Klaustoon’s Blog has been on my blog roll for years. His intricate sketches satirize the inside baseball among the modern architects, such as one he did on the Pritzker Prize of 2015, which I discussed in “Klaustoon pricks Pritzkers.” I may be wrong, but the enduring fight between modernism and classicism does not register in his drawing. Recently, however, Klaus drew a cartoon in homage to R. (Robert) Crumb, the famous underground cartoonist (“Fritz the Cat,” “Mr. Natural,” “Keep on Truckin’ “) and his celebrated cartoon strip, “A Short History of America,” which satirizes itself. Crumb’s panels depict, over a century, the transformation of a rural landscape into a suburban intersection. Klaus’s own cartoon, “A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century,” in tribute to (and including a copy of) Crumb’s, and drawn in a similar mode, focuses on urban architecture, depicting the transformation of traditional urbanism into modernist buildings.
I have been unable to find out the full name of Klaus, though he has been described as “a frustrated cartoonist that lives in an old castle in Europe.” And I have little to say about either Crumb’s or Klaus’s histories, except to note that Crumb did not like modern architecture. Here is a quotation of Crumb taken from Peter Poplaski’s 2005 Crumb Handbook:
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.
Here, from Terry Zwigoff’s 1995 bio, is another quote that feels right:
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).
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1525-1569) was among the first Dutch painters to work after religion was no longer the conventional subject of art. Bruegel specialized in rural landscapes not quite as hellish as those of Hieronymus Bosch, but hardly idyllic. In their histories of America, Crumb leans more toward Bruegel while Klaus leans more toward Bosch.
Both drawn histories are rich in detail, and it is fun to examine each frame closely. If you are of a certain age, both artists evoke delightful memories of unnoticed aspects of, in the case of Crumb’s, the suburban environment and, in the case of Klaus, an urban environment, with its succession of modernist buildings, most of which are lampoons of the work of identifiable modernist architects. Both Crumb and Klaus frame their histories as decade-by-decade battles between owners of land on either side of the road.
Both are cartoons by cartoonists, but both are also inspired historians and urbanologists. Both, it seems, did meticulous on-site research. Klaus could not, of course, avoid seeing it any more than the rest of us can. Crumb, in describing his research style to a reporter from TIME magazine, observes a phenomenon I’ve often described in my blog regarding a common defense mechanism – the ability to faze out so many of the ugly aspects of our built environment. Or in Crumb’s words, what we are “trained to ignore”:
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.”
Not long after I saw Klaus’s own history (all of the frames of which are pictured separately in A Short (Architectural) History of the 20th Century in a larger size) in tribute to that of Crumb, he published a post analyzing Crumb’s “A Short History of America.” Each of its 12 frames are pictured separately in a size that may be easily examined, or resized even larger for even closer inspection.
By the way, in his two posts on Crumb’s history, Klaus repeatedly denigrates his own artistic talent next to that of Crumb. Please, I would beg to disagree. Klaus merely labors under the difficulty that the scenes he draws show more modern architecture, but their ugliness should not be attributed to his pen.Below are three panels from Crumb’s history, followed by two from Klaus’s: