Pathbreaking underground comics artist Aline Kominsky-Crumb died of pancreatic cancer at her home in the Cévennes region of southern France, at the age of seventy four on November 29. Kominsky-Crumb in the 1970s emerged as a comedic and artistic force with comics that unsparingly, often crassly, depicted the complex emotional and physical lives of women. Frequently autobiographical, her comics touched on subjects ranging from masturbation to menopause, abortion to adoption, hairy armpits to receding hairlines, and broke ground for generations of women comedians, writers, and comics artists. “I don’t censor myself at all,” she told Artforum earlier this year. “The story comes out, I have to let it come out. I scratch it out like the George Grosz of underground comics.”
Kominsky-Crumb was born Aline Goldsmith in 1948, in Long Island, New York, the daughter of a wealthy mother, and a father who had been a photographer for Stars and Stripes before turning to organized crime. Raised largely by her grandparents, Goldsmith was subjected to verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her parents; she would later detail the experience in 2018’s My Very Own Dream House. In 1966, she moved to New York City to attend Cooper Union and while there became enmeshed in the downtown countercultural milieu, experimenting with drugs and hanging out with musicians including members of the Fugs. Finding the city’s fine art scene “elitist and horrible,” as she told Elle in 2020, she left for Tucson with her new husband Carl Kominsky, whom she would shortly divorce.
Following her 1971 graduation from the University of Arizona, where she studied painting, she moved to San Francisco. Having been introduced to underground comics in Tucson by cartoonists Kim Deitch and Spain Rodriguez, she took up the form with alacrity. In 1972, she fell in with the all-female collective that founded Wimmen’s Comix, and contributed stories to the anthology’s inaugural issues. Around this time, she was introduced to Robert Crumb, already a giant of underground comics, who frequently drew a character named “Honeybunch Kaminski,” who bore a stunning resemblance to Kominsky herself. The pair began dating and would eventually marry in 1978. Kominsky-Crumb would later cast her relationship with Crumb, whose work elicited accusations of racism and misogyny, as one of the reasons she had a falling-out with Wimmen’s Comix cofounder and contributor Trina Robbins; another was her own issues with feminism. In 1975, she departed Wimmen’s Comix and with fellow former contributor Diane Noomin launched Twisted Sisters, a one-shot comic that came out in 1976 and would eventually spawn an anthology and a limited series featuring work by many Wimmen’s Comix contributors.
Kominisky and Crumb were married in 1978, a few years after the couple began cocreating the comic Dirty Laundry, about their life together. Kominsky-Crumb drew her own character, which she renamed “the Bunch,” having deemed Crumb’s Honeybunch “a cute, cuddly little victim, dumb and passive and compliant,” as she once told fellow cartoonist Peter Bagge. Though the contrast between Kominsky-Crumb’s cruder, looser drawings and Crumb’s more refined, realistic style was an intentional facet of Dirty Laundry and other comics on which the couple collaborated, Kominsky-Crumb would for most of her career endure derision for her work’s perceived ugliness, which only came to be critically appreciated in recent years.
Following the 1981 birth of their daughter, Sophie, Kominsky-Crumb took the editorial reins of Crumb’s Weirdo anthology from Bagge; apart from one issue, she would remain the series’ editor through its 1993 conclusion. In 1990, the Crumbs moved moved to a small village in southern France, where they continued to collaborate. The 2000s brought greater recognition to Kominsky-Crumb, whose 2007 memoir, Need More Love, earned her critical acclaim; in 2018, Drawn and Quarterly published an expanded version of her 1990 Love That Bunch. Kominsky-Crumb in the past decade returned her focus to her original passion, painting, and showed at numerous galleries. She continued to collaborate with her husband, most recently on the pandemic-inspired 2021 series The Crumb Family Covid Exposé, published by David Zwirner.
Kominsky-Crumb’s body of work endures thanks to the relatable concern that forms its core, one that plagues not just women but all people. “On a deeper personal, psychological level, I realized it was like, ‘Okay, I’m disgusting, will you still love me?” she told Elle. “I have zits and warts and I smell and everything like that. Will you still love me?’”