Almost everything you want to know about R. Crumb's Fritz the Cat and some things you probably didn’t.
Hey, you fucking intellectuals and geeks, you think you’re so where it’s at? Hey, yeah, the movie was set in the 1960s. Happy times. Heavy times. Fritz was a cat whose soul was tormented. He’d been up and down the four corners of this big old world, seen it all and done it all. He fought many a good man and laid many a good woman. And probably a few bad ones. This cat had riches and fame and adventure. Fritz tasted life to the fullest and, at the end of that picture Fritz the Cat, his heart cries out in this hungry, tortured, wrecked quest for more.
Recently, Sausage Party was touted for its R rating but, aside from the CGI tech, this is nothing new. Heavy Metal from 1981, South Park: Bigger, Louder, and Uncut from 1999 and A Scanner Darkly from 2006 had R-ratings. But Fritz the Cat from 1972 was the first commercially animated feature film to capitalize on the X rating it snagged from the Motion Picture Association of America to sell tickets. No joke, Fritz the Cat was made for $850,000 and bagged $90 million.
Fritz the Cat was written and directed by Ralph Bakshi. Bakshi had just come off drawing Heckle and Jeckle and other early morning classics for Terrytoons and was looking to direct his first feature. He pitched Warner Brothers an inner-city street life script called Heavy Traffic. They passed on the film which would become his second cult classic. His first was the second film he pitched to producer Steve Krantz, a crazy idea very loosely based on a 1969 collection of the Fritz the Cat comic strips by Robert Crumb.
Crème De La Crumb
I was eight when I read my first R. Crumb comic. It came in one of two brown paper shopping bags filled with comic books my grandfather found. Among about a dozen Archies, Fantastic Four, Cracked, and Mad, which was my comic of choice, issues, there were maybe three dozen underground comics and a bag of National Lampoons and the crème de la Crumb. I was fascinated by the drawings, the humor, the sex. I applauded the anal antics happening in the lower intestines with the Snoid and fell in love with Devil Girl.
R. Crumb was one of the pioneers of underground comics, creating classic characters like Mr. Natural, Flakey Foont, Angelfood McSpade, Eggs Ackley and that Keep on Truckin’ guy in comics, They grew to the mainstream in collected works books like Kafka, R. Crumb Draws the Blues, where he drew stories from the lives of twenties bluesmen; The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb; the graphic novel Big Yum Yum Book: The Story of Oggie and the Beanstalk, which he drew in 1964, but didn’t come out until 1975.
After Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat was his most popular character. Younger generations caught them after they were collected. Ballantine Books compiled three Fritz stories in 1969. The compilations Promethean No. 3 & 4 came out in 1971 and Artistic in 1973. Bélier Press put out all the published in The Complete Fritz the Cat in In 1978. In April 1993, Fantagraphics Books’ The Life & Death of Fritz the Cat compiled nine strips and included a 1964 story that wasn’t included in The Complete Fritz the Cat. Further previously unpublished Fritz stories appeared in The R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book in 1998.
Crumb is one of the most influential comic artists ever and Fritz is his most influential character. Dez Skinn who wrote Comix: The Underground Revolution, said Fritz the Cat inspired Omaha the Cat Dancer. Without Crumb, Harvey Pekar would never find his American Splendor. Bloom County’s Bill the Cat never would have coughed up a hairball hit. We never would have heard fart jokes on Nickelodeon.
Robert Crumb practically invented the DIY print culture for magazines and graphic novels. He was still a teenager in his “pre-psychedelic period” when he created the character Fritz the Cat with his big brother Charles. They put out their first comic book in 1959 in homemade notebooks.
The first issue was called “Cat Life” and it recounted the antics of the Crumb family cat, Fred. The cat was renamed Fritz and rendered anthropomorphic in “Robin Hood” which they put out in 1960. By the early 1960s Fritz began to evolve “into the cocky, smart-assed character of the published strips.”
Born in Philadelphia, Crumb’s well-known discomfort with the counterculture created some of the best satirical commentary on the decade. A childhood friend named Marty Pahls called Crumb “a poseur” with “few friends and no sex life” who spent “so many hours at school or on the job” at American Greetings, that he “escaped’ by drawing home-made comics.” Crumb’s cartoons evoked the counterculture, the uncultured, the swinging sixties, the roaring twenties, street life and his family pets.
