Aline Kominsky-Crumb

Aline Kominsky-Crumb on her life and work in comics

Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Sophie Crumb, 4 Shades of Abortion, 2021, ink, correction fluid, and graphite on paper, 11 1/10 x 8 1/2".

A family affair, “Sauve qui peut ! (Run for Your Life),” on view at David Zwirner in Paris through March 26, brings together the work of Aline Kominsky-Crumb; her husband, cartoonist Robert Crumb; and their daughter, artist Sophie Crumb. The ensemble includes spontaneous scribbles on paper placemats, dense excerpts of comics scarred with whiteout, photobooth snapshots of the then-young couple, as well as new work—such as a commission in which Aline and Sophie recount their respective abortions (profits from the show will go toward a women’s health organization). An unabashed over-sharer whose belief in complete transparency was once perceived as relentlessly crude, Kominsky-Crumb here discusses a pioneering career that has long sat defiantly on the margins.

I HAVE STAYED OUT of the mainstream my entire life, partially because the work itself determines that it’s not mainstream work. We started our comics off in the revolutionary underground. I was a painter with a degree in fine art, and I chose to do stuff that could be read on a toilet. Now, my work is taught at Harvard and women have written PhDs on my work, which really amazes me. So it’s full circle, if you hang in long enough. And I guess if your work is meaningful, eventually it’s recognized by the establishment. On one hand, you can be a contrarian and say “no” to everything. That’s understandable, too. But on the other hand, if you say “yes,” more people will read your work, and that’s why you do it: to communicate. I had so many young women come up to me in 2018 on my book tour, and that was the most touching thing. They said, “I was dealing with this too, and when I could laugh about it, everything was much lighter.” It made me feel connected.

The underground affected everything that came afterwards. My husband’s style of drawing has been usurped and perverted in odd ways, but it’s so pervasive that it obviously had huge influence. As an art form, comics took off. But when I was teaching fitness classes to earn money, I thought, Well, maybe I didn’t make the best choice. Now, people can go to school and study graphic novels: They can actually hope to have that as a career! It’s a very difficult but very satisfying art form. It’s like making a storyboard for a film. And it’s a great way to express oneself. I’m not a facile artist, I’m a tortured artist. I don’t censor myself at all: The story comes out, I have to let it come out. I scratch it out like the George Grosz of underground comics—Roberta Smith once related me to the German Expressionists and I was so flattered. I felt like, Okay, now I’m vindicated for choosing this ridiculous career, for being broke my whole life.

Aline Kaminsky-Crumb, Self-portrait, 2021, ink, correction fluid, and graphite on paper, 11 1/10 × 8 1/2".

My comics are more story-driven than art-driven: The art has to bow to the writing. When you have to coordinate the images with the writing, it’s complicated. When I get sick of doing comics, I paint, because it’s direct. Comics people read books, and the art is sometimes secondary. Which is fine—that’s how we meant to do it! We didn’t mean for it to go on walls. But when I see people appreciate the art, and they’re looking at it in a different way, how can I complain?

I think all creative spheres have a certain underground. There are all kinds of little scenes that people are still doing. They don’t get any money but, you know, there’s great stuff. I’m thinking of doing a magazine at some point. Just putting stuff together that I like, that I get in the mail. I correspond with a woman from Chile, and Sophie is in touch with an Iranian guy with some really good stuff. We’re going to do a show of his work at my gallery, Galerie Vidourle Prix; Vidourle is the name of the river in our town. The gallery has been around for sixteen years. We show artists in the area, and prints of Robert’s and mine, and books. They help bring attention to the local artists who don’t make much money otherwise.

Before moving to France, we lived in California. Living there turned me into a militant ecologist; I actually got into vandalism, against these horrible developments. I won't say too much, but I was scared that I was going to end up in jail. It was one of the reasons I thought: I better move on, because I had so much anger about the destruction of the environment, and the stupid reasons people were doing it. Where I live now, my village is protected; we have very strict laws in France. It’s a teeny but cosmopolitan place. There are artists, musicians, and writers there, especially during these last few years. Thirty years ago, it was, like, all old people and half the town was empty. You could buy any house you wanted, and it had this monastic forgotten atmosphere. That appealed to me.