From The Beat - Yet another who's who event for the NYC comics scene...Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Sophie Crumb, Pete Poplaski, Art Spiegelman, Francoise Mouly, and Bill Griffith all had front row seats. Also seen: Peter Kuper, Megan Kelso, William Kartalopoulos, flush with his Eisner nomination, Leslie Sternbergh, DC's Joey Cavalieri, Nick Mag's Chris Duffy, Anne Bernstein, Dan Nakrosis...probably many people we're forgetting, and also lots of New Yorker-ish publishing types we didn't recognize. Kominsky-Crumb and Mouly were both quite stylish in that continental way in fishnets and short skirts.
For those who came in late, the event was billed as "two naughty boys" Crumb and TIME art critic Robert Hughes having a tete a tete. Despite his professed hatred of public contact, Crumb seemed reasonably relaxed and affable. Hughes, author of such books as THE SHOCK OF THE NEW and GOYA, shares with Crumb a distaste for much modern art (just hearing him say the name "Jeff Koonz" was a lesson in disdain) and seemed to want to present the evening as two old hippies talking about their past acid trips together.
While Hughes is a terrific critic, he might not have been the best companion for a journey into Crumbland, since he isn't much for low culture. (Hughes did admit to having been a cartoonist at some point, although he was forbidden to read comics growing up in Australia because "they took SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT very seriously there.") Crumb spoke about his marine father, his shame over images charged with racism and sexism, and his pop culture influences such as Harold Gray and Little Lulu, but much of the evening was given over to Hughes trying to coax some kind of statement on subversion from Crumb, who admitted self-analysis off the page isn't his greatest strength.
Crumb's message was that drawing comics is what saved his sanity (his two brothers didn't have that outlet, and payed the price.) "If I wasn't a cartoonist I'd be drawing those big butts on prison walls," said Crumb, to general laughter. Despite his avowed anti-modernism, he was quite positive when asked about the current crop of cartoonists. He only mentioned daughter Sophie by name, whom he said had turned him on to several younguns, Asked for advice for aspiring cartoonists, he offered the predictable warning not to quit their day jobs, and mentioned how difficult it was to make any money at it, but remained encouraging to the next generation.
If the execution wasn't quite ideal, it was still a rare chance to see one of the most influential pop artists of the 20th century speak. Witty and articulate, Crumb was quite entertaining with his deliberate mugging at times, playing up his image as a loon and an old lech. It's a shame he hates public appearances, because hearing him speak in something a little less mannered would be fascinating.
There were, however, some interesting sociological notes to be had from the evening. Hughes made mention of the infamous "High and Low" art show which toured MOMA and LA'S MOCA in 1991. Curated by the late Kirk Varnedoe (Museom of Modern Art) and Adam Gopnik (the New Yorker guy), the show was openly disdainful about the pop culture that influenced high art. Although there was a section on comics and cartoons, only what was then the ultimate canon -- Herriman and McCay -- were allowed in. But highbrow types hated it even more. From the above link:
In excoriating the show's curators, Hilton Kramer, the incandescent critic of the New York Observer and one of the most redoubted conservative art critics in America, damns "High & Low" as "a show in which the intellectual fashions of the academic are cynically joined with the commercial imperatives of the contemporary art market." Mr. Kramer's heart is in the right place, yet his reasoning is suspect. He is driven to this condemnation through an almost reflexive response to the mere framing of the question that the show seeks to answer: What is the nature of modernism's interaction with low culture?
Flash forward 14 years. In the internet's relentless assault, such questions seem meaningless, but they still exist. The general tone of the evening was very uptown, a kind of fly in amber that "comics are a low art but have something to say because they are so raw and vital!" We've actually moved way beyond that attitude on whatever they call the cutting edge these days (see previous item) but in general, liking Crumb and Spiegelman is a-okay in Turtle Bay -- at least tonight. Lest we forget, this week Spiegleman is in TIME Magazine as one of the year's 100 must influential people, alongside the Dalai Lama, LeBron James and Johnny Depp.
The general attitude can be summed up by the comments of one very well dressed lady who was sitting near The Beat. Although at one point she lamented not having her St. Laurent because the room was so cold, she was also heard to murmur "Oh my God, it's Art Spiegelman!" Indeed.
Spiegelman, Mouly and Griffith were spotted hurrying off to have dinner afterwards -- it was nice to see old undergrounders hanging out together. After the talk was over, Crumb announced in no uncertain terms that he wouldn't sign a single autograph, and made an exit whose haste showed that the guy is still pretty spry -- in every way.