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1995: Waiting For Food

Waiting For Food (1995) by Robert Crumb

Very conceptual. So all the drawings here were done on restaurant placemats in three local restaurants, and the restaurants kept the placemats! *gasp*

So you’d expect more throw-away art, but these aren’t doodles.

These drawings are more accomplished than much of what appears in Crumb’s sketchbooks.

It’s pretty great. If you’re a Crumb fan, this is a book you need.

Heh heh.

Many of the drawings feature people from the restaurants, but most are just completely random.

Hey! Aline!


More of these books have been published (by Drawn & Quarterly). I haven’t read them myself.

The Comics Journal #260, page 16:

With its high-profile distributor and
high-profile slate of creators, Drawn &
Quarterly planned to release many of these
books with higher print runs than were
usual for the publisher. Unquestionably,
Drawn Quarterly was putting more
money into play in 2003 than it ever had
before, and it began the year with one of its
biggest gambles and subsequently
flops: Robert Crumb’s Waiting for Food —
Mere Restaurant Placemat Drawings Vol. 3.
Oliveros knew that Crumb was a
revered artist whose popularity transcend-
ed the comics-shop market in alternative-
comics circles, and the publisher had high
hopes for the book, which reproduced
work done by Crumb on restaurant place
mats While the artist was waiting to be
served. Initial orders were below expecta-
tions, however — and then the returns
from bookstores began flowing in.
According to Oliveros, “Our returns are
normally in the 20-percent range, which is
better than most publishers. The Crumb
book had more like 70 percent returns. I
had estimated it would sell more than it
In fact, sales for the $26.95 Crumb
placemat book fell so far short Of expecta-
tions that Oliveros •,vas too embarrassed to
reveal the book’s print run to the Journal.
(It was 10,000.) More than a year after the
book publication, returns are still coming
in, he said sheepishly.

Oliveros didn’t like that article:

The Comics Journal #262, page 13:

Dear editor(s),
It’s been said by many over the years
that Fantagraphics’ ownership of the
Journal prevents the magazine from hav-
ing an unbiased approach regarding its
news coverage of the industry. The news
article on Drawn & Quarterly in issue 260
is just such an example of this bias. In the
past 12 months alone has published
by far the most successful books in its 14-
year history, but you wouldn’t know it
from this article. Michael Dean clearly
had an agenda starting with the ridiculous
headline of D+Q “expiring” and continu-
ing for most of the two pages focusing
exclusively on our one truly disastrous
title. If this was purportedly an article
about the challenges D+Q faced when
expanding into the book trade then Why
did Dean go Out of his way to ignore the
remarkable successes of the company in
the Same period: Chester Brown’s Louis
Riel hardcover selling 11,000 copies in 6
months, Chris Ware’s Acme Datebook sell-
ing 10,000 copies, and Joe Sacco’s The
Fixer selling out of 9,000. Over two-thirds
Of D+Q’s sales now come from the book
trade, compared to almost zero percent as
recently as five years ago. also helped
to pioneer literary graphic novels in the
book trade by creating the ” Drawn &
Quarterly Manifesto” (a guide to selling
graphic novels in the book trade) and by
successfully lobbying BISAC (the com-
mittee that creates the categories used by
book stores) to add “Graphic Novels” as
its own category. Was any of this covered
by the Journal in this article or at any
other time in the past two years? No, in
the article purportedly about Drawn &
Quarterly’s expansion all Dean could
write about, over and over and over again,
was of the one spectacular failure we had
during this period.

The Comics Journal #262, page 17:

In a nut-
shell, the story says is growing and
taking bigger gambles, most of which are
paying off, but the consequences of those
gambles that don’t pay off are greater than
in the past — as illustrated by Waiting for
Food. HOW is this a Story that, as you insist,
reports only “the negative information —
and leaves everything else out”?
0K, no need to answer that. I realize
that most of your grumbling is disingenu-
ous. It’s the job ofa publisher and a publi-
cist to be dissatisfied With all coverage that
fawning puffery. know you’re
secretly delighted at getting so much atten-
tion in the Journal. And now you’ve
tricked me into adding to that publicity
with an article-length reply to your com-
plaint. Between the article, your letter and
my reply, Journal readers have now been
told three times that The Fixer sold out.


