R. Crumb Describes How He Dropped LSD in the 60s & Instantly Discovered His Artistic Style

As Nan­cy Rea­gan and my junior high school health teacher will tell you, LSD is ille­gal and ille­gal drugs are bad.

Unlike oth­er drugs, how­ev­er, LSD can blow open — as Aldous Hux­ley described it — the doors of per­cep­tion and remove the fil­ters of con­ven­tion­al thought. It has pushed some of the 20th century’s most cre­ative minds into mak­ing impor­tant cog­ni­tive leaps. Nobel Prize-win­ning sci­en­tist Fran­cis Crick famous­ly first imag­ined DNA’s dou­ble-helix struc­ture after drop­ping acid. Steve Jobs described his first trip as one of the most pro­found expe­ri­ences in his life. And in June 20, 1970, Pirates pitch­er Dock Ellis threw a no-hit­ter (or so the leg­end goes) while trip­ping on a pre­pos­ter­ous­ly large dose of the stuff. Let’s see you do that on meth.

r. crum lsd

Add to this list of acid acolytes Robert Crumb, the most influ­en­tial car­toon­ist of his gen­er­a­tion. His strange, fre­quent­ly obscene, often hilar­i­ous stream-of-con­scious­ness car­toons defined a cer­tain sub­set of hip­py­dom as much as the Grate­ful Dead and Ken Kesey. And his style emerged almost imme­di­ate­ly after his first trip.

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 to Fritz 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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Beyond Tim­o­thy Leary: 2002 Film Revis­its His­to­ry of LSD

Artist Draws Nine Por­traits on LSD Dur­ing 1950s Research Exper­i­ment

Watch The Bicy­cle Trip: An Ani­ma­tion of The World’s First LSD Trip in 1943

Beyond Tim­o­thy Leary: 2002 Film Revis­its His­to­ry of LSD

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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