By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
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By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
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The Devil Girl has infiltrated Cache in other ways, too. When Maus cartoonist Art Spiegelman first came to the village to visit Crumb, and was wandering its maze of tiny streets looking for his house, he kept running into nice, proper schoolgirls sporting (temporary) Devil Girl tattoos. Apparently, Sophie Crumb had been giving them out in class.
A major misconception about Crumb, Pete tells me later that day, is that people think he’s a millionaire. He’s not. According to Pete, Crumb lives "a comfortable middle-class existence." In fact, he says, the coffee-table book came about only after Crumb had been hit with a $12,000 bill to have central heating installed in his house. (During their first few winters in Cache, the Crumbs warmed themselves with fires.) Until then, Crumb had resisted the idea.
I ask Pete how Crumb liked Robert Hughes calling him, in the Zwigoff movie, "our late-20th-century Brueghel."
"He likes Brueghel and he likes Robert Hughes. He hates being called a ‘cultural icon.’ I’ll read some of the descriptions of [the coffee-table] book to him out loud and he’ll just cringe, because they use that term all the time. But other times I’ll say, ‘Well, Robert, do you really like being called a genius?’ and he says, ‘Yeah, I really like hearing that.’" Pete laughs.
"It’s like high tide, low tide," he says when asked if Crumb is still obsessed-upset about his sexual fixations. "I’m sure there are times of the year when things hit him a certain way, so that’s what he’s thinking about. It depends on what’s going on, whether he’s alone a lot, or whether he’s around other people. If he’s alone, chances are there are going to be big women popping up in his work. If he’s socializing, I think he tends to have a more self-critical view, or critical view of society going on in his head. The women thing is private. And like he keeps saying about his work, he has no choice."
After we talk, Pete walks out into the street with me, and we immediately bump into the jogger. Up close, I see that he’s almost dwarfishly short, with thin brown hair combed forward over his scalp, a wispy goatee and uninhabited blue eyes. In a strange, raspy voice that makes him sound like a French Harvey Fierstein, he asks Pete to bring him some photos of Johnny Weissmuller when he goes back to the States. "Je compte sur toi" ("I’m counting on you"), he tells him, slapping his arm. Then he trundles off.
"Crumb only likes people who are even weirder and more fucked-up than he is," one Crumb watcher had told me in the States, but, so far anyway, this was not proving true. His friends didn’t seem to think Crumb was all that weird either.
"What you have to immediately discount is the business of Robert and his reputation and his status in the world of comic books," says Crumb’s friend Tony Baldwin, a 48-year-old Englishman. "Evenings at the Crumbs’ are like evenings anywhere else. I had dinner there last night — what did we talk about? We probably talked a bit about politics, we talked about Sophie’s new school, and then we talked about the Holocaust because Aline is very conscious about her Jewishness."
"Is Crumb a good conversationalist?"
"Sure. And he’s a very flattering conversationalist. He’ll always laugh at your jokes, even if they aren’t funny. Crumb, in the words of Professor Higgins, has the milk of human kindness by the quart in every vein. He does. He’s genuinely a very kind man. I think he’s just a man who wants a quiet life — with the difference that he doesn’t share the mores of other people who’d like quiet lives."
We’re talking over lunch in a restaurant called the Tour de Mole, an 11th-century tower a stone’s throw from Crumb’s house. You’d never guess it by looking at him — with his lemon shirt, blue cravat and horn-rimmed glasses, he looks like a slightly rumpled diplomat working on a wine belly — but Tony is a piano player (he plays stride, ragtime, bop) and earns his living by producing jazz-reissue CDs, such as a recent edition of Benny Carter.
"That’s the basis for our relationship, essentially, the music," he says, meaning his relationship with Crumb. "Which also allows me to be a fly on the wall for his other life, his main life — I dunno, maybe the records are his main life. He said it before in his comics: There are only two important things in life — old records and sex. And he practices what he preaches."
For a while, when he was living in Paris, Tony regularly supplied Crumb with "obscure French squeezebox music," which he picked up at Parisian markets. Now that he lives in Cache, they go hunting for 78 records together. Recently they traveled all the way to London to attend an antique-records fair held at the Wimbledon Dog Stadium. "Hilarious," Tony says.
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