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
"It’s not like America," Aline says, laughing. "Here it’s like you’re bonded for life."
One major advantage to living in France, Crumb says, is that his "celebrityhood" — he pronounces the word as if it were an infectious disease — is small here. His official reputation in the country is considerable (his entry in the Encyclopédie Larousseis larger than Walt Disney’s), but the population at large is slightly baffled by him.
"There have been attempts to put my work over here," Crumb says. "One book of mine, My Troubles With Women, came out in French with an intro by a French cartoonist, and the whole intro was like, ‘What is Crumb’s problem with women? He makes such a big deal about sex, I don’t understand, what’s the big deal?’ Which is really the French attitude," he laughs. "They don’t understand repressed Northern people. Whereas . . ."
Aline relates the story of one obsessed Crumb fan, a guy from Flushing, Queens, who turned up on their doorstep at 4 a.m. in pouring rain with his Korean wife and the cab driver who had brought them from Marseilles, approximately 100 miles away. The fare was $200. Naturally, the Crumb fan was penniless. Aline paid the fare. Since their daughter was in the house, the Crumbs weren’t about to go to sleep with a deranged man from Flushing, Queens, on the loose and stayed up all night in the kitchen while the fan and his wife slept on the floor. In the morning, Aline bought two one-way bus tickets back to Marseilles and sent them on their way. Surprisingly, the fan did later return the $200 in a letter artfully decorated with swastikas, claiming that Crumb had wanted to talk to him, but Aline, whom he described as "an over-the-hill princess with a liver problem," had prevented this historic colloquy from taking place.
What’s surprising, as Aline relates this story — with occasional interjections from Crumb — is how much she seems to enjoy doing so. There’s no anger or outrage; apparently, the Crumbs don’t expect people to act rationally.
The conversation then turns to the subject of Jews and Aline’s Jewishness, something Crumb seems to enjoy teasing her about. According to Crumb, people in the village are barely aware of Jews and will say that so-and-so does something "comme un Juif" straight to Aline’s face, it having apparently never occurred to them that she might be Jewish herself.
"Nobody likes Jews anyway," Crumb says to Aline.
"That’s because they’re good businesspeople," she replies firmly. "People know they’re smart."
"Everybody hates Jews . . ."
What I’m witnessing, I think, is a performance, a playlet about their marriage put on by the Crumbs. These are their comic routines, the riffs they perform for strangers. ("I’m weak," Crumb says later, when the discussion turns to his having never learned how to drive. "Yes, you need to be protected," Aline says, tenderly stroking his knee.)
Whether intentionally or not, the Crumbs have turned me into their audience. One question I would like to ask, however, is answered for me. The Crumbs moved to France, Aline tells me, because of their 16-year-old daughter, Sophie. They didn’t want her growing up in California.
"Is that why we came to France?" Crumb asks, acting puzzled. "I never really figured that out."
It’s easy to see why Crumb would like Cache: It’s old and funky. With its crooked streets and muddy lanes, its riverbanks and archways and old stone staircases, the place almost begs to be drawn. Crumb has obliged, producing a series of detailed ink drawings that reveal his ability not only to capture reality but to transform it as well. (In a door, the opening of a letter box resembles a vulva; long, curiously flaccid-looking drain pipes slither in and out of walls . . .)
It doesn’t really feel like a village, Cache, and in a way it’s not. In the 16th century, when Protestants and Catholics were duking it out all over France, 10,000 people lived here; now, only 1,400 do. Back then, the place must have been a stinking madhouse of horses and armor and garbage and troubadours and wenches and church bells and hacked-off limbs. Some of the houses still have two doorways: a small one for humans and a big one for horses. The main square, now a parking lot for Peugeots and Renaults and Fiestas, was once off-limits to everyone except monks, and up in the hills above the village you can still walk along stone paths laid down by the Romans and hide out in the remains of medieval forts.
Crumb has reluctantly agreed to see me one more time, though for how long or on what terms remains unclear. He has also provided the names and numbers of a few of his friends in the village. The first one I meet is Gail Wagman, a Californian from whom I’m able to rent a room. Gail tells me how it was that Crumb ended up in Cache rather than some other French village: It was Aline, not Crumb, who first saw Cache while on holiday. She came over to Gail’s one day for lunch and fell in love with the place. Then Crumb came over from California, and he fell in love with it too.