This is the two hundred and thirty-fifth post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

1995: Voodoo Child

Voodoo Child (1995) by Martin I. Green and Bill Sienkiewicz

I’m not a Hendrix fan. I mean, I like some of his songs, but I have none of his albums and I don’t really know much about him, so this isn’t really a book aimed at people like me. But I am a Sienkiewicz fan, so let’s get readin’.

We get a very high falutin’ introduction, which was the tradition for comics like this back in the 90s. But I wonder whether this book was commercially successful or not? I don’t recall ever seeing somebody mention this book, and I’ve certainly not seen it around in the stores. But this was published in 1995, and Kitchen Sink was undergoing one of their meltdowns… On the other hand, perhaps my general disinterest in the subject just made me ignore the book? But here’s a data point:

You can pick up a copy now from ebay for $13.

Anyway, this starts off with Hendrix’ death in London in 1970…

… before warping back to his birth, and then telling Hendrix’ story (almost) completely chronologically.

The first half of the book is the most successful, in my opinion. It’s the part where the creators took the most liberties with (scant) information and did more comics-like storytelling. (Above we see Jimi meeting his father after some years in the military.)

Sienkiewicz does his thing, but the storytelling is more straightforward than some of his stuff was at the time. Perhaps he’d been told to keep things simple for a more mainstream audience, and this is what we ended up with?

I mean, it looks great, but this isn’t his most imaginative work.

He relies a lot on close-ups, and many smaller panels than you’d expect — I mean, it’s Jimi Hendrix, so you’d expect one explosive double page spread after another. It’s subdued.

The last half of the book is a lot more muddled — once he has his breakthrough, the book becomes more wikipedia-like, recapping everything that happened over those years… but leaving out most of the unpleasant stuff. There’s virtually no drug use here, and nothing about Hendrix being an abusive asshole whenever he was drunk (which was a lot) (except for one instance of Hotel Room Abuse).

Ooo, nice.

Oh yeah, this book includes a CD of unreleased demos. There’s been thousands of more or less official Hendrix CDs, right?

Sienkiewicz put a lot of work into this book, but… it’s not that good, really. I was bored out of my skull for the last 40 or so pages. But perhaps that’s just me.

Sienkiewicz was nominated for Best Artist for the 1996 Harvey Awards.

I couldn’t find any contemporary reviews, but here’s a later one:

It makes for an interesting, but flawed project. However, as noted, there’s page after page of stunning art.

There’s very few mentions of this book on the interwebs altogether. But here’s one:

Given his legacy of musical innovation, Hendrix seems a particularly fitting subject for this kind of experimental biographical format, and the numerous contributors who put this together realize their dream-like vision of Hendrix masterfully. 100,000 first printing.

Wow, that’s a lot of copies.

This is the two hundred and thirty-fourth post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

1994: Introducing Kafka

Introducing Kafka (1994) by David Zane Mairowitz and Robert Crumb

This was originally published in the UK under the name “Kafka for Beginners”, which is a much better name, I think.

The book is a quite chatty one — it starts off with a polemic against the concept of “kafkaesque”, which is a slightly odd choice. But perhaps it makes sense: What most people know about Kafka is that he is an adjective, and starting with what the reader knows is smart.

This is one of the biggest illustration jobs Crumb has taken on. Crumb was in a creatively odd place at the time (doing many blues biographies and not so many personal books), so perhaps it just gave him breathing space while trying to figure out where to go next. On the other hand, I can totally see that illustrating this book could be something that Crumb had been wanting to do for years.

Mairowitz’s text rolls along quite nicely, but it’s not exactly… scholarly. There’s many, many instances where Mairowitz writes that Kafka “had to have”, or “must have had”, or some other assertion of some conjecture that Mairowitz obviously doesn’t have any reference to back that up.

