This piece from the blog 'Spurious' titled "Saint Charles Crumb" has been making the rounds on quite a few comics sites of late-especially odd as it was written in April of this year. Dirk at Journalista (who's been linking this blog like crazy lately, thanks!) called the entry "fascinating" and over at Comics Comics it's "a pretty amazing reflection".
With such glowing words, it seems all the more important that I do the thing that even in assholey "negative zone" posts I'd rather not do: Shit on the actual writing before I even get to content. One can't help but slog through too-curt short sentences that yell out "this is serious and thoughtful" and think of how way too many people'll be duped into thinking this means something profound or serious is being said.
Additionally, two glaring errors about the movie Crumb become obvious and kinda absurd because the writing's so fucking serious. Charles' bully was not called "Hutch" but "Scutch" and Crumb's father wrote a book called Training People Effectively and not "How to Manage People" (the latter being a title too terrible even for a son and wife abusing dumbass like Crumb's father to settle on..).
And outside of the reverse-purple prose--which is so Palahniuk-ian it becomes purple all over again--that cries out "I'm writing reeeaaallll serious here", there's little left but the problematic idealization of a person that really shouldn't be idealized. In the world of visual art and especially in comics, there's a obsession with suffering and pseudo-honesty that's every bit as adolescent as reading about buff-as-shit dudes fighting big-titty bitches with big guns.
From the mind-bogglingly problematic term "outsider art", to re-releases from kinda talented weirdos like Fletcher Hanks, to any number of self-loathing, super "honest" (and rarely just honest) comics and 'zines, us comics reader just love the fucked-up and weird and long ago, mistook it for artistry and honesty. Now certainly, it can be art--look no further than Charles Crumb's uh, brother Robert!--and indeed, some of Charles' work is fascinating and good art (not outsider art, just art) but to fall into the trap of not only idealizing Charles and semi-seriously "Sainting" him, but to present his life and times as somehow more tragic and uncompromising than the rest of us is just silly.
Yes, Charles is a sympathetic character and in a lot of ways, the most interesting and affecting part of Crumb and the title card that tells you of his suicide brings tears to my eyes every time I watch the movie, but it's because he touches on some adolescent, acting out, goofball fantasy that of continuing to be a weirdo, book-reading fuckup that a lot of us sensitive, artsy-fartsy types have and not because he's some special, rarified individual.
Indeed, that's sort of the point of Crumb or one of the like points you're supposed to ponder...how Robert, who grew up in essentially the same household, who has his own group of horrible stories (Dad broke his collarbone on Christmas anyone?), ended up fairly well-adjusted and successful. Plenty of people grew up in worse places than Charles Crumb and plenty were beaten worse by their fathers or school bullies and didn't end up mumbling sardonically in their book-filled bedroom. Those are the people to celebrate and adore, the ones that forced their way through it and found some way to keep on fucking living (actually living) after whatever tragedy(s) took hold of their body and mind and kinda wouldn't ever really let go.