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Crumb: Schulz, Feiffer artwork not much to look at

The Comic Journal’s Tom Crippen posted a quote from The R. Crumb Handbook (by R. Crumb and Peter Poplaski) which opines that Charles Schulz and Jules Fieiffer’s work was lacking in technique.

The quote in question:

If you look at a comics page drawn by Jack Davis or at Wally Wood’s science fiction stuff, who cares about the narrative? But the artwork is wonderful, a true pleasure to the eye. What technique! With Charles Schulz or Jules Feiffer, it’s quite the opposite. The story’s great, but the artwork’s not much to look at. In comics there’s always this dichotomy.

Tom responds:

What a stupid thing to say. Really, it’s a collection of stupid things. Charles Schulz and Jules Feiffer don’t have technique? Since when? They draw simply; that is not the same as drawing without subtlety, skill or (wait for it) technical command. Everyone knows that complication is not automatically better, that simplicity is not automatically worse. Everyone – from Harold Bloom to the people who write cover stories for Time Magazine. And everyone knows that Charles Schulz and Jules Feiffer draw brilliant pictures. You just have to look.

Community Comments

#1 John Sanford
June/14/2010
@ 1:44 pm

Whoa. Is that quote from Crumb or the other guy>
If it’s from Crumb, then we have undeniable
proof that LSD causes brain damage.
Dumb hippy.

#2 Ben Carlsen
June/14/2010
@ 1:53 pm

I never understood why artwork has to be complex to look good. The ability to draw more lines != more skill.

#3 dave nelson
June/14/2010
@ 2:03 pm

Hmmm, “the artwork’s not much to look at”. I disagree in the case of Feiffer because I’m drawn in by his more artistic lines which give my imagination more to work with. I suppose Schulz did have a simple style that gave the dialog more weight but I doubt if that was anything less than intentional. I hope Crumb was evaluating the comics/illustrations themselves instead of the skill of the artists.

#4 Jason Smith
June/14/2010
@ 3:10 pm

Interesting. I always found Crumb’s artwork to the the opposite of “wonderful, a true pleasure to the eye.”

#5 darryl ayo brathwaite
June/14/2010
@ 4:38 pm

Come off it.

1. He’s allowed his opinion.

2. LOOK AT HIS WORK. It’s clear where his aesthetic loyalties lie.

3. Turnabout is fair play. Schulz got at Crumb in an old Comics Journal interview.

4. In real life, art isn’t The Get-Along Gang where everybody loves everybody else. Americans are such weenies when it comes to this childish conception of “civility.” Not that civility itself is childish, just the way people try to make a big deal when somebody is honest enough to say “this doesn’t” work for me all the way, or “not entirely my cup of tea.”

5. The irony of sneering at one man’s art apropos of nothing beyond the fact that he admitted not being in love with somebody ELSE’s art. Spare me.

#6 Matt Bors
June/14/2010
@ 5:17 pm

R. Crumb should resign like Helen Thomas. No insensitive remarks!

#7 B.J. Dewey
June/14/2010
@ 8:18 pm

If you talk only about artwork, you talk only about part of a comic. There’s also the verbal, the writing, the humor, the imaginative ability, the characters, the staging, the camera angles, the color, the comic’s theme, etc., etc., etc. What makes a cartoon good or great is the combination of all of these.

B.J.

#8 Ted Dawson
June/14/2010
@ 10:11 pm

Suddenly people care what Robert Crumb thinks. LOL

#9 Gar Molloy
June/15/2010
@ 5:05 am

B.J.: He did say “The story?s great, but the artwork?s not much to look at”. Crumb never really went in for the whole ‘economy of line’ thing, but he’s acknowledging good writing.

Also you can take ‘not much to look at’ literally with reference to Crumb’s own work in relation to Schulz’s. Schulz had simplified characters with a style that emphasised clarity of action emotion, whereas Crumb’s stuff has lots of background detail and incidental sight gags – literally more to look at. (It’s because stoners love spotting stuff)

#10 Clayton Bigsby
June/15/2010
@ 6:06 am

Well Charles Schulz himself did admit that he was not a good artist:

“If I were a better artist, I?d be a painter, and if I were a better writer, I?d write books? ?but I?m not, so I draw cartoons!”

