An Analysis of “A Short History of America” by Robert Crumb.


Robert Crumb. «A Short History of America». CoEvolution Quarterly, nº 23, Sausalito (CA): Point. 21 September, 1979, 22-25.

[The following text has been excerpted from the article ‘A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century. Review, Celebration and Tribute to 40 Years of “A Short History of America” by Robert Crumb’ In: ARQ No. 103: Ecology, Winter 2019, 64-75.]


[…] A Short History of America.

As a kid growing up in the 1950s I became acutely aware of the changes taking place in American culture and I must say I didn’t much like it. I witnessed the debasement of architecture, and I didn’t much like it [1].

This was the context in which “A Short History of America” ​​was bred, right on the verge of the 1980s. This interest in representing the evolution -and eventual decline- of the urban landscape is, as we have seen, something that can be dated back to Crumb’s teenage years, and he had already tackled it, in an oneiric -lysergic, perhaps- version in a previous story, “Mr Natural’s 719th meditation [2]” (1970). In it, Crumb appropriated a common trope of the European satirical vision of American developmentalism and showed, in three tight pages and a total of 34 panels, the creation and disappearance of a ‘boom town’ that blossomed around the titular character while he meditated peacefully in the desert. “A Short History …” lay somewhere between the absurd fiction of Mr Natural and the documentary vocation of the ‘sketchbook reports [3]‘ in Harlem or Bulgaria that Crumb had developed for Help! at the beginning of his career in the mid-1960s, drawing a fictional but surprisingly faithful chronicle of the evolution of America (understanding America as the United States) in a little over a century. The panels do not include a specific chronology, but the story works particularly well if we look at it as a chronicle from the 1850s to the 1960s, the decade in which Crumb started his career [4].


Robert Crumb. «A Short History of America». Pages 1 and 2.

Thus, the first scene, which showed a natural landscape previous to human intervention, would place the appearance of the railway in the second panel around 1860, and that of the telegraph line, along with a settler’s farm, and a primitive road of rammed earth, in 1870. The 1880s, which would begin in the fourth panel, would witness the arrival of the first neighbors, who, in the following two decades would develop into an entire rural population: also, the original road would be progressively widened, and the railway lines would be duplicated by 1890. By this time, several levels had already been added to the utility posts holding the telegraph wire, as it should in a period in which the telephone appeared on the East Coast of the United States. By 1900, the scene’s foreground had become an intersection; on the corner, a simple post announced the names of the former roads, now promoted to the category of streets. Despite its still semi-rural look, this sixth vignette, which closed the second page, gave a glimpse of what was to come: in the background, warehouse-like buildings located behind the railway lines denote the flourishing of commerce. Its nature is suggested by Crumb with just a few light strokes, which the reader identifies as signs. But, more significantly behind the original farm, where until not far ago, some small agricultural structures stood, now we find a brick building, with its party wall rising above the -now- small wooden building.

As I mentioned at the beginning, Crumb’s ‘short history’ has been published in different formats since its first appearance, an adaptive ability favored by its narrative structure. Consisting of panoramic panels of the same size always presenting the same exact framing of the same place throughout time, the story does not seem, a priori, to depend on the page layout for its correct reading as most comics do. Working as a sequence of isolated (although related) images chronologically organized it lends itself particularly well to being translated into other formats. On one end we would find the simultaneity of the poster published by Kitchen Sink Press in 1981, which reorganized the complete sequence in a single, overwhelming page. On the opposite end, the film sequence with which Zwigoff closed his documentary presented the story as a series of slides. However, when one analyzes the original publication, it is possible to find narrative delicacies that are lost when the structure of the page is broken. It can be argued, for instance, that a traditional comic-book strategy is at work, making each page end with a sort of ‘cliffhanger’ which, in a certain way, announces the subsequent development of the story. The first two pages, which in the chronology suggested above end with the turn of the century, portrayed the emergence of urban life. The first one concluded with the construction of the first farm in a previously untouched landscape. The ending of the second, in which the farmhouse had been relegated to the status of a small single-family house located on a tiny corner plot, marked, on the other hand, a turning point in the story. The following two pages, even if plagued with continuous changes happening decade by decade, largely portrayed the world we know. Looking at them, the reader may have a feeling of stopped time: a casual look at this second half seems to show the stagnation of the previous development craze, occurring with the arrival of a 20th century historically associated with the dramatic acceleration of progress.


Robert Crumb. «A Short History of America». Pages 3 and 4.

