Dan Nadel on Aline Kominsky-Crumb

I LOVED GETTING a FaceTime call from Aline, phone propped up so I could see her face and environs. Can you see my cozy bedspread? See my lamp? The wall color is nice! Cute, huh? In her home in Sauve she always seemed perfectly in tune with the colors and tones of the walls and furniture around her. 

For such a quiet place, things in Sauve always felt like they were in motion. There were comings and goings, and Aline herself was a force of energy. At dinner she’d gesticulate and exclaim and oh it was fun. That vibrant, incredible energy. But when she was seated in public she was perfectly still. I marveled at her at a gallery opening in 2019. She was present and centered. This was not “the Bunch,” this was the Aline who was prepared, steeled for anything after decades of creating and sustaining a life entirely on her own terms. In Sauve last year I remember seeing her in the front room of the gallery she cofounded with her friend Julie Katan. On Saturday mornings she would hold court and kibitz with her friends and greet visitors. She was likewise very still, very composed, but now drawing people to her, inviting them into her art.

I loved walking the village with her. She’d explain the history of the properties, say hello to the neighbors, sometimes make a side remark to me—“that guy’s a real shtarker.” One afternoon she nearly sold me a house (it’s only 30,000 Euros, can’t beat it!). We went shopping together and we laughed and tried to out-deal each other. And of course, as a host, she was generous in the extreme. Dinner, lunch, “Whatevah you want!” She made a fuss. She was enthusiastic about life itself. About the daily stuff—she told me she loved scrubbing floors. She loved to make a fuss. She also loved swimming in the Mediterranean. She loved yoga. She loved movies. She loved gardening. She loved sex. She loved clothes. She loved art. She loved her grandchildren. She loved her friends. She loved her husband and her daughter. She loved. A lot. What always struck me in Sauve is how readily her love was reciprocated, how much the place loved her back, how joyously Julie and so many others loved her. 

She was, and remained her entire life, a compulsive storyteller. Nothing was better than sitting back and listening to Aline unspool a yarn—her voice rising with excitement, cackling with amusement, going low with the horrors—she was just incredibly funny. Funny like her hero Joan Rivers. Funny like Alan King. She was of that great Jewish tradition of gaudy raconteurs. She emerged from striving, middle-class and midcentury Long Island, escaped expectations and abuse and invented herself, something she shared with Laurie Simmons when I interviewed both of them two years ago.

Aline’s legacy in comics can’t be overstated: She was the first artist to make comics relentlessly examining the private physical and emotional lives of women. Her quavering, thin lines were as intentionally imperfect as the lives she depicted. And that was the point: Aline refused to cover up or gloss over—everything was in service to her subjects, which include, but are hardly limited to: negative self-image, sexual neurosis, lust, marriage, children, travel, grandchildren, and the daily pain and pleasure of simply being in a body. We had a lot of fun putting together an exhibition of underground comic art this past September—we talked while she was out on her deck in the sun, tending to her plants while her husband, Robert Crumb, plinked a ukulele in the background. She told tales out of school and kept my wandering curator-nose in line.

It’s easy, as I did above, to get carried away with the person and the stories. But what must be remembered is that Aline was a serious artist making incredibly brave work in a context that rarely welcomed it. When time fades, when it all shakes out, the legacy will be her art—unapologetic, fearless, funny, and brilliant comics about life in our times. She was one of the best to ever work in the medium. There will never be another.

Curator and writer Dan Nadel is currently at work on a biography of Robert Crumb.

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