Loud women. Harsh parents. Bouts of self-loathing. Lust and irrepressible humor. This is the raw, autobiographical material of Aline Kominsky-Crumb’s comics, which are decidedly provocative and, to some, uncomfortably familiar.
“I’m working in a totally Jewish style, and at the same time rejecting the Jewish milieu I grew up in,” she said. “My work couldn’t be more Jewish.”
Known as one of the early pioneers of women’s comics in San Francisco in the early ’70s, Kominsky-Crumb draws exuberant, often explicit vignettes of her unconventional life. A new collection published by Drawn & Quarterly brings together her 1990 book “Love That Bunch” with some new work. She will present at the Bay Area Book Festival on April 29 and at another local book event May 4.
On the topic of Jewish identity, Kominsky-Crumb has mixed feelings. After growing up in a very Jewish environment that she left far behind, she calls herself a “100 percent” cultural Jew.
As a young girl growing up on Long Island as Aline Goldsmith, she thought being Jewish must be required to become a doctor, because all the doctors she knew were Jewish. And it was the kind of place where looks meant everything, as long as they weren’t stereotypical Jewish looks.
“All of my friends got nose jobs,” she said.
Kominsky-Crumb’s great-grandmother took her to an Orthodox synagogue, her grandfather introduced her to the famous Jewish comedians, and she estimates she went to more than 200 bar mitzvahs, strapped into a girdle and pointy shoes.
Kominsky-Crumb couldn’t wait to get out.
“They made a golden ghetto, but it was still a ghetto and it still had a ghetto mentality,” she said.
Now 69 and living far from her roots in the French countryside, Kominsky-Crumb said the societal changes heralded by the West Coast’s Summer of Love in 1967 galvanized her decision to leave home. It was like “instant liberation,” she said. A circuitous route took her to Cooper Union art school in the East Village, then to Arizona (with then-husband Carl Kominsky). After completing a fine arts degree at the University of Arizona, she headed to San Francisco. There, in 1972, her first comic art (and first autobiographical comic by any woman), “Goldie: A Neurotic Woman,” was published in the underground publication Wimmen’s Comix.
She said exposing her life came naturally. “I needed to tell these stories,” she said.
Early on she was restless, insecure, open about her faults and relentlessly self-revealing. She displayed her voracious appetite for food and wine, her expanding butt and annoying zits, her desperate attempt to cling to youth. She showed herself throwing fits to get her husband’s attention.
Kominsky-Crumb’s comic rendering “is made up of exaggerated parts of me that I blow up and push to the maximum,” she said in a HuffPost interview. “I drew the most sordid, unacceptable parts of myself.”
Much of it was a bid for love-me-as-I-am. In New York, she told J., “No Jewish boys ever liked me.” But amid the freedoms of the counterculture, she found not only artistic success but also sexual opportunity. A lot of boys liked her in San Francisco, including her eventual second husband, the comic artist Robert Crumb, whom she described as “like, a really skinny, totally white guy.”
She and Crumb collaborated on “Drawn Together” and “Dirty Laundry,” collections in which they each drew themselves in a hilarious, warts-and-all take on their domestic life. Kominsky-Crumb also has published a graphic memoir, “Need More Love,” which could be her mantra.
In the early 1990s the couple moved from California to France, where they raised their daughter, Sophie Crumb, also an artist. Kominsky-Crumb paints, does a lot of yoga and even gets along with her mother these days; she did a whole series of drawings about hanging out at her mother’s beauty shop in Florida and meeting the clients. They’re the same women who, as mothers, created the suffocating atmosphere from which she escaped. But, having left that world behind and gained enough emotional distance, she sees them with more sympathy.
“That brought something full circle to me,” she said. “Because when I was a teenager I hated them.”