Surely, this is not accidental. When Whitechapel Gallery devoted a retrospective to Crumb in 2005, he recalled the sad depersonalization that the Californian town where his family had moved to had suffered in the 1950s and early 1960s: “I watched the tearing down of old pre-war downtown Oceanside and the putting up of a modern, inferior architecture. Even as a kid I felt this was all wrong. The old movie theatres, store fronts, nice streamlined Art Deco buildings from the 1920s and 1930s were replaced by squarish stucco boxes that had no character [5].” However, despite this ‘lack of character’, Crumb achieves a perfect characterization of every architectural element in ‘A Short Story…’, each one evidencing -and characterizing in turn- the period they were in. Crumb’s preference for a motley style, sometimes bordering on ‘uglyism’, and full of seeming improvisation, can fool a casual reader, who may not realize the overwhelming technical expertise in all areas – composition, handling of the human figure, shading, typography – of an author that Robert Hughes, the famed TIME critic, would qualify as “the Brueghel of last half of the 20th century [6].” Hughes had previously called him “the William Hogarth of his time”, and this is perhaps a more accurate characterization, for it speaks of the ability of Crumb’s eye to scrutinize and capture reality through its many details.

If, structurally, the urban scene portrayed in these two apparently inconsequential pages turns out to be deceptively similar, it is precisely in the apparently few changes that take place between its deceptively repetitive vignettes where Crumb concentrates his ability to reveal the history of these last decades. By 1910, power lines had multiplied, taking over the streets and never leaving the picture from this point onwards, while horse carriages coexisted with trams. In fact, the evolution of transport will be, until the very end, a fundamental element in the characterization of urban space: In 1920, it is the tram, already the size of a trolleybus, that coexists with the car, which begins to infest the streets, until the former’s final disappearance in 1950, ultimately replaced by bus transportation. In the last five panels, the changing design of cars helps inform the reader of the period he is looking at. It is, in fact, the lack of vehicles in the deserted streets of panel 9 that seems to confirm that it takes place in the 1930s, during the Great Depression -an extent underlined by the closed commercial businesses and the lack of smoke in the factory chimneys, which tell us of their lack of activity.


Robert Crumb. «A Short History of America». Page 3, Panel 7. The tram enters the scene.

Many other details coexist with these, inserted by Crumb to benefit the reader’s historical location: traffic lights that appear and disappear, increasingly modern and abundant street lamps, electric boxes which are progressively attached to the utility posts… the  crossing sign that announced the railroad level crossing is replaced by a crossing light in 1940 -two, in the following decade-, along with its corresponding barrier, and the varied signage, posters, and notices, evolve and are replaced over time. A special mention must be made of the announced products -“El Ropo Cigars, 5c”, “Old Kentucky Bourbon”- the changing names of the stores -“Oswald’s Refreshments”, in 1910, which would become “Oswald’s Lunch” in the following decade before going out of business in 1930, “Myers Drug Store” in the 1920s, “Bippy’s Motors, used cars” in the 1950s- as well as some well-known brands: a poster urging to drink Coca Cola appears for the first time as early as 1920, taking up an entire façade of the old farmhouse now turned into a store [7]. Meanwhile, the panels corresponding to the 1940s and 1950s reflect the automobile market explosion during the second post-war period, with the scene dominated by the sign of the Texaco Oil Company, ultimately replaced by Esso in the 1960s [8].


R. Crumb. «A Short History of America». Page 3, Panel 9. Deserted streets and closed businesses in the Depression era.

A particularly significant moment within this second half of the story has to do with the disappearance of the only non-man-made item. Once again, in his autobiographical text “Poor Clod” Crumb recalled how in the 1950s his parents […] got a house in a brand new suburb, one of hundreds of houses that went on and on. They were ticky-tacky boxes with no trees, just twigs planted in the front yard. I went back there in the 1990s to look at it and there had been some individualization done on the houses, but the trees never made it. There were no trees [9]. (Crumb, 2005). If the story had started with a view of a pristine forest with the silhouettes of some animals in the background, that very first page ended not only with the introduction of the first building, but also with a dramatic reduction in the wooded area. As a meagre compensation, a new tree had been planted next to the farm. The second page expanded on both processes, with new buildings and fewer trees, until only the one belonging to the old farm remained in its last panel, with its considerable size squeezed in the now tiny plot. After two more decades of brave resistance, the tree, and almost any trace of vegetation, would finally disappear in the last panel of page 3.


Robert Crumb. «A Short History of America». Page 4. 

Once beyond this point, the remaining panels portray the gradual elimination of those elements that had characterized the scene in the beginning. The farm -then a mere single-family house, and finally a store- would be progressively cornered and swamped by an endless number of elements until it finally disappeared, giving way to a car park and, in the last panel, the service station’s ‘Stop’n Shop’. On the right end of the image, located on the other side of a highway plagued by automobiles, a new residential development stood on the grounds of the old railway line; ‘a new suburban neighborhood’, ironically baptized as ‘Oakwood Village’… made of ticky-tacky boxes that ‘go on and on’ all the way to the horizon.

