By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
"Is Mr. Crumb in?" I ask, stupidly pretending not to know who she is.
"And who’s asking?"
I tell her my name and affiliation.
This information does not bring a smile to Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s face. In fact, it brings something closer to a scowl. "I thought he told you he didn’t want to see you," she says.
Faced with the undeniable truth of this statement, I have no option but to stumble through the rest of my pathetic plan. "I know," I say, "but I wrote to him again and I thought maybe . . ." I flap my arms uselessly in the street. Guilty as charged.
"Well," Aline says, looking at me, the street, the rain, and quickly concluding that this isn’t exactly Mike Wallace and a camera crew she’s dealing with, "You might as well come in and eat something, anyway." Then she adds sternly: "But you can’t ask him any questions! If you don’t, he might talk to you."
And then, as she leads me through a cluttered hallway lit with held-over Christmas lights, she calls out: "Robert! It’s that journalist guy from the L.A. Weekly!"
From somewhere in the house comes an answering groan, or perhaps a moan, followed, I think, by something like a snort. And then I see him: In a small alcove two steps down from the kitchen, Robert Crumb is standing with his back to me, bent over a basin bathing his eyes.
"Sit down," Aline tells me, indicating a large wooden dining table surrounded by chairs. "Would you like something to eat?"
I’d love something to eat, I tell her. Aline brings out bread, cheese, butter, ham and coffee and encourages me to dig in.
After a moment Crumb emerges from the alcove, looking much as he did in the movie except for the addition of a soft, woolly beard. He squints at me briefly. "I’m going upstairs to take some pills," he announces. Then he leaves.
Aline takes a seat next to me. "Robert’s got a migraine," she explains as I listen to her husband trudge wearily upstairs, muttering, no doubt, about fuckin’ journalists, they’re everywhere, can’t get away from ’em, even in your own house, hate ’em. At this point I have no idea what to expect from Crumb, but I am beginning to feel that, to some extent at least, Aline is on my side. She let me in, after all, and she’s given me food. In any case, there’s a stillness, a centeredness, a sure look in her green eyes that’s very attractive.
A minute later Crumb walks back into the kitchen. The first thing that strikes you is how thin he is; the second is how light his presence is. It’s as if an unusually interesting feather had walked into the room; this, you think to yourself, is truly a man who couldn’t hurt a fly.
"So," he says, stretching his long, sunken body like a clothesline between two chairs, "you’re here." Behind the thick magnifying lenses of his glasses, his eyes are absurdly large, like moons.
"Yeah," I say, "sorry about that."
"I can’t believe this editor of yours," Crumb says, shaking his head at the ever-present evils of the universe. "Forcing you to come down here like that. God . . ."
"Yeah, he sounds terrible," Aline chimes in. "How can you work for a guy like that?"
Well, you know . . .," I say, and help myself to some more ham and cheese . . .
Crumb is talking about Titanic , which he and Aline saw a couple of days earlier. Apparently, he’s still reeling from the effects of watching a gigantic ocean liner sink in a theater full of weeping girls. Crumb liked the movie but doesn’t think much of DiCaprio, who’s the son of an old cartoonist friend of his. A couple of years ago he and Leonardo had dinner in Paris, and, according to Crumb, DiCaprio spent most of the meal staring into a mirror. The waiter, confused by the teen idol’s beauty, addressed him throughout the evening as "mademoiselle."
The Crumbs have been in France since 1991, and they are now applying for dual French-American citizenship. They love the village, they love their house, and, though he can’t seem to master the language ("I hate French," he says), and thinks most contemporary French art is lousy, Crumb does seem to be cautiously respectful of French society.
"To an American, it’s really shocking how unambitious the French people are about doing business," he tells me. "It’s definitely not their priority at all." When he phoned an electronics store in a nearby town, Crumb says, wanting to buy a Toshiba 1710 photocopy machine, the guy on the end of the line was speechless with amazement — it was the most expensive thing he had, and he couldn’t believe anyone would actually want to buy it. Nonetheless, two men delivered it to the Crumbs’ house that afternoon, and — wanting to celebrate their sale in the appropriate manner — remained there until 11 o’clock that night, drinking pastis and singing songs. Two days later, one of them came back again, with a guitar, another bottle of pastis and a song he’d composed especially for Crumb.