1987s “The Confessions of Robert Crumb”: The BBC doc that predated Terry Zwigoff’s “Crumb” by 7 years

By on June 23, 2015

Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 bio-doc Crumb was such an all-encompassing appreciation for underground cartoonist R. Crumb and his work, his weirdo family and various eccentricities and sexual peccadilloes, that you perhaps may not have known that seven years earlier, the BBC produced a nearly hour-long documentary, The Confessions of Robert Crumb, that attempted to cover the same territory, and we thought it was worth a second look.


The Confessions of Robert Crumb — presented as a series of tongue-in-cheek skits and interviews — was commissioned by the BBC as part of their ongoing “Arena” series, which serves to highlight contemporary artists. When they approached Crumb, and his wife, fellow cartoonist, Aline Kominsky Crumb, the couple offered no objections to being interviewed for the doc, even though they were also, at the time, working with Zwigoff on his project.


Zwigoff, however, admits he was disappointed by their decision to cooperate with the BBC, and says he felt betrayed by the Crumbs, and in fact decided to stop working on his movie. Then, when he watched it, he realized that their portrayal was so different than what he’d intended to make, that he continued shooting and editing Crumb.

CRUMB, Robert Crumb with women, 1994

One of the interesting things to note about the BBC documentary is that it was actually jointly authored by Crumb and his wife, and R.Crumb was not afraid to delve into his preoccupation with the female form, among other confessions about his lifelong sense of loneliness, and his odd relationship with “fame” — which is strange since Crumb apparently participated in the doc as a way to overcome his anonymity and set himself up as someone who should not be overlooked or forgotten in the world of comics.


Crumb explains that he was married at age 21, where he was working at a greeting card company in Cleveland, Ohio, before dropping acid and heading to San Francisco, where he ended up working on comic books as a confessional for his perversities, creating Zap Comix, and iconic characters like Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, and the slogan “Keep on Truckin’,” as a way of freely expressing what he wanted to express. The documentary also details what it was like for Crumb living amid the Haight-Ashbury hippies, and spending time in a commune, as well explaining how he met Aline, who would become his second wife.


Incidentally, Crumb and his wife were ultimately dissatisfied with Zwigoff’s portrayal in the 1994 Crumb documentary, which they co-authored in a two-page comic for the New Yorker, entitled “Head For The Hills!”



About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.