Decades later, TIME magazine revealed that, in the late 1980s, Crumb persuaded a photographer friend to drive him through commercial streets and “bleak, just-built suburbs” of California and photograph “ordinary street corners… “methodically us[ing] the camera to capture what our increasingly inattentive eyes have been trained to ignore.”. For Crumb, “[this] material has not been created to be visually pleasing, and you are not able to remember exactly what it looks like. But this is the world we live in [10].” (Reznik, 2013) The article argued that these photographs would be indispensable in Crumb’s later work, and that their details would eventually permeate his drawings for Weirdo, the magazine he would go on to publish with his wife, Aline Kominsky, between 1981 and 1993. To illustrate this point, it featured a series of snapshots of intersections in Sacramento, taken around 1988, alongside the aforementioned Weirdo #12 cover, the two last pages of “A short History (…) [11], and other works by Crumb. Regardless of whether the photographs predated the scenes in Weirdo or not, the article was right in concluding that “his focus on such unsightly minutia in this anthology suggests… that as outlandish, garish, or other-worldly as Crumb’s cartoons get, their lasting affect comes from always being firmly grounded to the banal referents of our real world.” (Reznik, 2013) And it is his ability to capture the latter, we might add, which makes his Short History keep untouched its ability for unhealthily fascination intact, as a lucid counter-Venturian look at an urban reality whose existence is vindicated without an iota of romanticism.


[1] Robert Crumb. “Poor Clod”. In: Peter Poplaski, Robert Crumb. The R. Crumb Handbook. London: MQ Publications, c2005, pp. 23-68, p.23.

[2] “Mr. Natural’s 719th meditation.” In: Mr Natural nº 1, San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Comic Book Company, August 1970. Significantly, this story, which uses a 3 x 4 grid with mostly square panels (only the title panel is bigger, taking up the entire first row) has also been re-arranged in poster format, which just underlines this parallelism. See: Alexander Wood. “Mr. Natural’s 719th Meditation Signed & Numbered Serigraph Print.” En: Crumb Newsletter. The Newsletter for the Official Robert Crumb Website, April 22, 2018.

[3] See Robert Crumb. Sketchbook Reports. Paris: Cornélius, 1999. Collection Blaise.

[4] Born in 1943, Crumb started drawing professionally for a greeting card company in 1962, when he was 19 years old. The basic structure of the chronology featured in this article can be found here.

[5] Robert Crumb. “Poor Clod”, 49.

[6] I think Crumb is, basically he’s the Bruegel of the last half of the twentieth century. I mean, there wasn’t a Bruegel of the first half but there is one of the last half, and that is Robert Crumb.Robert Hughes in Crumb (Terry Zwigoff, 1995).

[7] This is, perhaps, one of the few instances where Crumb, working before the advent of the Google Age, does not reflect the period strictly. Even though ‘Drink Coca-Cola’ was the official catchphrase of the company’s advertising in for two decades after it was founded in 1886, and would still be used long after that, from 1904 onwards slogans changed more frequently, sometimes on an annual basis. The 1920s was one of the decades where these changes happened more often, presenting a total of 9 different mottos that started with ‘Three Million a Day’, introduced in 1917, and ended with the nowadays iconic ‘The Pause that Refreshes’ (introduced in 1929).

[8] Alexander Wood points to another minuscule detail which he came across when coloring the images, which appears as one more strategy to underline this: Since the beginning of the ‘contemporary half’ of the story in 1910, a manhole on the road denoted the existence of some kind of sewerage system, even if the streets still seem to be made of rammed earth. The hatching used from the 1940s onwards suggests that the streets have been paved, and, accordingly some drains can be seen on the ditches. WOOD, Alexander. «R. Crumb’s 15 Panel Short History of America Giclee Edition.» In Crumb Newsletter. (27 April 2018).

[9] Robert Crumb. “Poor Clod”, 49-50.

[10] REZNIK, Eugene. «R. Crumb’s Snapshots: Source Material of the Legendary Comic Artist». TIME [online], (30 September 2013),

[11] In the recount of his conversation about ‘A Short History’ with Robert Crumb, Alexander Wood offers some alternative insight on this issue: While I was on the phone with RC, I pointed out one of the details in the image, and said, “I’ve often wondered if you took this image from multiple historical photographs, or if you drew this from your imagination. This detail is so realistic, I have to think you found some photographs and based these panels off of them.” Crumb answered, “I drew that image entirely from my imagination. I wish I had found some photos, it would have been more accurate. For example, one mistake I made was with the railroad crossing signs. The real signs have “crossing” on one board, and the “rail” and the “road” broken up on the sign behind. I mistakenly flip-flopped ’em and broke up the word “crossing.” WOOD, Alexander. “Price Correction: Short History of America Giclee Typo.” In Crumb Newsletter. The Newsletter for the Official Robert Crumb Website (27 April 2018).


