Robert Crumb's first great character -- in fact, his second-best-known character next to Mr. Natural -- was Fritz the Cat, the horny, hip-talking feline whose success caused Crumb to kill him off. The Life and Death of Fritz the Cat, back in print as an ine
But shock it once did -- and, in the other half of this dual shock, occasionally still can: an incest scene in one of the earliest stories makes it clear, even this many decades on (it dates to the mid-1960s), why. Well, not exactly why. The boundaries Crumb was pushing at at the time, while well cataloged, are very different to consider as categories than to have experienced first hand, which I was certainly too young to have done when it was first being released.
Key among the pleasures of reading it today is watching how quickly, in a matter of mere years, Crumb went from rough line drawings to both the visual style and obsessive cues we associate him with to this day. The stories are often rambling, made up it seems as they go along, but that very sloppiness is another of its pleasures. While set on the idea that comics could be far more than they had been, aspiring to self-evidently "literary" value was not on Crumb's mind. Not yet.
Part of the reason I wanted to revisit Fritz the Cat was to see a quasi-documentary look at mid-60s proto-hipster life, the grungy reality of the lumpen slackers of the day. And this it provides in (to use an alternate definition of a word that in Fritz still shocks to see in print) spades.