Crumb Transmutes Kafka



Kafka By R. Crumb & Dave Zane Mairowitz (Kitchen Sink Press)

Franz Kafka was the master of the transformation, the dive into darkness, the unpeeling, the alchemical combination of right and wrong, up and down, matter of fact and out of your mind. Which is why, were he with us in the flesh, I'm sure he would approve of the Kismet that brought his story (and his stories) together with artist R. Crumb. It is an artistic marriage made in heaven -- well, to be precise, in hell.

Not to sell David Zane Mairowitz, the word guy, short, but the collision of the nervous, honest, probing pen-and-ink sketches of America's finest illustrator (ever?) and the world's finest fantasist in the pages of Kafka (a reissue of the fabulous (fabulist?) Kafka for Beginners of some years back) is a dynamic duo to equal Rodgers and Hart, Lennon and McCartney, or Batman and Robin. The combination of Franz and Robert creates something new and disturbing -- call it art. I can't help thinking that, despite all the fantastic post-impressionist and expressionist and futurist and modernist artists of Kafka's time, if he had the choice, he would have picked Crumb to bring his stories to life.

Like a Classics Illustrated comic gone horribly, horribly wrong, Crumb's Kafka infests the mind. The horrific image of Hermann Kafka, all hairy legs and evil limbs, dragging his skeletal little Franz to the beach is like a virus. In fact, to give credit to the collaboration of Mairowitz and Crumb, the intermingling of Kafka's biography, and his stories -- not to mention Prague's Golem and the burgo-tourism that has enveloped today's Prague -- create a tight whole. They save particular venom for the class of people who spout words like "Kafka-esque" at cocktail parties. In other words, sorry to say, all of us. And in the end, that is the diabolical genius of these two, and why, the fact that they came together after being divorced by eighty years, is so perfect. Nothing could be more horrible. And that, in the end, is its perfection. - Ken Krimstein

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Mr. Krimstein is a writer, cartoonist, professor, father, and grump who lives in Chicago. So there.