Most of the book consists of text illustrated by Crumb, but there’s a handful of pure-comics sequences, which is nice, because it provides variety. And besides, if you have Crumb, you’d be insane not to have him do some comics.

Using hand lettering for excerpts from Kafka’s works and typeset for Mairowitz’s text is great.

It’s a knee-slapper alright.

Crumb mostly sticks to his well-known style, but he mixes it up here and there to great effect.

The structure of the book is… er… what structure? We sort of start in the middle, and then zip back and forth and then seem to come to an end, and then the book continues for a couple more dozen pages. It’s very odd, but I think it kinda works? I mean, I was entertained re-reading this.

Crumb is interviewed by Gary Groth in The Comics Journal #180, page 50:

GROTH: Speaking ofsomebody
else’s tragedy, you spent a
year of your life illustrating
Kafka ‘s biography.
CRUMB; Yeah.
GROTH: Which is an unusually
long amount ofrimefor you to
spend on a single project.
CRUMB: I got kind of unknow-
ingly roped into this year’s
work because when I first
agreed todo it I said I could do
an abbreviated bunch of draw-
ings like those other books in
that series. But of course it
turns out I got immersed in all
this detail, so it dragged on
and on and on. But it was an
interesting project. I got to
know Kafka very well. I
hardly ever read him before I
got involved in that. I barely
knew anything about him. But
I got •deeply immersed in
Katka from working On that. I
mean, I ‘m probably one Of the
foremost Kafka experts in the
world now!
GROTH: [laughs] I would assume you would have some sort
of real affinity with him.
CRUMB: It turned out that I did. yeah. The more I worked on
it, the deeper that affinity became until it almost got
spooky after a while; I felt so close to him after a while, it
was almost like I knew him. Have you read much of Kafka?
GROTH: Yeah, I’ve read his short stories.
CRUMB: When you start talking about Kafka, almost every-
body says, “Oh yeah, I had to read him in college.”
GROTH: I read him five or six years ago.
CRUMB: Most people in America have not read much of
Kafka. And his best stuff is the long. books, although
they’re harder to read. But they’re his best work.
GROTH: The novels? Like America and The Trial ?
CRUMB: America… And The Castle I think is the best One.
The Castle is really a masterpiece. But it’ s so claustropho-
bic! But it’s well worth it. Since I was illustrating it, I had
to go back and read certain scenes very closely to make
sure I was accurately portraying this stuff he was describ-
ing. Reading it closely, you get to another level with it, an
incredibly detailed, layered writing that is deceptively
under the surface. You can read it at a certain pace and it’s
written in such a polite. dissident style, that you miss a lot.
You’ rejust reading along, cruising along with it. Butifyou
go back and read it slowly, you start discovering the whole
other layer of stuff that’s going on. It’s really strange that
way, very strange, dream-like. Levels like in dreams.
When I found out that he actually wrote a lot of the time
at night when he was groggy — he was a night writer. He
had a job during the day. and he worked [wrote] at night.
He was probably almost asleep while he was writing. So
he was writing in a very dream-like way. He was such a
compulsive writer that he could… You know how if you
do something enough, you can almost do it in your sleep?
It’s like that with writing. It’s like some musicians are so
good they can almost play music while they’re half asleep.
It’s the same thing.
GROTH: I remember when I read The Meta morphosis
that, like so many people who hadn ‘t yet read it,
I had this vague understanding of what it
was about—a guy turns into a beetle. But
when I read it, all of my expectations went
right out the window and it became SOme•
thing completely other and greater than
I could ever have imagined,
CRUMB: A lot of people assume he’s
going to be like Edgar Allan Poe or
something, a writer of horror stories.
But it’s not quite a horror story. It’s
something much more personal. Psy-
chological, dream-like revelations. Very
Jewish in a way.

