This month W.W. Norton is publishing R. Crumb: The Complete Record Cover Collection, a revised, deluxe hardcover edition of a book originally published in Europe that collects—or attempts to collect—every record cover illustration ever done by Crumb. In a phone interview with him from his home in France, PW Comics World talked to Crumb about compiling the collection and to his wife, Aline, about Drawn Together, a book of their collaborative comics stories coming from W. W. Norton next year.
Originally released in 1994 in Holland by the publisher Ogg & Blik, the new edition of The Complete Record Cover Collection will feature 450 album and CD covers. After many years of working to collect every scrap of Crumb’s drawings for records, the publisher has added about 250 illustrations to the 200 in the original book. The new hardcover edition is designed to look like a record album and features a slipcover with a cutout section for the label.
Naturally, Crumb began illustrating album covers in the 1960s. He was originally asked to do a cover drawing by Janis Joplin, for her album Cheap Thrills. Joplin is just one of the extraordinary musicians—and historic albums--Crumb has done illustrations for. Crumb—a passionate lover of classic jazz, swing, blues, “old time and country, any real people’s music from all over he world,” not to mention being an obsessive collector of music’s memorabilia—told PWCW he loved the music of the 1920s and 1930s and often did the drawings to get classic 78 rpm recordings. “No LPs and no CDs,” Crumb said. The book will also include drawings of bands he used to perform with—though he doesn’t perform much these days—the Cheap Suit Serenaders and Eden and John’s East River String Band.
“Like any enthusiasm, one thing leads to another,” Crumb said about his legendary need to collect musical memorabilia, “It wasn’t just the music, but the musicians, photographs, news. I did drawings in exchange for 78s.” Crumb said he had done so many cover illustrations for recordings, he’d forgotten some of them. He credited the book’s Dutch publisher with doing all the detective work to track down so many of the drawings. “All the work has been done by the publisher, Ogg & Blik, who spent years tracking it all down,” Crumb said. “Things I had forgotten about. He found it all and I didn’t do any of it,” he said.
The book includes such iconic Crumb work as the cover for the Memphis Jug Band Album (1979) and the Maxwell Street Alley Blues cover rom 1974. The Complete Record Cover Collection was acquired by Robert Weil, editor-in-chief of W. W. Norton’s newly revived Liveright & Co. imprint. Athough W.W. Norton has worldwide English-language rights and will distribute the book, Oog & Blik retain publishing rights. The publisher will release an initial printing of 25,000 copies.
There are more Crumb-related works to come from Weil’s Liveright & Co. imprint. Next year the publisher will release Drawn Together, a new collection of comics created collaboratively by Crumb and his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb. The book will be released in France this year and will be published in the U.S. in 2012. While Drawn Together will feature a lot of the comics the two have done for the New Yorker, it will also collect material that goes back many years. “It includes all the stuff we’ve done,” Crumb said. “We started drawing together in 1972, a year after I met Aline.”
“The book is done,” said Aline, joining the phone conversation and assuring the reporter that the finished book features lots of “blatant sex.” She also laughed and guaranteed that the book would be “raunchy. A lot of the fans are saying we’re getting soft, that Robert’s drawing the Bible now. So we decided, let’s give them what they want. Old people can have sex even if it is disgusting!”
Kominsky-Crumb said she began drawing with Crumb in the early 1970s when she broke her leg and couldn’t get out of the house. “I was driving him crazy. At first the comics weren’t for publication, but after a while we made them more coherent,” she said. In recent years the two have been making comics for the New Yorker; “the stuff got better when we started getting three or four pages,” she said. The new book will be about 280 pages.
But now she said, “We’re going back to our roots. We’re the grandparents of sleeze; we’re a couple of aging teenagers. It’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it!”