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Head Comix

(Viking; $4.95 hardbound, $2.50 paperbound)

By Charles M. Hagen

THE WORLD R. Crumb creates in his comic strips is far more important than the message that comes out of that world. It's a fantasy world: parallel walls can meet there and the characters include a female pigeon named Fred, a not-so-wise old man named Mr. Natural, and a rational, hardworking young man named Schuman the Human. The message, on the other hand, is a commonplace: people would all be happy if they'd only relax and enjoy life.

In most of his comics Crumb is either expounding this philosophy or applying it, foregoing plot and rationality to produce strips that give simple pleasure-"Keep on Truckin" is a series of five drawings of people with feet longer than their arms just walking along to the rhythm of the lyrics "Keep on truckin'. . . truckin' on down the line. . . hey hey hey. . . I said keep on truckin'. . . truckin' my blues away!"

Crumb best expresses his joy in "Stoned." The strip is a series of short phrases, each accompanied by a cartoon, each representing some part of the business of being alive, and each ending with the word "stoned." Drugs play no part in Crumb's version of stoned, though; the variety of events and emotions found in life is the stoning agent here.

Crumb's philosophy of life has been around for several thousand years. You either accept it or you don't. But even if you don't you can still enjoy the world that Crumb has created. Minor details are remembered, and are important - "SCHUMAN THE HUMAN better known as 'Baldy' goes forth with his fine mind to FIND GOD! And believe me, he took along a lunch!" Backgrounds add depth to situations-"Whiteman," the stereotypical businessman, walks down a street that has a traffic sign reading "Keep a tight asshole"; a frontier sheriff, who looks amazingly like LBJ, carries a bomb labelled "H-Bomb" and "Approved by Good Housekeeping."

A number of the comic strips in this collection have appeared over the last couple of years in "Cavalier." It's easy to tell which ones; there is a hint of sex in most of the comics, but only these have a leering air about them. They still succeed, but Crumb does better work trying to satisfy his own sense of what's funny.

PAUL KRASSNER, in his introduction to this book, terms Crumb "the illegitimate offspring of Krazy Kat." George Herriman's great comic strip of the twenties wasn't centered around a philosophy of life, either. Its fantasy world was akin to Crumb's: the hopeless romantic (Krazy Kat), the skeptic who rejects her love (Ignatz Mouse), and, above both, the defender of society and justice (Offisa Pup).

The drawing style of "Head Comix" is much more polished than that of "Krazy Kat," though. While Herriman's characters were often somewhat shakily drawn, Crumb's drawings are all well finished products. The style of the strips is a combination of the old Disney style (you may begin counting of the fingers), Herriman's style in "Krazy Kat," Popeye, the old Looney Tunes, Smokey Stover, and Crumb's own additions.

R. Crumb has been out in San Francisco for the last couple of years, drawing these comics (all have, by the way, appeared in various magazines). He drew the cover for Big Brother's "Cheap Thrills." He says what he's got to say very quietly and joyously, and I hope he'll continue to find things that he wants to say.

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