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 takes a while to notice it, but whether you’re in Paris or the provinces, gradually it creeps up on you: In France, service jobs are not just for the young and underpaid. There are middle-class adults everywhere. Thirty-year-olds, 40-year-olds, 50-year-olds. They serve you coffee, they pour you beer, they punch your tickets, they cook your meals, they do your photocopies, they sell you books, cigarettes, clothes, magazines, medicine, meat, furniture, everything — and they’re knowledgeable about what they’re selling. The effect of this is considerable: Life feels richer and more varied, because all available generations are taking part in it.
Looking around, it wasn’t too hard to guess why the Crumbs moved to France. In the States, once you hit your mid-30s, culturally you start to go into exile anyway. Youth is the market, and you either serve it or ignore it or slavishly try to keep up with it. But it’s no longer really yours. Crumb was a special case, of course — with his fixation on the 1920s, he’d been a misfit from the start — but I could imagine his pleasure at living in a country whose culture was still largely aimed at adults. You could grow old gracefully here.
When I next see Crumb, he’s alone in his 800-year-old kitchen, whistling tunelessly as he prepares a late breakfast.
"What’s your ultimate ambition? What would you really like to be doing with your life?" he asks, shuffling between table and stove with bread, coffee, milk, butter, sugar, jam.
"Well, I guess being a journalist is second best in a way," I concede. "I started out as a poet, but I could never take myself seriously."
"A poet has to have a day job, nobody makes a living as a poet," Crumb retorts, showing his practical side — which, I’ve begun to notice, is a lot stronger than one might think.
The table set, his hands now free, he stands stock-still in the middle of the room, knees bent, head drooping, arms dangling at his sides like overcooked noodles. The posture is so extreme in its geekiness, for a second I think he’s putting me on. But no —this is how he really is. You could fold him up like laundry and stick him in a drawer.
In this moment, I decide I like Crumb. In baggy gray cords and an old wool sweater, he seems like the kind of engagingly weird uncle you could discuss your problems with over a cup of hot cocoa, never suspecting that, in the basement, 10 oversexed Amazons were impatiently waiting for "uncle" to come down and play. For someone alleged to have marked misanthropic tendencies, he is also refreshingly curious about people. The Crumb depicted in the movie was something of a monster, ravenous and cynical and scary, but the Crumb I see puttering about in his kitchen just seems like an interesting guy to hang out with and shoot the breeze.
He may even let me interview him. Testing the waters, I mention "The Lonely Guy Tea Room," a place that cropped up several times in the latest volume of Crumb’s sketchbooks. In it, Crumb can often be found (on paper at least) musing on some of his favorite subjects, such as injustice and girls.
"It’s this place on Eighth Street in San Francisco," Crumb tells me. "It’s a little coffee shop, and all that’s ever there is these lonely guys sitting around looking out the window watching the girls go by."
I mention his cover for Mystic Comics, quoting from it: "‘There Are Signs and Omens Everywhere.’"
"That’s right," says Crumb, going on to talk about his new "mystic" phase. "Maybe it’s part of getting older or something. I’m spending much more time on inner exploration, almost like going back to the old days when I took LSD, but without the drugs. I feel it’s something I have to do. Preparing for death or something, I don’t know. Part of it also is a survival mechanism against celebrityhood. Why don’t you say I’m a ‘recovering celebrity’ — put that in there. That shit can kill you. It can kill you or turn your character really bad."
Just when it seems that an interview is finally going to happen, Aline walks in, and Crumb invites her to sit down. As usual, she’s looking sharp, every inch the Queen of the Household. Today she’s wearing a lacy black blouse, a maroon skirt, black boots, and a thick leather belt with a studded silver crucifix dangling from it. She’s also wearing rings on several of her fingers, a small army of bracelets, heavy glass earrings and glossy skin cream. Her makeup is perfect.
They make an interesting contrast, the Crumbs. "I’m such a nerd. I’m such a geek," whines Mr. Crumb, passing his wife a jam jar.