By 1964 Fritz was a beatnik caricature. Former Mad editor Harvey Kurtzman Harvey Kurtzman picked up stories like “Hey, Ol’ Cat!” and “Fritz Comes On Strong” for his humor magazine Help! in 1965, which also published Crumb’s related comic strip The Silly Pigeons that year.
When he first agreed to publish the strips, Kurtzman sent Crumb a letter saying “we think the little pussycat drawings you sent us were just great. Question is, how do we print them without going to jail?” Fritz was a feral creature. In the first story, Fritz has sex with his own sister, and that was just wild, man.
The Crumb brothers’ Animal Town strips added Fuzzy the Bunny, Charles’ alter ego. Fuzzy the Bunny appeared in the early Animal Town strips. He was a college student in “Fritz Bugs Out” and as a revolutionary in “Fritz the No-Good.” A Fuzzy the Bunny story that Charles wrote in 1952 was published in Zap Comix #5 in 1970 after R. redrew it. Crumb says Fritz wasn’t an alter-ego. He was just fun to draw.
Crumb moved to the center of the counterculture in San Francisco after he left his wife with the power of attorney in 1967. He published underground until Zap Comix issued its first Fritz the Cat issue in 1968.
Fritz comes from a long meow mix of flickering feline funnies, from Krazy Kat, which brought to life George Herriman’s comic strip that ran from 1880 to 1944, to Garfield, the lasagna-loving fur-ball who may be Bill Murray’s great regret. One of the first animated images found in the corners of an early notebook was of a cat and a mouse fucking. I’m using the patented Bill Maher process of evidential delineation here: I have no proof, but I know it’s true. This unholy dalliance gave birth to Jerry the mouse’s great adversary Tom, Felix the wonderful wonderful cat, Sylvester, the Pink Panther, even Snagglepuss even, and of course Mr. Kitty from South Park.
Fritz was a city kitty, who was drawn concurrently with Top Cat, Hanna-Barbera’s East Side Kids takeoff that ran from September 27, 1961 to April 18, 1962 and even starred Allen Jenkins from the original Dead End as Officer Dibble.
Fritz the Cat had the benefit of the doubtful generation pissing on its head like a bunch of hard line workers party hard hats. Fritz was no Felix, but he wasn’t averse to whatever magic he found in bags. Crumb dipped into those bags often. He was influenced by funny animal cartoonist Carl Barks and Walt Kelly’s Pogo strip. Crumb admitted that he was sexually attracted to Bugs Bunny. Crumb maintains that he “didn’t invent anything; it’s all there in the culture; it’s not a big mystery. I just combine my personal experience with classic cartoon stereotypes.”
“In the strips of the twenties and thirties you can see an evolution; the characters start out undeveloped, and then over the years they develop rich personalities,” Crumb explained in an interview. There’s an evolution and then a peak period and then a burnout.”
In the summer of 1968, Fritz the Cat strips appeared in the Viking Press compilation titled Head Comix, which got Crumb a lot of attention and made Fritz the most recognizable cat in the underground comix scene.
In 1969, Haifa-born and Brooklyn-bred animator Ralph Bakshi, who would go on to direct Cool World and the HBO adult animated anthology series Spicy City, which was a kind of Blade Runner meets the noir haze of the ’30s and ’40s, came across a copy of R. Crumb’s Fritz the Cat compilation at the East Side Book Store on St. Mark’s Place.
Ralph Bakshi majored in cartooning at the High School of Art and Design. Starting at age 19, he spent ten years animating Mighty Mouse, Heckle and Jeckle, and Deputy Dawg at Terrytoons studio in New York City before Paramount Pictures put him in charge of their animation division. He wrote, directed and produced four shorts before the studio closed in 1967.
Bakshi told the Los Angeles Times in 1971 that he hated the idea of “grown men sitting in cubicles drawing butterflies floating over a field of flowers, while American planes are dropping bombs in Vietnam and kids are marching in the streets, is ludicrous.”
Bakshi founded Bakshi Productions with producer Steve Krantz in 1969. They made commercials for Coca-Cola and produced a series of educational shorts called Max, the 2000-Year-Old Mouse for Encyclopædia Britannica.
