Illustration by Gary Panter for the New York Times Sunday Book review of Garth Risk Hallberg’s ‘City on Fire’ by Frank Rich, October 8, 2015.
The ex-pat artist, who has lived in France for 25 years, talks to the Observer about his new cartoon of Muhammed
Celia Farber writes: Robert Crumb is considered by many to be the single best cartoonist America has ever produced. The creator of counter culture icons like Fritz the Cat, the Keep On Truckin guy and Mr Natural, Mr. Crumb was inducted into the comic book Hall of Fame in 1991, the same year he moved his family to France, where he has resided ever since. Writer Celia Farber reached him at his home on Friday, January 9, 2015, to talk about the massacre of cartoonists and others in Paris this week.
Celia Farber: Have journalists been calling you today to talk about the assassinations at Charlie Hebdo? Are you willing to talk about it?
Robert Crumb: Liberation wanted me to draw a cartoon, so I did this cartoon for Liberation about it. So far, you are the first American journalist that’s asked me to talk about it. I’ll talk about it, yeah.
No other journalists have called you? Really?
No, you’re the only one. You don’t have journalists over there anymore, what they have is public relations people. That’s what they have over in America now. Two-hundred and fifty thousand people in public relations. And a dwindling number of actual reporters and journalists.
We don’t have a context for this tradition here, merciless, political satire. One thing I keep noticing is commentators here are pointing out that the cartoons were very offensive and insulting. It’s as if we don’t understand that was by design. Very intentionally offensive, and very clear about why that couldn’t be compromised. That’s the part we don’t get, as Americans. It’s like, “Why did they have to be so mean?”
It’s a French thing, yeah, and they value that very highly here, which is why there’s like a huge amount of sympathy for the killing of those guys, you know, huge demonstrations and crowds in Paris – people holding up signs that say, “Je suis Charlie.” Even here in the village where I live, we had a demonstration yesterday out in front of the town hall. About 30 people showed up and held up “Je suis Charlie” signs.
Were you there?
Yeah, I went to it, sure. Since I’m the village cartoonist, I had to go. [Laughs.]
You didn’t know any of those guys?
I knew Wolinsky a little. I had some conversations with him over the last 20 years, but I didn’t know him real well. I didn’t know any of them real well. I didn’t become part of the circle of cartoonists in France, you know. Probably because I still can’t speak the fucking language worth a damn.
I think they were well aware they could and very likely would get killed.
The editor knew. He knew. The office got fire bombed in 2011. The government started, like, you know, offering them protection, and when he said that thing about, you know, “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees,” he said, “You know, I’m not married, I don’t have credit cards, I don’t drive a car. I stay very …I keep everything very simple…I don’t want to have these connections, because I could go at any time.” He knew that.
These guys were not trying not to offend, and that’s what an American media-conditioned mind cannot understand. The idea that yes, you offend those who abuse power.
[Laughs.] No, they can’t.
Robert Crumb and his wife Aline attend a party launching a T-shirt line incorporating an original R. Crumb design by designer Stella McCartney on March 17, 2005 in London. (Photo by David Westing/Getty Images)
It’s not the faith that is being insulted. It’s the extremism, the psychosis. The totalitarian impulse.
Aline [Mr. Crumb’s wife is the cartoonist Aline Kominsky-Crumb] saw something on the internet…All the big newspapers and magazines in America had all agreed, mutually agreed, not to print those offensive cartoons that were in that Charlie Hebdo magazine. They all agreed that they were not going to print those, because they were too insulting to the Prophet. Charlie Hebdo, it didn’t have a big circulation. A lot of French people said, “Yes, it was tasteless, but I defend their right to freedom of speech.” Yeah, it was tasteless, that’s what they say. And perhaps it was. I’m not going to make a career out of baiting some fucking religious fanatics, you know, by insulting their prophet. I wouldn’t do that. That seems crazy. But then, after they got killed, I just had to draw that cartoon, you know, showing the Prophet. The cartoon I drew shows me, myself, holding up a cartoon that I’ve just drawn. A crude drawing of an ass that’s labeled “The Hairy Ass of Muhammed.” [Laughs.]
You did what?!
Yeah, I sent that to Liberation, so we’ll see what happens. You know, that’s the most I’ve stuck my neck out for a long time…
Did you discuss that with Aline?
I showed it to her, and she said, “Oh, my God, we’re going to have to go into hiding.” [Laughs.] So, then Aline had this idea for another cartoon, which we also sent to Liberation, a collaboration, that’s showing her looking at the drawing saying, “Oh, my God, they’re going to come after us! This is terrible…I want to live to see my grandchildren!” And then she has me saying, “Well, it’s not that bad. And, besides, they’ve killed enough cartoonists, maybe they’ve gotten it out of their system.”
So you submitted both?
Yeah. We sent it to them this morning. Scanned it, and emailed it. It’s going to run in Liberation tomorrow. Read the rest of this entry »