L.M. Lus-Arana: ‘A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century. Review, Celebration and Tribute to 40 Years of “A Short History of America” by Robert Crumb’ In: ARQ No. 103: Ecology, Winter 2019, 64-75.

[A downloadable version of the whole article will soon be available here]

A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century. Review, Celebration and Tribute to 40 Years of “A Short History of America” by Robert Crumb

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Klaus (2019). A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century. Click to enlarge.

As you’ll probably know, if you’ve been following my work in any capacity, one of the main reasons why I persist in my cartooning career is that it provides me with a vehicle to channel my need to draw. Or, putting it the other way around, my cartoons and occasional comic stories usually start as excuses to draw something I’m interested in at the moment. The things that make my fingertips tickle come from a wide variety of sources: comics, literature, scifi in its many faces, tv, cinema, and, generally speaking, anything I may have encountered at some point in my life and I’ve developed an obsession with, which typically makes it into my cartoons in the form of a flabbergasting constellation of details which are for the most part winks, nods, references to other works, or even plain private jokes. Being an architect and (under my secret identity) an architecture scholar, a frequent source is the very history of architecture, which has no shortage of inspiring buildings, projects, texts and illustrations, sometimes overlapping with these other fields.

Filed under this latter category falls possibly a story I’ve been obsessed with for quite a while now. I’m not alone in this fixation; Chris Ware once declared this is possibly the single comic story he’s been most influenced by. The difference is that, in my case, instead of using it as an inspiration to create something new and different I’ve just been waiting for an excuse to redraw it in my own style. The comic in question is Robert Crumb’s universally well-known 1979 4-page story ‘A Short History of America’. Originally published in the Autumn 1979 issue of Stewart Brand’s CoEvolution Quarterly, the spiritual heir to Brand’s own Whole Earth Catalogue which would run from 1974 to 1985. Crumb was a frequent contributor to the magazine from issue #13 (1977) through #44 (when it became The Whole Earth Review), in a period where he had otherwise abandoned the production of comics (or comix) for the most part. In fact, after his short Mr. Natural run for The Village Voice (February-November 1976), and until the creation of Weirdo in March 1981, CoEvolution Quarterly was pretty much the only place where his fans could find their Crumb comix fix. Out of all the varied stories he created for CEQ, ‘A Short History of America’ and its sequel, published in the back cover of The Whole Earth Review in 1988, stand out not only as the best known of the bunch, but rather as Crumb’s best known work in general, with the permission of Fritz the Cat.


R. Crumb. ‘A Short History of America’. CoEvolution Quarterly, Fall 1979.

To this popularity certainly contributed its edition in the form of a poster by Kitchen Sink Press in 1981, reissued with the additional material from 1988 a few years later (a more recent version here, available for purchase here), or its inclusion as a musical coda in Terry Zwigoff’s 1994 documentary Crumb. However, none of this would have happened if the story hadn’t had the wide appeal it did, appearing as a both accurate and melancholic commentary on mankind’s impact on the environment that surpassed the niche of the underground in which Crumb’s work usually rejoiced. As the title announced, the comic presented a silent chronicle of the evolution of a part of the American landscape, from its pristine state as a natural ecosystem until it became a generic corner of a suburban area. Consisting of 12 panoramic panels organized in 4 pages, the story showed not only Crumb’s skills to draw the environment (urban or otherwise) with both an abundance of details and a staggering legibility, but also his sharp eye when it comes to capturing the elements that characterize an era, making the collection of wordless snapshots a lucid and somewhat bitter commentary on the (sub)urban development of America and its parallel destruction of the landscape. The story, if we understand a gap of 10 years between consecutive panels, worked well as a portrait, decade by decade, of the evolution of the USA between 1850 and 1960, with some topical references falling in the right places. The ‘coda’ published almost a decade later, fell outside this attachment to historical reality, and toyed with three possible scenarios for the future of this scene: a post-apocalyptic one, consequence of ecological disaster, a ‘Fun Future’ with flying vehicles and curvy architectures, and a happy-hippie ‘Ecotopian Solution’ with bicycles, pedestrians, and cabins scattered throughout a gigantic forest.

