Aline Kominsky Crumb and her memoir
I first became aware of Aline Kominsky Crumb’s work during the 1980s, probably in the pages of “Weirdo” or “Twisted Sisters” comix. “Oh, she’s R. Crumb’s wife,” we said, studying the panels of her work. She drew intentionally ugly, raw, autobiographical stories that were “just like Crumb’s,” we thought. We had no idea that his own famous confessional self-scrutinizing comic strips of the ’80s were partially inspired by her earlier efforts from the ’70s. We mistakenly thought that she was copying her famous husband’s format, and that he invariably must have been leading the dance when they produced their collaborative strips in which each of the two cartoonists drew his or her self and the accompanying dialogue balloon.
In this book, incorporating autobiographical strips from several decades which are arranged chronologically, we see her parents getting married, buying a house on Long Island, having two children, and fighting constantly. Throughout, Aline’s distinctively ragged and homely drawings are a perfect match for the less-than-perfect life that her family led. Make no mistake, she’s not clueless when it comes to drawing; she went to art school and intentionally draws that way! Aline’s work is confessional, honest, gut-wrenching and very funny. [Click on any of these photos to examine the illustration in closer detail.]
In the book, Crumb contributes an affectionate assessment of his wife’s talents. “Her grotesque, scratchy non-style of drawing was, and is, off-putting for the vast majority of comicbook readers, underground or otherwise,” he writes. “Consequently Aline has always had only a small but dedicated audience, a scattering of individuals who managed somehow to discover her comics….People sometimes judge her harshly. They look at her ‘unprofessional’ drawings and assume that she’s only getting published because of my influence. riding on my coat tails. It’s an exercise in futility for me or Aline to try to defend her from such charges…In these homely drawings and artless story telling, there is indeed real art; a direct, plainspoken truth and humor.”
To women, reading Aline is like the comic book version of listening to a trusted close girlfriend divulge her latest secrets to be analyzed and double-guessed at leisure, in comfort, while sprawled on a comfy sofa and eating fattening snacks. Inside the mind of each woman reader there’s a little voice responding to Aline’s text with “No! He didn’t! You’re serious?! So what did you do then?” Some of her tale is very gritty and quite sad, but other parts are funny (for instance, her assault as a teenybopper upon the Beatles when they arrived in New York). Aline’s work is thoroughly amusing and entertaining. Male readers might not take to her as swiftly as women, but Aline’s repeating themes of concern with physical appearance and self-esteem resonate for nearly all women. Honestly, is there a single woman out there who sees herself as she really is when she gazes into a mirror? —I particularly enjoyed the interview near the end of the book in which she talks about being an older woman who enjoys dressing up. “In America, women of a certain age are supposed to become sexless, and cut their hair short because long hair means sexy,” she said. “You have to wear a jogging suit or something that’s baggy. American society infantilizes older people—those leisurewear outfits that middle-aged Americans wear are just like baby clothes! You should see the difference here in France—there are women in their sixties walking around my village in high heels, mini skirts and lace stockings….It might not be completely perfect by model standards but it looks damn good, it’s sexy, it’s appealing, and I love that.”
Aline’s collaborations with her husband have become increasingly well-known thanks to occasional exposure in the New Yorker. I’m a dedicated fan at this point, after nearly thirty years of following her work, but it’s always difficult to convince others of her merits. Try this book and let it impress you as it did me. It’s one of the most sincere works of art I’ve ever looked at. And that earns a lot of points on my personal scorecard; there’s no doubt that this memoir is honest. A less honest artist would have drawn herself sleek and attractive and the adventures would all turn out in her favor. Because this isn’t the case, we read her work and recognize in it the universal truth of pain and joy.
The New York Times has a nice audio interview with Aline, plus a slide show of photos at http://www.nytimes.com/packages/khtml/2007/01/20/style/20070121_COMICS_AUDIOSLIDESHOW.html
Here’s a site with examples of her comic strips that you can click on and enlarge: http://www.adambaumgoldgallery.com/KominskyCrumb_Aline/Kominskycrumb.htm