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April 4-10, 2007

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'A Graphic Memoir'

A Graphic Memoir
(By Aline Kominsky Crumb; MQP; 384 pages; $30 cloth)

Aline Kominsky Crumb is commonly pigeonholed as the queen consort of King Robert Crumb. She has been slurred as a hanger-on who stuck with Crumb as he ascended from Zap to The New York Times. In fact, Kominsky Crumb pioneered drastic self-expression in cartoon form at a time when most male comics artists were content to put some marijuana gags into a Nancy and Sluggo parody and call it a day. Collected here are the memoirs of a Jewish pariah from the grimmer side of Lawn Guyland's Five Towns. Aline became an art student, sharing the love in Tucson; her memoir of a dead cowboy she once knew is a sad chapter in her personal lore. Finally, in San Francisco she began a 30-year-long liaison with the most celebrated of all underground cartoonists, Robert Crumb, although she sensibly continues to keep her options clear. Scandalous as it is, this collection by no means includes Aline's most embarrassing exploits, written for since-forgotten periodicals. What is here, though, is solid gelt. This handsome collection is a festschrift written by the artist herself, including reprints, personal photos and her fine art canvases and collages. The autobiographical strips are as wicked as anything in Philip Roth's work. And Crumb and a pregnant Aline's parody of a Mexican fotonovella, done in an early 1980s issue of Weirdo, is one of the funniest things I've ever read. Over the decades, Aline's trendpiggery and fashion mania have been maddening, but name an artist who isn't narcissistic? And the forcefulness of her personality makes up for occasional lapses of graphic style. Yoko, indeed: Aline Kominsky Crumb has far more in common with Nora Joyce. As in the case of James Joyce's wife, Aline's plainspokenness proves how valuable a character she is on her own. Never mind that she was also essential to the career of a haunted fellow artist, who needed a lover's support to free himself from the taboos that he was born to shatter.

Review by Richard von Busack


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