With both the strip’s 40th anniversary and the very dystopian date of November 2019 looming in the horizon, I thought the time had definitely come. So, after pondering which way to go, I contacted Pancho Díaz, professor at the School of Architecture of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and editor-in-chief both of Ediciones ARQ and ARQ magazine, submitting him a proposal for a double-feature: On the one hand, it consisted of an essay, written but my usual partner in crime, which offered a close examination of the content of ‘A Short History…’ framed within the bigger context of Crumb’s work for the alternative, ecological scene of the 1960s-70s, and his many depictions of architecture and the built environment. After the article, however, the piece also included an addendum: a 4-page revision of Crumb’s story by yours truly that began with the sixth panel (corresponding to 1900, according to the above interpretation), and took a different route. The basic idea was answering to the question: what would the story have looked like if it had been told by an architect? -You know, this particular sub-species of humanity which sees history as a succession of architectural climaxes. Once this starting point had been set, all the pieces fell easily into place, and the story became the recount of the competition between two families, each living on one side of the street created by Crumb in 1979, who, decade after decade, keep retooling their houses to be more á-la-mode than that of their neighbor.

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Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 1. Things hadn’t started going wild yet.

This gave me the opportunity not only to try drawing in a slightly bolder version of my own style, somewhat closer to Crumb’s thicker line and more organic hatching (if, of course, executed in a much less skilled way than his), or to play with architecture styles and make my own versions of some very well known houses of different periods of the XX Century. It also allowed me to introduce a thousand different referents and winks to architecture, History, popular culture (comics, cinema, tv). I even had to draw period-accurate vehicles, which, used as I am to drawing cars that look nothing like real cars, was an… interesting experience. Of course, in this case the strip had to end with a punchline, which appeared in the leap between the last two panels. If the first panel took place in 1900 the last one should have been 2010. Instead of that the last panel jumps from 2000 to 2019, showing a world shaped in the image LA 2019 in Ridley Scott’s 1982 Blade Runner.

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Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 2. …and modernity unleashes chaos.

Of course (again), unlike Robert Crumb I am no genius, so whilst the panels in ‘A Short History of America’ look perfectly balanced, and can be clearly read from a 10-meter distance (provided you have good eyesight), their counterparts in ‘A Short History of the XX Century’ are characteristically overstuffed and wonkily composed. Also, given Crumb’s eponymous speed, it probably took him from breakfast to lunchtime to complete the four pages directly in ink in his sketchbook. In my case, it was a few weeks’ work, with a lot of preliminary drawing, penciling and careful inking (see pencils in this  future post). For that reason, we’re planning to release a fined-tuned edition, with my typical shading and, in a larger format and including all this extra material in the near future. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, enjoy finding all the easter-eggs if that’s your sort of thing.

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Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 3. …postmodern explosion.

A big thank you to Pancho Díaz and ARQ for providing me with a venue for this project, and to R. Crumb for creating his masterpiece in the first place, and giving permission to reprint his story as part of the article.

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Klaus. A Short History of the 20th Century. Page 4. …This Dystopian Life.



CoronaMaison (II): La Villa, Ça Va?

Coronamaison 2 - La Villa Ça Va_cropped_sm

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Ok, so, as you already know if you follow muy twitter feed (wich you definitely should, of course), I finally gave in and draw a second entry on the CoronaMaison (‘CoronaMansion’) challenge, so as to pretend that I could really manage not to lose steam and turn this into a short series with different architects (last one, with Peter Eisenman, here). I won’t, even if I really would love to (I love these small projects nobody other than me is interested in), but I may have a couple more in me. Keep tuned.

The #Coronamaison challenge was launched some weeks ago on twitter by French illustrator and webcomic author Pénélope Bagieu (@PenelopeB). The call was very simple: to design one’s ideal house for this confinement conditions, using a template provided by Timothy Hannem (@acupoftim). So far, over 1,000 people have contributed their own visions to this challenge, which can be checked clicking on the #coronamaison hashtag on twitter.

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And the wordless version, for those who care about these things. Click to enlarge

Eisenmansion (A Klaus Entry on the Coronamaison Challenge)

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On these days of seclusion, internet is becoming for many, more than ever, the only contact with the world outside (as if it wasn’t before already, for some). And for those of us whose daily activities deal in one degree or another, with drawing, social media are offering a wide range of activities to invest our time and neglect our real work.

One such opportunities for procrastination is the CoronaMaison (‘CoronaMansion’) challenge, launched a week ago on twitter by French illustrator and webcomic author Pénélope Bagieu (@PenelopeB). The call was very simple: to design one’s ideal house for this confinement conditions, using a template provided by Timothy Hannem (@acupoftim). So far, over 1,000 people have contributed their own visions to this challenge, which can be checked clicking on the #coronamaison hashtag on twitter. 

