R. Crumb, whose strange and irreverent comics defined the era of “underground comix” and place him as one of the most influential cartoonists, talks about how LSD was a profound influence, an experience he describes as a “road-to-Damascus.”
via Open Culture:
It all started in 1964, when the drug was still legal. Crumb was stuck in a dead end job drawing greeting cards in Cleveland. “I took this very weird drug. Supposedly it was LSD, but it had a really weird effect where it made my brain all fuzzy,” he said while hunched over a drawing pad in Terry Twigoff’s 1994 documentary Crumb. (You can watch the full clip above. ) “And this effect lasted for a couple months.”
The effect of that first encounter proved to be hugely influential, a “road-to-Damascus experience” as he told the Paris Review:
It knocked you off your horse, taking LSD. I remember going to work that Monday, after taking LSD on Saturday, and it just seemed like a cardboard reality. It didn’t seem real to me anymore. Seemed completely fake, only a paper-moon kind of world. My coworkers, they were like, Crumb, what’s the matter with you, what happened to you? Because I was just staring at everything like I had never seen it before. And then it changed the whole direction of my artwork. […] I got flung back into this cruder forties style, that suddenly became very powerful to me. It was a kind of grotesque interpretation of this forties thing, Popeye kind of stuff. I started drawing like that again. It was bizarre to people who had known my work before. Even [Mad Magazine Editor Harvey] Kurtzman said, What the hell are you doing? You’re regressing!
A couple of years later, Crumb ditched Cleveland (and his first wife) and headed for San Francisco, which was just starting to become the Mecca of the counterculture. Soon issues of his Zap Comix would be blowing minds. All of his most famous characters from those cartoons– from Mr. Natural toFritz the Cat to the Snoid – were first produced in the months immediately following that first trip.
But remember, drugs are bad. And we don’t recommend them. And if you’re wondering about LSD’s downsides, tune into what Louis CK has to say.
You can see hear Crumb expound more about LSD, San Francisco and the whole Haight-Ashbury scene below.