NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2009

Aline Kominsky-Crumb

[CARTOONIST]

“THE WAY I DREW DEGRADING, UGLY SEX AND EVERYTHING—IT WAS REALLY A TURN-OFF TO MEN. THEY HATE IT.”
Reactions to Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s work:
Printers refusing to print her book
Her mother refusing to view her work
Hate mail that you wouldn’t believe

Aline Kominsky-Crumb was born in 1948 in New York. She briefly attended SUNY New Paltz before running away to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, subsequently spending one semester at Cooper Union before moving to Tucson, where she earned a BFA in painting from the University of Arizona. At age twenty-two, freshly divorced, she picked up and moved to San Francisco to join the burgeoning underground comics scene, inspired by cartoonists like Robert Crumb (whom she later married) and pioneer Justin Green, whose 1971 Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary inaugurated comics autobiography.

Kominsky-Crumb created what is widely regarded as the first women’s autobiographical comics story with her piece “Goldie: A Neurotic Woman,” which appeared in 1972 in the premier issue of the underground publication Wimmen’s Comix, earning her the title, as she puts it, of “the grandmother of whiny tell-all comics.” She continued to publish her work in underground titles such as Wimmen’s Comix, Manhunt, Lemme Outa Here!, Dope Comix, and Arcade, among others. She edited the acclaimed Weirdo for seven years and founded the comic books Twisted Sisters, Power Pak, Dirty Laundry, and Self-Loathing Comics (the latter two with Robert Crumb).

She has published three books: 1990’s Love That Bunch (named after her alter ego, “The Bunch”), 1993’s The Complete Dirty Laundry Comics (with Robert Crumb), and 2007’s Need More Love: A Graphic Memoir, a 384-page life narrative that showcases Kominsky-Crumb’s range as a visual artist in many different realms in addition to comics. Her next book will be a collaborative comics work with her husband, published by W. W. Norton. The couple’s collaborative comic strips have been appearing in the New Yorker since 1995.

I interviewed Kominsky-Crumb on the telephone on July 27, 2009. I was in my office in Cambridge; she was in her tall—nine-level!—stone house in Sauve, France (and within range of her husband, who piped in a few times). About a month later, she received me at her home, where she and Robert each have studios (she actually has two). Kominsky-Crumb not only walked me through her large and diverse body of work, much of which lines the walls of her home, but also consistently prepared me home-cooked meals—including chocolate cake—and took me to her very vigorous exercise class. The last night Aline and Robert and I were joined by her daughter, the cartoonist Sophie Crumb (Belly Button Comix), who lives about twenty minutes away and is expecting a baby boy—a subject at the center of Aline and Robert’s new, long collaborative story. “It’s about living in France for the last twenty years,” she says, “and we’re now totally immersed because our daughter is producing a French child.” Kominsky-Crumb, along with Sophie, regularly shows her work in an art gallery in Sauve that she runs with several other artists.

—Hillary Chute

*

THE BELIEVER: Did Trina [Robbins, founding member of Wimmen’s Comix] have any substantial things to say about your aesthetic? I mean, was it sort of like an ideological difference and an aesthetic difference?

ALINE KOMINSKY-CRUMB: Trina was very down on autobiographical comics. She discouraged me from doing it when we first started doing those comics together.

BLVR: What did she say?

AKC: She just said, you know, “Who wants to read about your personal daily things? That’s not interesting. People want, you know, to be uplifted in their work, and…” [Robert Crumb speaks in the background.] Robert’s trying to say something. What, Robert? Yeah, that’s right. Trina said, “Who wants to read about whether you’re worrying about being fat and ugly?”

BLVR: I do, actually…

AKC: Well, so do I. It turns out, actually, people do want to read about that. If you think about what kind of comedy people like—like Larry David, and all this reality stuff that’s come since then—that is what people want to read about. But at that time, people had different attitudes. Graphic novels hadn’t become an art form yet. Underground comics were a transition period from old-fashioned traditional comics to what you have now.

And Trina couldn’t understand why I would draw myself on a toilet. I would completely deconstruct the myth or romanticism around being a woman—all that stuff. I was just vulgar and gross and everything. I enjoyed pushing that in people’s faces. For me that was somehow satisfying.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

Hillary Chute’s book Graphic Women: Life Narrative and Contemporary Comics is coming out from Columbia University Press in Fall 2010.

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