaf to the humor of your comics?
AC: I don’t know. I come from a tradition of stand-up Jewish comedy—my grandfather took me to see every Jewish comedian from Don Rickles to Joan Rivers to Joey Bishop to Jackie Mason. That’s my input—that crossed with George Grosz, German expressionism, and Alice Neal. [But] there are people where that wouldn’t be their taste at all. Some people find Woody Allen really annoying, and other people think he’s great. It’s a specific kind of self-deprecating way to see the universe and to laugh at yourself, and some people don’t have that. They don’t think it’s funny, they think it’s whiny, they think it’s mean-spirited, they think it’s too negative.
MC: How would you sum up you and Robert’s new book?
AC: That book is a love story. It talks about endurance, a true deep commitment between two people who live together and work together and suffer together. I hope it’s an inspiring love story for other people.