#11 Isaiah McAllister
June/15/2010
@ 6:15 am

Grrrr! Rrrraggh! Why that stupid… irritatingly perverse… how dare he call Sparky… If I ever see that R. Crumb, I’m gonna punch him square in the nose!

(WARNING:This comment has been full of overreaction due to the fact that it was posted on the internet)

#12 Gar Molloy
June/15/2010
@ 6:46 am

It kind of links in with the bit in Understanding Comics where he talks about the dichotomy between image and language, and how mastery of either doesn’t necessarily translate into making good comics.

#13 Jeff Darcy
June/15/2010
@ 10:34 am

What was Schulz pulling in a year? Something like over $30 million? Clearly plenty of people found something to look at it in his artwork. Schulz made it look easier then it was, which I found out every time I tried drawing one his characters for a parody in my political cartoons.

#14 B.J. Dewey
June/15/2010
@ 11:03 am

Gar,

You’re right about that. Still, the key to good comics is the blending of the visual and verbal all based on the storyline. The best strips seamlessly combine these. Sometimes the artwork may be better than the writing or vice versa or that may just mean some days the cartoonist is a better writer than artist. Whatever, there’s gotta be both to be good.

BYW, Schulz makes an interesting comment about Crumb in an interview with Gary Groth in the ’01 book, “Charles M. Schulz Conversations.” Groth’s questions are interesting, too.

B.J.

#15 Pete McDonnell
June/15/2010
@ 4:46 pm

In comic strips and cartoons, great writing can save bad art, but great art won’t save bad writing. Scott Adams writes the funniest comic strip around for my money. His drawings are rudimentary, but they work because they are funny to look at.

I don’t read Crumb’s remarks and interpret them as “stupid”. He says a Jack Davis or Wally Wood drawing is a “true pleasure to the eye”; I certainly don’t agree with him that a Schulz or Feiffer drawing is the “opposite” of being a true pleasure to the eye, but he’s entitled to his opinion. For some reason, he doesn’t seem to believe that simplicity requires technique.

Maybe he’s wondering if there are any cartoonists that can illustrate as dynamically as Davis and write comic strip humor as well as Schulz. Maybe Bill Watterson fits that description.

#16 john meyers
June/15/2010
@ 8:14 pm

Crumb; you need to retake art101 or at least cartoon striping 101!

The idea traditionally, behind all storytelling strip artwork IS too have clean lined artwork & simplicity of line. Meaning; if you can simplify your line work down to JUST and only Just the lines necessary to convey the visual effect – then that’s what you do!

Good ol’ Sparky knew this, and was a master at it!

He’d put just enough lines in his panels to get the message across super quickly to the reader. His Peanuts characters aren’t accidentally designed to be simple in looks – it was done on purpose! And Schulz, also knew that it was the correct way to go for the final size [or should I say, lack of size] that the strips were printed in the newspapers and magazines. The artwork supports the words; the visuals aren’t supposed to overpower the words (the gag).

Too much details in the visuals and you lose sight of the gag. And too many cartoonists don’t get that fact. You only have so much room in each panel to work with. And not many readers are really going to look at a comic strip panel and go “Wow that cartoonist sure can draw detailed background trees!”

Now; in addressing that Sparky couldn’t draw well? 1st off when he said it, he was being modest and just his fairly shy, introverted, lovable self. 2ndly take a look at Sparky’s first comic strip which was called lil’ folks. He drew it with much more detail than Peanuts. He also did a traditional over styled comic strip called “Young Pillars” for Youth magazine; along with a strip called “It’s Only A Game” (which he co-did with another artist named Jim Sasseville). In both Young Pillars & I’s Only A Game Schulz proves he could be just as much a detail whore cartoonist as Crumb or Jack Davis or Wally Wood – but he chose NOT to be that way with Peanuts to set himself apart from those guys an other cartoonists of that time period. And it worked!