Ng Suat Tong writes in The Comics Journal #171, page 57:

Milligan, Brett Ewins, Kenneth Smith, and
Robert Crumb have in common? Well, okay, so
it’s a little obvious. Walk into any library and
you’re bound to find a stack of critical reviews
about Kafka, and Introducing Kafka by David
Zane Mairowitz and Robert Crumb hardly
purports to add anything new to the reams of
literature. This 175-page primer contains
biographical text with illustrations and
adaptations of Kafka’ s short stories and novels.
I’d wager that most Journal readers have
probably bought this book by now, simply on
the basis ofcuriosity. As one ofthe last surviving
“old masters,” Crumb simply demands attention.
But there are potential problems here. Probably
for the first time, Crumb is working with
someone unfamiliar with the art of comics, and
while neuroticism and Jewishness are familiar
hunting grounds, one hardly associates this
kind of material with him.
I suspect that Mairowitz left Crumb very
much to his own devices when it came to the
adaptations in this book. Crumb may even have
been left to illustrate the biographical material
with little or no guidance on Mairowitz’s part,
but I seriously doubt this, since there are certain
sections in the work which do suggest a degree
of cohesiveness — such as this scene where a
group of academics spout words of wisdom
concerning Kafka, including gems like: “The
dream images seem to merge Kafka’s brothel
experiences with his parents’ sexuality and his
mother’s cooking” and “Dietary habits no less
austere than those of orthodox Judaism helped
to cut him off from society.”
There is another section in the book in
which Mairowitz attempts to link the string of
contradictions in Kafka’s life. Here his per-
ceived unhealthiness is contrasted with his abil-
ity to take long walks and to swim during the
winter. In addition, Kafka’s apparent asceti-
cism and unease with sex (“a punishment
for the happiness of being
together”) are thrown into
conflict with his easy
dealings with prosti-
tutes and his somewhat
erotic relationships with
his fiancées. Crumb
(rightly or wrongly)
seems to stress a simple
level of causation in both
these contradictions by
showing a rather tense
Kafta holding the hand
of his irrepressible fa-
theras he leads him away
for a swimming lesson in
the first instance, and then
showing a similarly anxious
Kafka being led away to bed
by his chosen whore. Are we
experiences with prosti- a •
tutes and his father lie at
the root of his feelings
of inadequacy and self-


Introducing Kafka is part of a series of
books which have dealt skillfully and amus-
ingly with demi-gods like Darw’in, Einstein,
and Freud, and topics like feminism. The work
in question is certainly as well-drawn as any of
the others I’ve read, and Crumb’s style seems
particularly suited to capturing likenesses (as
may be seen from the British cover to the book,
a portrait of Kafka). But is it as inventive as
Michael McGuiness’ Jung for Beginners, for
example? The comparison may be an unfai r one
since McGuiness had decidedly more leeway in
terms of ideas covered, using etchings and
collage to enhance the text while making know-
ingjibes at Jung’s life and relationships. Some-
how there seems to be little mileage to be gai ned
from making fun of the rather tragic-comic life
of Franz Kafka. Others
would disagree.
On the other hand,
Crumb’s drawings do
give a greater sense of
time and place. He
draws on photos, repro-
ducing and altering
them to suit his pur-
poses and that of
Mairowitz’s text. The
panel layouts and siz-
ing and overall page
design are not to be
dismissed lightly, and
one need only flip
through this book to find
numerous exquisite
borderless drawings.
On a purely superficial
basis, this is probably
one of Crumb’s most
beautiful books, and
that is hardly a word
one normally associates with Crumb’s comic
work (his portfolios being very studious). Hu-
morous, gritty, and confrontational, maybe, but
Ifthis review seems in any way negative, let
me add hastily that I enjoyed reading this little
book. You’ll be hard pressed to find a better
illustrated text On Kafka, and only rarely will
you find Crumb showing as much care with
eachpanel of his work. And let me say one more
thing: this book deserves to be nominated for a
prize. Not for the art, mind you (that hasn’t
changed much over the last few years), but for
the excellent
lettering: ac-
curate and
ing an admi-
rable range,
and changing
with each new
letter from
Kafka or his
accentuated at
wholly in har-
mony with the art and, occasionally, adding
considerable beauty to it. If you’re a person
who has read tons of books about Kafka, this
book does afford one or two hours Offun. If you
haven ‘t read any Kafka before (highly unlikely,
I suspect), this book may be slightly expensive,
but does have the potential to encourage further
reading. Which leaves me with but this to say:
buy this book Not only because it’ s by Crumb,
but also because it’s rather good.

