When a feminist cartoonist who "looked just like an R. Crumb character" collided with an underground comix legend reviled by her peers as a male chauvinist pig, the result was the tumultuous yet enduring relationship chronicled in "Drawn Together" (Liveright, $29.95), which collects 36 years of comics created collaboratively by Aline and R. Crumb. Despite the infidelities, neuroses and arguments it candidly depicts, "I consider this book a love story," comments Aline Crumb, seated in the lounge of Manhattan's Gershwin Hotel on a brief visit from her home in rural France. Sporting a black miniskirt, tights and half-boots, her dark red hair cascading over her shoulders, Crumb certainly doesn't look like your typical 64-year-old grandmother. She's been happily flouting traditional expectations ever since she left Long Island for art school at age 17.
It seems from your previous graphic memoir, "Need More Love," that you don't have very happy memories of growing up on Long Island.
I was like this extraterrestrial who had landed in the Five Towns. It was very upward striving, very competitive; I was so alienated from my family, the values, everybody around me. Art was my refuge, the place I could go and feel safe; I started to draw and paint really seriously when I was 8. At 14, I started sneaking into the Village, going to the Museum of Modern Art, getting high. I realized there was something else out there, which gave me hope.
Is "Drawn Together" in some sense a sequel?
I think so. "Need More Love" was about my childhood and my development; this is the story of an unlikely relationship that survived impossible situations for over 40 years. Early on, I debated leaving Robert, because he's not a monogamous man, and that was not what I thought marriage would be like. But then I realized he's the only person I can stand on a day-to-day basis. He's my best friend and my best audience; I can make him laugh so hard he falls on the ground. We have such a deep rapport that everything else, you tolerate. Ironically, the fact that it was an open-ended relationship was the best thing for me; I've been able to develop as a human being on my own. I didn't know it about myself then, but I'm very independent and adventurous. I would have suffocated in another kind of marriage.
How did you start making cartoons together?
We did it in the beginning just to amuse ourselves, but then somebody saw what we had done and wanted to publish it; that was the first "Dirty Laundry." Now, we've been doing it so long it's actually easier than working individually. It's a conversation: you get a response, and then you think of a response; it has a life of its own.
Have you influenced each other in terms of drawing style or content?
I was one of the first autobiographical cartoonists, and Robert hadn't done much of that; so in that way, I influenced him. I'm sort of untouchable; no matter what I see, nothing affects me, because the art comes out of my guts, and I don't have that much control over what comes out. Robert's more disciplined and focused; I'm a little bit all over the place. I paint; I run an art gallery in our village in France; I teach yoga and Pilates two days a week.
What do you think of the work being done now by younger comic artists?
There are some very talented women out there now, and that makes me really happy. I do think there was an openness and craziness in the '60s and early '70s, a certain spontaneity and roughness that's been lost. But on the other hand, there's fine work being done, and people take it seriously. It's opened up a form that was considered just pop culture for kids, throwaway stuff, and elevated it to a higher level.
There's fine work being done on computers too, but for me, the line you make with a pen in your hand, that's your voice, and touching the paper as it comes out of you from your heart is a different experience from working on Photoshop. I find it very moving to work in a tradition that's thousands of years old: the primitive quality of it, the simplicity of dipping a pen in ink and then going to paper, there's something beautiful and meditative about that act. I draw now, not to be successful or get attention or make money, but because it's my meditation; it's the act that I crave.