Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cover Art for SCREW #1024, featuring cover artist Robert Crumb

What can I say about Robert Crumb? He invented underground comix, and after forty years, he remains the towering figure in that scene. His is a household name, spoken reverently by cartoonists and aging hippies, but also familiar to many who've never seen one of his comic books, (thanks largely to filmmaker Terry Zwigoff's 1994 documentary).

The first time I remember seeing a Crumb drawing was when I was six or seven. During a walk down Jackson Heights' commercial drag 82nd Street, I spied Crumb's unforgettable "Stoned Agin" poster in the window of a head shop. The classic poster's fascinating, frightening sequence of images stuck with me. Growing up in the Seventies, one couldn't help but catch glimpses of Crumb's work here and there out of the corner of one's eye, whether it was a "Keep On Truckin'" sticker speeding away on the bumper of a VW Beetle, or the wonderful, short-lived Mr. Natural Strip that Crumb drew for the Village Voice. Like his less-interesting contemporary Peter Max, R. Crumb contributed an essential component to that decade's esthetic; something floating in the air that inevitably seeped into everyone's skulls.

It was in the early 1980s, (my High School years) when I really jumped into Crumb's work with both feet. I started with all the issues of ZAP and ARCADE I could lay my hands on at Forbidden Planet, SoHo Zat, and other long-forgotten Downtown Manhattan comics shops. When I exhausted the local supply, I was forced to seek out overseas sources, namely the excellent hardbound Crumb sketchbooks published in 1981 by German imprint Zweitausendeins.

Needless to say, I'm a hopeless Crumb fiend. and I'm sure that I speak for most cartoonists when I say that Crumb's work changed the way I thought about comics. Like some powerful hallucinogen, Crumb's comics stripped away the cornball conventions we'd acquired while reading mainstream comics, leaving the doors of perception squeaky-clean and wide open to....what?

Let's leave that question mark dangling while we skip forward a few years to 1988. Al Goldstein visited R. Crumb at his home in Encinitas, CA to interview the cartoonist for SCREW's notorious leased access cable TV series Midnight Blue. A transcript of the Crumb Q&A transcript ran in two or three issues of SCREW, and Crumb supplied drawings for the covers of those issues.

Famous for turning down high-paying illustration gigs out of some fear of "selling out," Crumb certainly couldn't have been tempted by the pay SCREW was offering for covers in those days, (I think it was $200 for cover art at that point?). More likely, Crumb saw Goldstein as a kindred soul, another grizzled survivor of the Sixties' underground hippie papers.

This issue is dated October 17, 1988. To the best of my knowledge, there are three SCREW covers with art by Robert Crumb. One is a detailed close-up portrait of Goldstein, (commissioned by Al himself, of course). The other two would appear to be drawings pulled from Crumb's sketchbooks, and #1024 is one of those. I'm not sure who did the color separations for this one. It may have been Crumb, (who certainly knew his way around a color sep), but more likely, it was someone in SCREW's art department, (I say this because in a few months, I would be tapped to provide color seps for another Crumb cover).

For those of you who started drooling at the thought that there's a Goldstein/Crumb interview out there somewhere in videoland, you can find it right here at William Lustig's Blue Underground, (box art by yours truly).

Cover Art for SCREW #1026, featuring cover artist Robert Schneck

Here's a scan of SCREW #1026, with a cover drawing by frequent contributor Robert Schneck. A talented, versatile illustrator, Schneck drew LOTS of excellent SCREW covers in the late '80's and throughout the '90's, (making him a contemporary of mine). Unfortunately, he blipped off of art director Kevin Hein's radar as we entered the Twenty First Century, and as a result, we are deprived of any Robert Schneck SCREW covers during the paper's Hindenburg-esque death-dive.

I wish I had more information to offer about Robert Schneck the illustrator. A few minutes spent on Google provides me with plenty of info on Robert Schneck the writer on paranormal subjects, and photos of Robert Schneck the writer look like they COULD be the fellow I remember meeting once or twice in SCREW's art department. Then again, they might NOT be the same person, in which case I'd hate to heap slander upon this innocent writer by accusing him of drawing cartoons for a filthy magazine. Perhaps in time, mysterious figures will emerge from the hollow Earth to shed some much-needed ethereal light upon this mystery...?

For the moment, let's just say that Robert Schneck drew some damned fine SCREW covers. I'm not sure how many of them found their way into my archives, but here's a good one. It's SCREW's twentieth anniversary cover, and it features a dead-on likeness of publisher Al Goldstein in the role of a blind newsdealer hawking a braille edition of SCREW, (a porn mag for the blind? That's actually funny!). Schneck, who typically made SCREW's limited color palette sing, gives us a fairly restrained color separation this time around, using pure blue and red nearly everywhere except on Goldstein himself. The issue date is October 31, 1988.