As an architect-cartoonist I thought I couldn’t let this opportunity to step in and bring some order pass. However, I failed miserably and just indulged in my usual obsessions. I had also thought of making a series out of this, each one with a different architect, but, knowing my lack of perseverance, I doubt it will ever happen.

Well, it was fun, at least.

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Here’s a wordless version, in case you like it better. Click to enlarge.

Cover of Arquine #91: (Un)sustainable City



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As many of you already know if you’re reading these lines, in 2014 I started contributing to Mexican architecture magazine Arquine, which, after the sad demise of both Uncube and A10, has become my longest ongoing collaboration with any architectural media. There have been many -and varied- fruitful results from this relationship, starting with my section Arquinoir, which gives me a venue both for my usual rants about any aspect of Architecture’s present, past, History and Theory, as well as for my drawing urges. (I cannot stress enough how permissive and supportive they are when it comes to publishing everything I send them, no matter how outlandish it may be). Throughout the years, this collaboration has extended to book chapters, posters, prefaces to very nice books, an exhibition in the CCEMex, and even an invitation to the Mextropoli Festival in 2018.

Last in this series, and at a point where I thought I had lost my ability to be surprised, has been Miquel Adriá’s and Alejandro Hernández’s idea to use the lower half of my cartoon for issue No. 91 (March 2020) on the cover. When they asked me about it, I thought it was flattering but not a very good idea (my style kinda clashes with the clean-cut design of Arquine’s covers). Now, after seeing the fantastic job they have done with it (my cartoon, featured inside, has the usual graytone shading), I’m just flattered. Cheers, guys!

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Just one more pic, because it looks so cool.

Iberian Tour 2020: ‘KLAUS: 10 Years of Architecture and Cartoons’ at ETSA – UNAV’

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Following last month’s lecture at the School of Architecture of Universitat Internacional de Catalunya in Barcelona, next Friday I’ll be presenting a retrospective of my work at the School of Architecture of the University of Navarra (ETSAUN). You’re all welcome if you feel like attending, and you might get a signed print if you do, too.


January 2020: Lecture at UIC’s ‘Foros 2020’ lecture series (Recap)

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This is something that should have been done almost a month ago, but, as my recaps of my own events go, it’s possibly one of my teeniest delays (there are some events from 2018 which are still waiting their turn into this not-yet-completely-abandoned blog).

So, just a few lines to acknowledge & thank Fredy Massad, Guillem Carabí, and the UIC School of Architecture in Barcelona for inviting me to open their ‘Foros 2020’ Lecture series. It was great to meet the students and show an overview of my work in the past decade, answer their completely spontaneous questions (ahem), as well as having the opportunity to meet some old (as in ‘long-time’, not ‘agey’) friends such as Ethel Baraona, from DPR-Barcelona.

Next stop in my Iberian tour: Pamplona!


Here, some pics of the event taken by the attendees. Sorry for the lack of credits. I grabbed them from twitter and forgot to write doen where they came from. Thanks to the kind photographers!


January 2020: Lecture at UIC’s ‘Foros 2020’ lecture series.

Barcelona UIC

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Next week I will be ging the opening lecture of theForos’ lecture series at the School of Achitecture of the UIC Barcelona – Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, thanks to a kind invitation by Fredy Massad and Guillem Carabí, organizers of the 2020 edition. This year’s series, titled ‘Co-Benefits’, will focus on the multiple overlaps of architecture and the arts, from dance and sculpture to photography, cinema and comics (ahem).

The series will feature lectures by sculptress MADOLA, dancer Carme Torrent, critic and curator Maroje Mrduljaš, as well as Elsie Owusu, Éric Fassin, Jorge Gorostiza, and yours truly. Below you can find the poster for the series, with the speakers’ Bios and a general description of the program.

See you all there, if you can make it. There’s a possibility that some prints might be awarded to those members of the audience who ask interesting questions.



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Architecture has perhaps been the Fine Arts discipline that historically has most heavily drawn from the other arts. From ancient civilizations up until the 19th century, its necessary condition of habitability enabled architecture to incorporate painting, sculpture, music and literature, to its façades, its roofs, on the outside and the inside of buildings.

However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the emergence of the artistic avant-garde meant that architecture had to swing between the adapting of its forms in response to a new way of perceiving the world, and the pressing need to solve the housing shortage in war-torn Europe. This produced a pendulum motion where the arts, as an escape valve for a continent in ferment, influenced a significant proportion of architectural designs, inevitably moving them closer to the new visual arts. And, at the same time, the absence of distinct ornamentation revealed, from the nature of the architecture itself, its own artistic quality.

