"R. Crumb: Lines Drawn on Paper"

A new exhibit looks at the iconic work of an underground artist.

  • Photograph: R. Crumb

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    Boingy Baxter, Motor City Comics

  • Photograph: R. Crumb

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    Lenore Goldberg and Her Girl Commandos

  • Photograph: R. Crumb

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    Mr. Natural Cutout, Bijou Funnies No. 1

  • Photograph: R. Crumb

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    Unpublished Zap cover

Photograph: R. Crumb

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Boingy Baxter, Motor City Comics

As one of the first comic artists to spurn the censorship rules that prevailed in the late 1960s, R. Crumb was a key figure in creating a viable community that nurtured indie illustrators. In "R. Crumb: Lines Drawn on Paper," which opens Wednesday 23 at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators (128 E 63rd St between Park and Lexington Aves; 212-838-2560, societyillustrators.org; Tue 10am--8pm, Wed--Fri 10am--5pm, Sat noon--4pm; free; through Apr 30), the artifacts on display—pages of defunct publications like The East Village Other and Crumb's own Zap Comix—highlight the artist's connection to a wider scene of weirdness that thrived in the underground newspapers and magazines of the '60s, '70s and '80s.

Though widely distributed in the comics community, Crumb's often salacious, fetishistic art wasn't part of the mainstream. "When I was a kid, everyone I knew would take their small stash of Crumb comics and hide it away," recalls curator Monte Beauchamp, who publishes the annual comics anthology Blab. "It was bad news if you got caught by your parents with a Crumb comic." Far from being hidden under mattresses, Crumb's work now seems to be popping up everywhere: A hardbound version of The Book of Genesis Illustrated (his pervy retelling of the first book of the Bible) was released in 2009, with a corresponding show at David Zwirner Gallery; meanwhile, "Comics Stripped," currently on view at the Museum of Sex, features some of Crumb's racier doodles. The scope of "R. Crumb: Lines Drawn on Paper" is broader than either of those: Observing the show's 90 pieces, visitors will learn about the cartoonist's iconic characters, such as the horny, anthropomorphic Fritz the Cat and shamanistic Mr. Natural.