R. Crumb Illustrates Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea: Existentialism Meets Underground Comics

Sartre’s nov­el Nau­sea intro­duced his philo­soph­i­cal view as a form of ill­ness to a WWII read­er­ship. “Nau­sea is exis­tence reveal­ing itself—and expe­ri­ence is not pleas­ant to see,” he wrote in his own sum­ma­ry of his first book, pub­lished in 1938. The novel’s drama­ti­za­tion of His­to­ri­an Roquentin’ s cri­sis presents a case of exis­ten­tial sick­ness as most­ly invol­un­tary.

Though pub­lished before his many Marx­ist books and essays, Nau­sea con­nects the malaise to a cer­tain class expe­ri­ence. “I have no trou­bles,” thinks Roquentin in Robert Crumb’s short adap­ta­tion of the book above, “I have mon­ey like a cap­i­tal­ist, no boss, no wife, no chil­dren; I exist, that’s all…. And that trou­ble is so vague, so meta­phys­i­cal that I am ashamed of it.” Nau­sea, in one sense, is bour­geoise alien­ation, while Roquentin’s con­ver­sa­tion part­ner, the Self-Taught Man, con­fess­es a naïve human­ist ide­al­ism.

The char­ac­ters alone, some crit­ics sug­gest, imbue the book with a sub­tle par­o­dy. As he lis­tens to the Self-Taught Man’s trou­bles and rumi­nates on his own, Crumb’s Roquentin grows more Sartre-like. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the Self-Taught Man takes on a Crumb-like demeanor and aspect. Their dia­logue moves briskly, the scene resem­bling My Din­ner with Andre with less ban­ter and more neu­ro­sis. Sartre’s tone lends itself well to Crumb’s obses­sive, tight­ly-com­posed pan­els.

Crumb’s lit­er­ary inter­pre­ta­tions have grav­i­tat­ed toward oth­er anx­ious writ­ers like Charles Bukows­ki and Franz Kaf­ka, as well as the mur­der and incest of the book of Gen­e­sis. The under­ground comics leg­end is right at home with Sartre­an dread and despair. Crumb became famous for Fritz the Cat, an ani­mat­ed film ver­sion of his raunchy hip­ster, what many called his gross­ly sex­ist and racist sex fan­tasies, and the draw­ing and slo­gan “Keep on Truckin’.” He was a fig­ure of 60s and 70s coun­ter­cul­ture, but that’s nev­er where he belonged.

Crumb was a Sartre­an pro­tag­o­nist , even when he “often por­trayed him­self in his work as naked… and pri­apic.” In an an inter­view with Crumb The Guardian describes him:

his words are depres­sive and lugubri­ous, and yet he appears mel­low, laugh­ing eas­i­ly through his exis­ten­tial nau­sea. The most ter­ri­ble sto­ries amuse him as much as they pain him. He tells me how a best friend killed him­self by swal­low­ing four bot­tles of paper cor­rec­tion flu­id, and he chor­tles. He talks of his own despair, and gig­gles. He admits that he could nev­er have imag­ined a life quite so fulfilled—with Aline, and his beloved daugh­ter Sophie, also a car­toon­ist, and suc­cess and money—and says he’s still mis­er­able as hell, and laughs.

He is a lit­tle Roquentin, a lit­tle bit Sartre, a lit­tle bit Self-Taught man, apply­ing to his read­ing of lit­er­a­ture and phi­los­o­phy an LSD-assist­ed, sex-pos­i­tive, and unavoid­ably con­tro­ver­sial and depres­sive sen­si­bil­i­ty. See the full Crumb-illus­trat­ed Nau­sea here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

R. Crumb Shows Us How He Illus­trat­ed Gen­e­sis: A Faith­ful, Idio­syn­crat­ic Illus­tra­tion of All 50 Chap­ters

Three Charles Bukows­ki Books Illus­trat­ed by Robert Crumb: Under­ground Com­ic Art Meets Out­sider Lit­er­a­ture

Under­ground Car­toon­ist Robert Crumb Cre­ates an Illus­trat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Franz Kafka’s Life and Work

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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