A hundred years later, looking back we can continue to observe a fruitful feedback process between the arts: while the various manifestations of contemporary art draw on numerous occasions from architectural elements, freed from any connotation of habitability, architecture in turn draws from the various artistic disciplines to emphasise its emotional nature and thereby reconnect with its users. In this way, dance, sculpture, thought, or the newer arts like photography, cinema and comics become, deservedly, both components of  and interpreters of contemporary architecture.

Direction of Foros. Guillem Carabí, Fredy Massad.
Aula Magna UIC Barcelona

Happy 2020! (sort of)

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It’s been an wful amount of years since I haven’t drawn a Christmas -or New Year- greeting cardtoon (I just made that up as I typed), and I thought it was about time, so here it is: Happy 2020 to everyone! -most especially to all those who have been following this humble site from the beginning.

Of course, even in such a straightforward drawing I couldn’t resist including a few nods to things both past and present, from Planet of the Apes to Climate Change, Brexit, Calvin and Hobbes, postmodern architecture, or Disney’s The Mandalorian, which has been the first time I enjoy a Star Wars-related product since the original three. (Well, I also enjoyed ‘Solo’, but that’s something I guess I shouldn’t admit publicly). Together whith those, there’s as usual, my cringe-worthy self-caricature, and these two guys which, if you look closely, tend to show up in many of my works. The reason for their inclusion here, other than habit, is that 2020 also marks the 15th year (oh, dear…) since I started using the ‘Klaus’ moniker, which I created in 2005 when I started publishing the architect-themed comic strip ‘El Corbu’ (which Quilian Riano suggested translating as ‘John Corb’). The strip featured a struggling young architect (as I was at the time) dealing with the typical problems of the profession, mostly low wages and clients who don’t like modern architecture. The strip only lasted for a year, even if I had sketched ideas for some 200 installments. As usual, again, the magazine that published didn’t last long, and I abandoned the project. I still like it, and perhaps I’ll retaake it. When I’m retired, I guess. In the meantime, and, for those who might feel any curiosity, here’s a taste, with a strip  that makes part of a series where John Corb hs to deal with a client particularly opposed to flat roofs. Enjoy.

And a let’s all hope for a Happy 2020!


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Why I hate Blade Runner


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I saw Blade Runner for the first time on the end-of-the-Summer Friday night of September 2, 1988. I remember it with such accuracy because, at a time where there were only two TV channels available, and I still had no VCR at home, the premiere on television of any movie was greeted as an event – and so did, on this occasion, the people I was having dinner with. Truth is, at my still somewhat tender age, I hadn’t heard of the film, but one of the main roles was played by the actor who had previously played Han Solo in Star Wars (the FILM; not ‘A New Hope’, not the Star Wars Universe or any of that mumbo-jumbo). So I sat in front of the TV, still some two years too young to truly enjoy it. Certainly, the film impressed me, although not in the way one would hope for. A couple of years before that I had fled from a morning projection of Blade Runner’s coetaneous Escape from the Bronx (1983), Enzo G. Castellari’s sequel to his own Escape From New York exploitation film 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1990: I guerrieri del Bronx, 1982), whose crudeness -incredibly tame for today’s standards, I’ll freely admit- proved to be too much for my youngster sensitivity. That experience had an echo that night, while watching Scott’s film, which granted me several disturbing moments. From that session I kept, engraved in my retina -and my brain- the indelible image of Zhora going through several layers of glass store windows in her plexiglass raincoat, which became less and less transparent as the blood escaping her body impregnated it. I also remember with a similar ambivalence the mixture of repulsion and morbid fascination that the grim porcelain doll look of a very young Sean Young caused on me; or the final scene with Rutger Hauer, majestic in full Norse god magnificence, reciting his semi-improvised monologue on a rainy roof surrounded by blue light.

None of this happened to me some -very few- years later when, also at night, but this time on my own  and with some more – although still meager – knowledge and maturity, I finally watched Scott’s previous film, Alien (or Alien, the eighth passenger, in my case , in one of those rare moments of brilliance of the usual ‘creative translation’ of original film titles for Spanish audiences). That is: the fascination was there, of course, but in this case, it was not a morbid mixture of attraction and repulsion, but the pure aesthetic delight of those who experience something for the first time with the growing awareness of being in front of a masterpiece. I must say that this did not happen to me with Blade Runner, not even some years later, when, in the somewhat more reasonable condition of having some previous knowledge of the film and being halfways -more towards the second half, really- of my architecture studies, I rewatched it in order to help a colleague with some coursework. Don’t get me wrong. Blade Runner is one of the films I have most extensively (and often) discussed, one of my favorite films, a milestone in the history of cinema -indisputable if we’re talking about science fiction cinema-, and an icon of postmodernism that has generated rivers of ink, with some minor branches fed by yours truly. I neither confirm nor deny I may have devoted a chapter to it in a PhD dissertation at some point in the past.

