Whether or not you draw inspiration directly from his work or indirectly from its raw expression of free speech, the influence of 67-year-old underground comix icon and The Book of Genesis adaptor Robert Crumb is impossible to ignore. On July 31 the creator received some decidedly negative attention in advance of a visit to Sydney from Australia's The Daily Telegraph, which called Crumb as a "self-confessed sex pervert," quoted unspecified sexual assault crisis groups as saying his work is "sick and deranged" and gave anti-child abuse campaigner Hetty Johnston a platform to demonize Crumb's work as "perverted images emanating from what is clearly a sick mind." Fazed by the rage, Crumb has canceled his upcoming appearance at the August 20-21 Graphic Festival at the Sydney Opera House.
"It was strong stuff and it made me look very, very bad," Crumb said. "All it takes is a few people who overreact to something like that to show up and cause unpleasantness. I have a lot of anxiety about having to confront some angry sexual assault crisis group."
The artist is famous for his often sexually explicit illustrations, some of which have featured scenes of bestiality and rape. "I do these crazy cartoons," he said. "I have no defence. I just have to throw up my hands."
Despite being asked to reconsider his decision by festival coordinators, Crumb is set to cancel what would have been a trip from his home in France to Australia.
Graphic co-curator Jordan Verzar said: "It's a very, very disappointing situation. There were a legion of people eagerly anticipating his visit and the Graphic team and Sydney Opera House had been working for months to pull together the shows he was involved with and to supply an enjoyable first visit to Australia for him. I sincerely doubt that he will ever make it to Australia now. It's a very sad day, but I'm still excited and looking forward to the rest of the great shows happening at Graphic next weekend."
Looking over the other guests invited to Graphic, one might wonder why Crumb was singled out among a group of similarly provocative creators like Jim Woodring and Peter Kuper -- to say nothing of the planned showing of Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods, which contains non-explicit scenes discussing a particularly sexual magic ritual. Sure, none of the other guests created the X-rated Fritz the Cat, but their work is hardly puritanical. Maybe the anti-child abuse campaigner who opposes his work just thinks the sexual content found in Crumb's work is a more blatant target for opposition? At any rate, it seems pretty clear that those most sternly opposed to Crumb's visit in this instance have an imbalanced impression of his work and a distinctly narrow familiarity with controversial art in any medium.
Crumb supporters shouldn't be too quick to label Australia a nation of Crumbophobes, however. In an opinion piece titled "It's plain rude to call someone a pervert" in The Australian, Imre Salusinszky defended the creator and his work, citing its prominence in publication and high profile among art critics.
Crumb's unwillingness to enter what could have turned into a hostile environment is pretty understandable, but it's a shame that Australian fans will miss a chance to meet one of their favorite creators due to minority outrage from outside of a community that celebrates his contributions to comics and art at large.
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