Crumb, Shelton & Me: The Fabulous Furry Comix Brothers

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Charles Shaar Murray interviews Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton at the British Library Comics Unmasked event. Plus Oz trial panel discussion.

Into the life of an impecunious freelance kulchah pundit occasionally comes a proverbial Dream Gig. Being invited by the honchos of the British Library’s Comics Unmasked season to host and chair a panel with the two greatest figures of First Wave Underground Comix — namely R(obert) Crumb and Gilbert Shelton was one such. I mean, I’ve adored and admired the work of both these guys since my teens, and here was an opportunity not only to meet them but to chat with them before a sold-out audience and attempt to provide the specks of grit around which the creators of Mr Natural and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers could spin their respective verbal pearls.

With incomparable restraint and iron determination, I managed to restrain myself from lapsing into Fanboy Babble Mode for the first hour of the event during which i cajoled the legends into discussing their experiences in late ’60s West Coast kountah-kulchah, the effects of pyschedelics on them and their work, their earliest cartooning influences, their differing creative processes and other way-fascinating stuff. We were then joined for a second panel concerning the OZ Schoolkids Issue and the resulting legal shenanigans by Geoffrey Robertson QC, Dick Pountain (a veteran underground press hand deputising for our old friend Felix Dennis, who’d gone to somewhat drastic lengths for copping out on the panel) and my fellow ex-OZ schoolkid, architecture guru Deyan Sujic. I was only slightly distracted by a guy in the audience who could have won an Alan Moore Lookalike Contest even if Alan Moore himself had been participating.

The evening concluded with a banquetty thing at the Groucho Club (not one of my regular haunts, I must confess) where we were joined by Terry Gilliam (who’d worked alongside our two heroes in New York at Harvey Kurtzman’s HELP! magazine during the early ’60s) and where I discovered, much to my gleeful surprise, that a Seriously Famous Movie Star is a major fan of my Jimi Hendrix book, Crosstown Traffic.

So what were they like? Even cooler than I’d hoped. Shelton is a laid-back, dry-witted senior hippie and Crumb presents an elegantly dapper and sardonic figure bearing only a passing resemblance to the frazzled misanthrope of his on-the-page self. Video clippage is imminent.

Nobody seemed to have any bloody dope; everybody’s so damn respectable nowadays … but everything else one could have desired was present and more than correct. They even tell me I’m getting paid, too … miracolo!

Watch a video of the OZ Schoolkids Issue obscenity trial debate at Comics Unmasked.

Pix: Mr Crumb, Mr Me and Mr Shelton by Ander McIntyre; Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Anna Chen by Lora Fountain.

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CSM meets R. Crumb and Gilbert Shelton live at the British Library’s Comics Unmasked!

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Charles Shaar Murray presents Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Fat Freddy’s Cat, the Oz Trial, Felix Dennis, Geoffrey Robertson and Deyan Sujic in July.

It’s a dirty job, but someone’s gotta do it. Since I must have done something good in a previous life (or maybe even this one), I was invited by the curators of the British Library’s Comics Unmasked! season to host a pair of back-to-back panels on the evening of July 14. The second will be cool enough — a retrochatty thing on the OZ Obscenity Trial featuring Felix Dennis (among many other CV items, one of the three editors of the Schoolkids Issue which kicked off the whole hilarious mess), Geoffrey Robertson (distinguished civil rights lawyer who worked on the defence case as a junior to the late John Mortimer) and Deyan Sujic (now a frontline architecture guru but, back in 1970, the sole skinhead member of the OZ Schoolkids posse).I may also be contributing one or two of my own recollections.

The first, however, will be a rare joint public appearance (arf, etc) by the two most distinguished cartoonists to emerge from the San Francisco underground of the late ’60s: Gilbert Shelton (creator of The Fabulous Furry Freak brothers, Fat Freddy’s Cat and Wonder Warthog) and R. Crumb (creator of Mr Natural, Fritz The Cat and — ummmm — R. Crumb). The latter will, we hope, also be sticking around for the OZ panel since it was a culture-jam mash-up of one of his strips with the Daily Express’s Rupert Bear which caused so much of the agg and trubb.

My answer? You’ve got two guesses, and one of them doesn’t count. The words ‘pleasure’ and ‘privilege’ spring irresistibly to mind.

(Almost) everything you need to know about this fabulous cultural event can be found here. It’s sold out — quite rightly, too — but it may be worth checking with the organisers to see if there are any available returns you can snaffle.

In the meantime, I’ve been catching up with the latest collections of both Crumb and Shelton’s work from Knockabout Comics – needless to say, I salute their indefatigabilty – and urge y’all to do likewise.

Hope to see you there …

Plus I’m immensely flattered that, out of all the work by megadistinguished comix creators which could have been chosen to represent the 1988 Alan Moore-edited anti-Clause 28 comic AARGH! (Artists Against Rampant Government Homophobia), the one that the curators chose to display and to excerpt in the catalogue was the one I wrote (illustrated by Floyd Hughes), entitled Friday Night At The Boozer. All I can say is: my output as a comix writer is tiny … but cute.

Hup.

PS As an added tasty treat, I’ve commenced the reconstruction oof this site’s Comics section with a piece I wrote about Crumb some years back — find it here.