A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century Review, Celebration, and Tribute to 40 Years of Robert Crumb’s “A Short History of America” – Article for ARQ #103

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“I’m obviously prone to hyperbole, but ‘A Short History of America’ has got to be one of the greatest comic strips ever drawn […]. Chris Ware (Hignite, 2006:259).

In 1979, Robert Crumb published what would later become one of his most unusual and also most celebrated works outside the realm of underground in the Fall issue of CoEvolution Quarterly. «Short history of America» (fig. 1) moved away from Crumb’s usual themes and trademark rawness to show, throughout twelve silent panels, the evolution of a generic site in the United States, from a state of virgin landscape to its transformation into an anonymous intersection located somewhere in the Midwest, or perhaps on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Here, the signature style of the patriarch of underground comix, with the recitals of sex, violence, and lysergic trips that plagued the sadomasochistic misadventures published in Zap Comix or Weirdo were left out, as well as the verbose reflections and dialogues that usually filled his cluttered pages.

This unique situation would not stop the comic story from becoming an iconic image, both of underground comics and of Crumb’s work. Its timeless subject, as well as its publication in a medium outside the under scene – although still linked to the counterculture – allowed it to reach the general public, aided by would its transformation into a popular poster by Kitchen Sink Press in 1981. «Short history of America» has been republished on numerous occasions, becoming an indispensable item in Crumb’s monographs, and even reaching the point of symbolically representing its author. This seemed to be Terry Zwigoff’s take on it, when, in 1994, he chose to end his biographical documentary Crumb with these 12 cartoons. Edited in the form in a 51-second sequence with A Real Slow Drag, with Scott Joplin at the piano playing in the background, they offered an appropriately gloomy and succinct ending to the story of author’s tough life. […]

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Excerpt from an article on Robert Crumb’s ‘Short History of America’, published in ARQ #103 (Winter 2019). An analysis of the strip can be found in this previous post. The homage cartoon strip  drew on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Crumb’s strip can be checked in full detail here. The article as published can be downloaded by clicking on the image below.

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