In 1996, Robert Crumb (popularly known as R. Crumb), one of the most acclaimed comics artists of the 1960s underground comics movement, released a series of full-page black-and-white drawings as a one-volume collection called Art and Beauty Magazine, originally published by Kitchen Sink Press. A second volume of Art and Beauty drawings was published in 2003 by Fantagraphics.
In July, David Zwirner Books, the publishing division of David Zwirner Gallery, a major New York City contemporary art dealer, will publish a complete hardcover edition of Art and Beauty Magazine that will collect the previous two volumes, as well as a third volume of drawings done for the series that have never been published.
Although not comics, the drawings in Art and Beauty Magazine are classic Crumb renditions: full-figured women, clothed and nude, rendered in bold lines and detailed crosshatching that vividly delineate their forms. Needless to say, the women—among them his wife, Aline; friends; athletes; and photos of Crumb-proportioned strangers—are spectacularly voluptuous, drawn doing everything from sitting around the house to contorting themselves into impossible poses.
The book also serves as a deluxe catalogue for an exhibition of the original drawings from the book that opened at David Zwirner Gallery in London during the London Book Fair. David Zwirner Books is an art book publisher based in New York that publishes about 20 books a year. The house is distributed by DAP in North America and Thames & Hudson in the U.K. and Europe.
Although Crumb’s last hardcover work, The Book of Genesis Illustrated, published in 2009 by W.W. Norton, was a bestseller that sold more than 150,000 copies, David Zwirner Books will release an initial printing of 5,000 copies of Art and Beauty for North America and the U.K./Europe. The house is also publishing a limited edition of 400 copies for collectors, which will include a signed book plate.
Why such a modest print run for one of the world’s most popular cartoonists? Crumb’s literary agent, Lora Fountain, said the cartoonist wanted “a high-quality [book] edition to be the catalogue of the London exhibition.” But Crumb also liked the small publishing house and its young editor, Lucas Zwirner, the son of the gallery owner/publisher David Zwirner. She said Crumb expected that the David Zwirner Books edition of Art and Beauty Magazine would reach “a very different public from Robert’s usual fan base.”
Lucas Zwirner agreed. “Crumb’s art is more than just eroticism; it’s about honesty, desire, and the elimination of shame. Young people respond to his drawings and to the text.” Zwirner said he is prepared to go back to press if demand warrants. Zwirner first met with Crumb’s agent before visiting the artist at his home in France, and the two hit it off. He also said that Crumb was able to oversee the books’ production, another advantage offered by the small press. “He worked on every aspect of the book. It’s his baby,” Zwirner said. “Aline says it’s the only book he hasn’t complained about.”