The book was reissued by Fantagraphics under the name “Kafka”.

Noah Berlatsky writes in The Comics Journal #286, page 115:

Though they share a superficial interest in
the grotesque and neurotic, R. Crumb and
Kafka are very different artists. Crumb’s
work is confessional, satiric and expansive
— his sexual hang-ups, prejudices and pass-
ingfanciesare splashed about with a visceral,
muddy abandon. Kafka, on the other hand,
is a controlled and understated writer. He
meticulously combines this particular mun-
detail with that incongruous notion
until, in excruciating slow motion, reality
crumbles away in dry, granular flakes.
Having Crumb illustrate Kafka’s biogra-
phy was, therefore, a risky move — and, as it
turns out, a disastrous one. Rather than trp
ing to find a way to adapt his style to Kafka’s
needs, Crumb simply blasts ahead With his
own tropes, turning Kafka’s sly, ambiguous
parables into gag-fests, complete with lov-
ingly rendered gore, big-butted fräuleins,
scrawny protagonists and ironically retro
splash pages.
Not to be left out. writer David Mairow-
itz also does his bone-headed best to turn his
subject into his collaborator. For Mairowitz,
Kafka’s life and art must, like Crumb’s, be
Obviously and everywhere intertwined, and
if the facts don’t fit, well, to hell With them.
Mairowitz is, for example, desperate to link
Kafka’s writing with his Judaism, so he sen-
tentiously retells that hoary folk tale about
the Golem — only to end by admitting that
there’s no evidence that Kafka even knew the

Heh heh heh; I love it.

Most irritating, though, is Mairowitz’s
knee-jerk tendency to treat Kafka’s art as a
confessional expression Of neurotic symp-
toms, rather than as conscious craft. For
example, Mairowitz notes that Kalka did
not want an insect pictured on the cover of
“Metamorphosis.” the famous novella in
which a man turns into a bug. Mairowitz
explains this reticence by descending into
inane psychobabble, speculating that re-
jecting the picture was a way for Kafka to
mentally “contain the horror of the trans-
formation” or that it was necessary because
“the line between [Kafka’s) feelings about
his body in human form and its ‘insecthood’
was not all that clear.” In the first place, what
rot And, in the second, couldn’t we at least
consider the possibility that one of the most
careful writers in the history of the world
made his aesthetic decisions for, y’know,
aesthe tic reasons?
Don’t get me wrong: I’m Sure that the
links between Kafka’s Judaism, his psychol-
ogy and his art, have been analyzed in many
insightful volumes. This just isn’t one of
them. If you can’t get enough of Crumb be-
ing Crumb, then by all means, pick this up.
But ifyou want to know about Kafka’s life
well, I’d try Wikipedia first.

That’s a brilliant review.

This is the two hundred and thirty-third post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

1993: The Frazetta Pillow Book

The Frazetta Pillow Book (1993) by Frank Frazetta

Ellie Frazetta sort of explains the concept behind the book…

The concept is porn? Right? Right?

Anyway, what we get is a bunch of drawings of nude and semi-nude people hanging out, instead of what Frazetta is mostly known for — semi-nude people fighting other semi-nude people.

Heh. That’s a nice version of The Death Dealer.

It’s a fun book — if you’re a Frazetta fan, you’re bound to be amused by the artwork.

I guess:

I consider Frank Frazetta one of the great modern day painters, though I suppose he’ll never be considered as a master, just because of his subject matter.

This is the two hundred and thirty-second post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.