This year I’ve been reading dozens of books about the Beat Poets in preparation for a comic story I was asked to do for an anthology that Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle are putting together. Since I knew little about the Beat Generation, I’ve been devouring a book a week, mostly biographies, in order to gain insight and find out what these people were really like. The only image I had was a ridiculous media invention-The Beatnik- that was condescending at best, like Maynard G. Grebbs from the “Dobie Gillis Show”. Anyway, what I’ve really noticed is, all these biographies, while forthcoming about the sex and the drugs and all, still seem to be holding SOMEthing back. I don’t feel like I’m getting the real nitty gritty, just a small amount; a taste. I’m not sure if the writers assume the readers are already familiar with their notoriety or if there are just some episodes they’d prefer to gloss over. Even Alan Ginsberg’s biography, rich in uninhibited detail, had an annoying mystique about it.
Not so with Aline Crumb’s book, NEED MORE LOVE. I don’t think I’ve ever read a more honest account of someone’s life, and best of all, she’s PROUD to be an underground cartoonist. And when I say “underground”, I ain’t talking about alternative, or lowbrow or graphic novel. I’m talking about raw, down and dirty deconstruction of your mind. Stripped down emotions that are terrifying and fascinating at the same time. A little “ripe”. Not to be mentioned in mixed company. Pain and suffering. Comix that send a big FUCK YOU message to society, consumerism and organized vituperation. I remember the first time I saw Aline’s work in WIMMEN’S COMIX. It was “Goldie, A Neurotic Woman”. Not only was it her life story, but it was mine as well…all those horrendous episodes of female adolescent life. Reading it made me remember all the pain I’d tried to forget. The screaming crazy parents, the leering looks from your own father, the self hatred, the shameful horniness, and those days when you felt royally butt ugly. I laughed out loud when I got to the third page and the panel that said “I was a giant slug living in a fantasy of future happiness…when I’m 18 I’ll be beautiful”. I tell ya, there isn’t a woman alive who can’t relate to that drawing of the girl with the teeny head, monstrous nose and a body shaped like a Hubbard squash. Another thing I liked was the absence of a feminist agenda, something most of the women cartoonists at that time felt they needed to do, (or were told to). Hell, what could be more liberating than to write about yourself, warts ‘n’ all? I’m 3 years younger than Aline, but man oh man, can I relate to Female Dress Code that was expected in the early 60s’…the clothing I would have to wear when I “grew up”…girdles and bras and heels and utter constriction. How I was supposed to look…attractive at all times! How I was supposed to sit, walk, talk…I didn’t want to grow up!! Thank goodness the hippies came along and all that crap was thrown out the window. Alines’ “young girl” comics tell it like it is, and what cruel folly it was to try and look like Natalie Wood or Liz Taylor when you’re only 14 years old. “I Remember Peggy”, Aline’s story about Her Blondeness, Peggy Lipton, perfectly illustrates this hopeless teen girl quest for perfection.
Alines’ other book, LOVE THAT BUNCH was a fine collection, but NEED MORE LOVE has the icing on the cake. There are lots of pictures of the people she’s been writing about all these years, like her parents and family. It ties it all together, and I liked the narrative pages spaced throughout the book instead of being at the beginning so you don’t have to keep going back to re-check something. That’s another thing, Aline’s writing and her ability to capture the dialect of people in her comix is great. I sometimes forget I’m reading a comic with some of her Long Island stories, like “Moo Goo Gaipan”…”Oi, we’re sick o’ deli…we had it 4 times last week”. “How ‘bout that Western bar-b-que. They got steak ‘n’ chili, ribs and mesquite grilles!! It’s the latest thing!! They give ya a lot ta’eat…good value…very filling!”
As much as NEED MORE LOVE is Aline’s history, it’s also a history about underground comics as well. I’m glad she included pictures from the old days, (the biggest hoot is the photo of Diane Noomin at a party dressed as her comix character, “Didi Glitz”.) I’m also glad she set the record straight about the whole women’s comic scene that was almost ruined by a few people who thought art must be an extension of a political platform, in this case, Feminism. Robert Crumb was singled out by several women as being “The Ultimate Male Chauvinist Pig”, something I always thought was pathetically stupid to say considering we have Presidents and Rock Stars whose behavior was far worse. I myself have had a few run-ins with some of these women from San Francisco when I first started getting published and I found their hatred of the ZAP COMIX guys harsh but not harsh enough to hide their jealousy.
An unexpected treat, is the inclusion of Aline’s other art talents, namely her paintings and collages. Watercolor is an extremely difficult medium-there aren’t any second chances and it’s real easy to end up with a muddy mess on soggy paper. Aline’s technique is fresh and never overworked. Her black and white comic work is tightly controlled chaos, every centimeter filled with detail and texture and patterns, yet her paintings are poised and there’s a certain calmness in her composition and rich spooky colors, even the “Demented Dolls”. How I would love to see her collages in person. I’m a real sucker for glitter, faux jewels and bright plastic shiny objects. Of course, the strips done by Aline and Robert are a delight, and even more so when their daughter, Sophie, joins them. Jeeze, it’s almost like you’re in the other room listening to them talk! It’s hard doing a strip like this with another person. I did one page with Dennis Worden, a fine cartoonist, and it took a lot of time…and trust. Trust that the other person doesn’t screw it up!! I’m also glad Aline included the WEIRDO “Photo Funnies”. “The Unfaithful Husband” was my personal favorite, and unlike most readers, I always looked forward to see these wacky photo strips in the pages of WEIRDO.
In this world, there are “the do’ers” and “the strokers”, and Aline is definitely “a do’er” who knows How To Make Things Happen. You wanna make something? Then DO it! You feel fat? Then exercise and stop eatin; so much! Ya hate where you live, then MOVE!! Ya wanna make music, then PRACTICE! Ya wanna make comix, then sit down and GET T’ WORK!! Many things are possible if you decided to try and then work hard, and that’s what I think is the best part of this book-its’ message. I wasn’t expecting a message, but it’s got one and a good one, too. She’s like the big sister that you want to imitate, who always knows “what time it is”. Both Robert and Aline continue to be unique and trailblazing in the world of underground comix, and fortunately for us, Aline had the opportunity and energy to put this book together. I hope she’s already thinking about Vol. 2!!
(from Mineshaft #20, September, 2007)
Illustration from Need More Love (2007) by Aline Kominsky Crumb. It originally appeared in Wimmen’s Comix #1 in 1972 in the story “Goldie, A Neurotic Woman”.