Thursday, October 26, 2006

Robert Crumb/David Mairowitz: R. Crumb's Kafka

Reviewed by: Tom Hendricks, Musea Review Service

Tom Hendricks is a ULA member. He has probably never met Robert Crumb, but might want to. I'd like to meet Robert Crumb.

What is it? : Franz Kafka's biography with text by David Mairowitz, and illustrations by celebrated underground comic artist Robert Crumb.

Technical Quality: High. Book is a well made, 175 page, trade paperback. Note the somewhat chilling cover with an orange Prague cityscape drawing , with a green insert of Kafka writing.

Innovative Quality: High. The book uses the graphic novel approach to tell the life story of the troubled but brilliant Franz Kafka. Crumb illustrates the main biographical events and portions from some of Kafka's most celebrated works.

Review: Three parts come together to make this a memorable and notable read: Franz Kafka's life and works, Robert Crumb's illustrations on every page, and an informative biographical text by David Zane Mairowitz.

Mairowitz writes: "Before ever becoming the ADJECTIVE (Kafkaesque) Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was a Jew from Prague, born into its inescapable tradition of story-tellers and fantasists, ghetto-dwellers and eternal refugees. His Prague, "a little mother' with 'claws' was a place that suffocated him, but where he nonetheless chose to live all but the last eight months of his life."

That well sums up a lot of the main threads of Kafka's life too. He was a Jew in a country that more and more hated and persecuted the Jews. He had an oppressive and abusive father that, like Prague, he could never escape. He had troubled relationships with all the women he was attracted to, and he never got the respect for his writing in his life time that he deserved.

The book goes into detail on all these issues and lets us see his world - a depressing world where it seems his only escape was his writing. And what writing he did. Throughout the book are illustrated excerpts of major Kafka works including: an early story 'The Judgement', the famous "Metamorphosis' where Gregor Samsa turns into an enormous bug; "The Burrow" an animal fable; "In the Penal Colony" with the new killing machine invention; his best known work, the novel, "The Trial" where 'K' is arrested - but for what?; "The Castle" the 2nd of 3 novels; "A Hunger Artist" who is a sideshow freak for his ability to starve himself, and "Amerika" his last unfinished novel.

At the age of 39 he retired from his insurance job (one that by improving safety standards actually saved many lives) due to tuberculosis. Kafka instructed his friend Max Brod, to destroy almost all his works upon his death. Fortunately for us, Brod did not carry that wish out.

The bio is fascinating, and the excerpts cover some of the best of Kafka's work. Now add to that the superb black and white illustrations of Crumb and we get a very great book indeed.

Crumb, known for his underground comics, has taken that style of art to high art here. His drawing style is the technical equal of any illustrator. Yet beyond that he has a gift for characterization , an eye for detail, and the ability to illustrate any scene. Had the bio and excerpts been any less compelling, the illustrations would have still been notable. Each page was filled with drawings and many of them are minor masterpieces on their own. An example are the illustrations on page 64 and 65. Kafka wrote many letters to Felice Bauer one of 4 women that he had important
relationships with. On the left side we see the couple up to their chests in pages of letters. On the right side of the page, we see Kafka writing at his desk in the bottom right corner with letter after letter stacked through the air, all the way up to the upper left corner.

Wisely Mairowitz, who wrote the text, does not try to embellish his work, instead his comments are sparse and to the point , thus better allowing Kafka the classic writer, and Crumb a world class gifted illustrator, to shine.

High marks all around in this new classic .

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(Blogperson's note: I was not able to locate this book on ibooks, but perhaps you will have more luck, as you are smarter, cuter and have better breath. It may be available through your local bookstore as it was reprinted in 2005 (my local store seems to have found a distributor--maybe), and it also appears available online at Amazon. So you may have trouble locating this book, but that is no reason not to try. Don't be lazy when literature is involved!! And support your local bookstore if possible!)

1 comment:

- Leopold said...

I've been intrigued by this book for a long time. I'll definately have to pick it up.

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