However, whilst Alien is a film that works with (Swiss) clockwork precision, Blade Runner is a more irregular effort. Scott’s second film -let’s not forget he had already directed the beautiful The Duellists, which provided him with the Best Debut Film in Cannes in 1977- was a prodigy in the control of cinematographic tempo and footage economy Blade Runner presents an uneven success in the handling of pace, and a clunkier narrative. Alien toyed with the spectator, presenting him with a morose pacing, slowly building tension and then throwing him into an adrenaline-boosted rollercoaster. Blade Runner, on the contrary, is burdened by an occasionally choppy montage and an erratic narrative, full with scenes that drag on screen, whose purpose is not always clear. When it first hit the theaters, viewers often complained about the difficulty to follow the otherwise ridiculously simple plot. Alien had been a filmic prodigy in many respects, ultimately upgrading what had begun as a B horror movie set in space to the category of small cinematic gem. Three years later, with a budget three times bigger, Blade Runner was conceived as a much more ambitious enterprise. Here, Ridley Scott left the megastructural but still somewhat modest inner architectural ecosystem of his second film, and took over the visual creation of a complete world: the megalopolitan continuum of Los Angeles in the -yet to be- future of 2019. However, this expansion in the scope did not lower its level of demand when it came down to the detail in which this fictional world had to be presented to the viewer. Blade Runner was built using the same layering1 method he had applied to the design of The Duelists (1976) and Alien (1979): an accumulation of data in which each frame of the film was crowded with layer upon layer of information. This diogenetic strategy of visual design overwhelmed a viewer unable to apprehend everything that on display, which ultimately resulted in an unbearable feeling of veracity. The images in the film did not look like a set, like a staged, but limited imitation of reality built for the eye of the camera. They looked like real environments whose complexity exceeded the viewer’s ability to apprehend them in their entirety. They were too full with information; they seemed to extend beyond the limits of the screen, equally detailed and complex everywhere the camera bothered to point at; like the real world.

This excessive ambition would also take its toll in the film. If Alien, despite its relative yet limited variety of sets, exuded coherence in his visual treatment, in Blade Runner the team led by Douglas Trumbull had no other option but use all the tricks in the book in order to address Scott’s growing demands, which ended up instilling the fictional reality of the film with a certain collage nature on2. Blade Runner/ Los Angeles 2019 is a film/ place made up of juxtaposed moments/ spaces whose connection, as in the Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, is left to the discretion of the viewer’s imagination.

And yet, it would be this multiple, oversaturated, fragmented condition that would ultimately result in the film’s seemingly inexhaustible ability to both represent postmodern reality, and fascinate audiences and the Academia alike. Back in 1982, Blade Runner shook the filmgoing world with a future-present (a 1980’s future) that was presented to the viewer with overwhelming physicality; a dark but palpable future, which would lead to paradoxes such as the curious Stockholm Syndrome described by Norman M. Klein in 1991, when he wrote that: “(i)n February, 1990, at a public lecture series on art in Los Angeles, three out of five leading urban planners agreed that they hoped someday Los Angeles would look like the film Blade Runner …It has become a paradigm for the future of cities, for artists across the disciplines3.” November 2019 is here, and the reality on the other side of my window is just as ominous as the one described by Scott, but much less fascinating. To make it worse, the same can be said of the one on the other side of the -now predominantly digital-silver screen.

See? See why I hate Blade Runner?

1 “Alien’s ‘environment’ was the popular filmgoing public’s first exposure to “layering”, Scott’s self-described technique of building up a dense, kaleidoscopic accretion of detail within every frame and set of a film. ‘To me (Scott Said) a film is like a seven-hundred-layer layer cake.” Paul M. Sammon, Future Noir: The Making of Blade Runner (New York: HarperPrism, 1996); 47.

 2 Norman M. Klein, “Building Blade Runner” in Social Text, 1990, no. 28; 147. Yes, I know I’ve quoted this text at least as many times as Rowe’s ‘Introduction with Five Architects’. Well, as Eric Idle, in full Michelangelo attire would say: ‘It works, mate!’

“Por qué Odio Blade Runner.” Arquine. Revista Internacional de Arquitectura. ‘Lo que Falta / Missing Pieces.’ Mexico DF: Editorial Arquine, Julio 2019. Nº 89, pp. 23-25.


So, now that November 2019, the year Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (you know, the REAL one) is set, is over, I thought it might be worth remembering the film through this installment of my section ‘Arquinoir’ in Mexican architecture magazine Arquine. I haven’t translated the texts in the cartoon so far. Later, perhaps. The Spanish version can be found online here. Although I strongly suggest buying a physical copy.



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