It worked; and it was a brilliant thing to do; especially for mechanizing Peanuts – quickly; with easily reproducible images onto products – no matter how big or small the available image space on said products was.

It’s a huge, important lesson to keep in mind for the strip cartoonists of today. Smart cartoonists should take into account possible merchandising products bearing their characters images when creating the characters. There’s a whole lot of money to be made in merchandising strip characters that can be drawn / reproduced quickly onto products. That’s not to say that an artist should just make his strip characters too simplistic, like stick figures. But the artist should keep in mind that its more important for the characters to show emotional expressiveness than it is to fill panels with a million unnecessary lines.

Example? Frank Cho’s Liberty Meadows strip. The strip isn’t as minimalistic in its line work as Schulz’s is, but it’s also not bogged down with insane amounts of unnecessary lines. Its clean; it’s full of character emotion and its wording (gag) is concise too – making it not only the perfect balance of words & visuals – but also making the strip a quick read of pure funniness! Which is the actual craft of comic strip cartooning…is it not?!

Crumb’s an idiot for saying what he said; pure and simple!

P.S. My own comic strip is like Liberty Meadows, in its amount of line work – yet hopefully, if I continue the process of boiling my character’s line work, etc, down to what is only needed for simple expressiveness, I too might just be successful at breathing a wee gleam of some of Schulz’s brilliance of ‘technique’ into my strip. One can only hope for such expressiveness & simplicity of line technique.

~John

#17 john meyers
June/15/2010
@ 8:19 pm

Hmm, btw; which of Crumbs’ characters is as pleasing to the eye as Schulz’s “Snoopy” character? I can never remember…

Exactly.

‘Nuff said.

~John

#18 Garey Mckee
June/15/2010
@ 9:24 pm

Schulz work was deceptive. On the surface, it looks very simplistic. But underneath that is a very masterful use of scale, depth and space used to portray these children in a world that was often too big for them.

#19 Dan Bielinski
June/15/2010
@ 9:52 pm

@john- your posts are too long.

#20 Gar Molloy
June/16/2010
@ 2:17 am

@B.J. : I think we meant the Understanding Comics reference in the same way – it’s not about mastering writing or drawing, but the interplay of the two disciplines (or being able to write to suit your artist/draw to suit your writer if it’s not a one man show.) The art and writing do, of course, both have to be GOOD.

‘Good’ doesn’t necessarily mean detailed and intricate though. Most of the Peanuts characters can be drawn in about six pen strokes, but the character design is really strong and you can invest those six pen strokes with a Lot of character. Schulz also had a real gift for matching dialogue to expression.

I think Crumb was more of an illustrator where Schulz was a cartoonist.

#21 john meyers
June/16/2010
@ 9:59 am

@Dan Bielinski – No Dan, my posts aren’t too long; it’s just that your reading span of attention is too short. LMAO

…Sorry couldn’t resist!

#22 darryl ayo brathwaite
June/16/2010
@ 1:28 pm

You dudes are ridiculous.

Crumb isn’t drawing comics “wrong” he’s drawing them “differently” and with different goals than those of the other (Pfiffer and Schulz)

There’s a difference between someone explaining that they don’t get the same experience out of a piece of art as you do…and that person being “wrong” or an “idiot.” This is Crumb. He is, in his own right, one of the most important and technically accomplished cartoonists of all time. He’s more than welcome to his opinion.

The venom with which half the damn internet is raging against him for the Unforgivable Sin of not Fully Worshipping at the altar of Charles Schulz is preposterous.

#23 john meyers
June/16/2010
@ 9:43 pm

Schulz is my God – Crumb is just Crumby.

#24 Gar Molloy
June/17/2010
@ 2:58 am

Crumb does good intricate drawing, but I’ve never found his writing particularly funny.

Oh well, keep on truckin’

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