At first, Bakshi didn’t want to direct Fritz the Cat because he spent so many years at Terrytoons animating animal characters. Then he realized how liberating Crumb made the possibilities. He could redraw the world.
“Oh my God—a Jewish pig?,” Bakshi giddily told IGN. “These were major steps forward, because in the initial Heckle and Jeckle for Terrytoons, they were two black guys running around. Which was hysterically funny and, I think, great—like Uncle Remus stuff. But they didn’t play down south, and they had to change two black crows to two Englishmen. And I always told him that the black crows were funnier. So it was a slow awakening.”
Fritz Makes His Movie
Bakshi dug Crumb’s work a lot. He identified with the artist, calling him a “genius.” Bakshi set up a meeting to show him drawings he made in Crumb’s style so he could see how it would work as animation. A doubtful Crumb loaned Bakshi one of his sketchbooks as a reference to egg him on. Crumb was not enthusiastic about the project.
After two weeks of negotiations Krantz sent Bakshi to San Francisco to crash at Crumb’s place for a week, but even faced with a future with the animator living in his couch, Crumb still refused to sign the contract.
In The R. Crumb Handbook, Crumb said artist Victor Moscoso warned him “’if you don’t stop this film from being made, you are going to regret it for the rest of your life’—and he was right.”
Meanwhile, Krantz did a runaround and got the film rights from Crumb’s ex-wife, Dana, who had power of attorney. Crumb received $50,000, which was delivered, I’d like to think in brown paper bags, throughout different phases of the filming, and ten percent of Krantz’s cut.
Once Krantz and Bakshi got the rights they started shopping it, but Bakshi said “every major distributor turned it down” because “distributors think that only Disney can paint a tree.” Warner Bros. agreed to lay out the bread and distribute the film in the spring of 1970.
They finished the Harlem sequences first and put together a 15-minute completed short in case the film’s funding was pulled. Bakshi and Krantz filled in the rest with pencil tests and storyboard shots for studio executives, who told Frank “This is not the movie you’re allowed to make.” Bakshi didn’t agree, saying “Bullshit, I just made it.”
Warner executives wanted to cast celebrity voices and insisted that Bakshi toned down the sexual content toned down. The studio pulled its funding and Bakshi went to Jerry Gross’s Cinemation Industries, which put out exploitation and grindhouse movies. By the time production on Fritz the Cat finished, Cinemation had released Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.
Purring it together
Fritz the Cat was the feature debut of writer and director Ralph Bakshi, who would produce a string of subversively beautiful creations to the screen, like the animated Blaxploitation cartoon Coonskin, Cool World, and the 1977 animated cult science fiction classic Wizards.
The reformed Terrytooner wanted Fritz the Cat to be the anti-Walt Disney. He satirized the sanitized studio by showing silhouettes of Mickey Mouse, Daisy Duck, and Donald Duck cheering on the United States Air Force for dropping napalm on a black neighborhood during a riot. He also skewered the “Pink Elephants on Parade” scene from Dumbo.
Bakshi wanted the film to “feel real” and revolutionized animation as much as The Beatles’ animated feature Yellow Submarine had done just a few years before. Bakshi and Johnnie Vita took moody photographs of the Lower East Side, Washington Square Park, Chinatown and Harlem. Ira Turek traced photographs with a Rapidograph, the technical pen Crumb used in his drawings, and drew them onto cels. The background in the Washington Square Park scene is a watercolor painting that was traced off of a photograph. The effect does more than make it realistic, it brings it to life. You can almost see the cels breathe.
Bakshi pulled in Terrytoons cartoonists like Jim Tyer, John Gentilella, Nick Tafuri, Martin Taras, Larry Riley and Cliff Augustine. They were joined by Rod Scribner, Dick Lundy, Virgil Walter Ross and Norman McCabe when production shifted west to Los Angeles. One animator refused to draw a black crow shooting a pig cop. One of the female animators quit because she didn’t know what to tell her kids what she did for a living, another quit rather than draw exposed breasts.
John Sparey drew the bulk of the first sequences, and the crew worked off photocopies. Fritz the Cat was made without pencil tests. Bakshi timed the animation by flipping the drawings in his hand until they matched the screen.
Bakshi’s attention to detail and his realistic consistency is impressive. He doesn’t shoot until he sees the reds of the eyes. The animators make it very clear that the crows smoke marijuana rather than tobacco. You can almost catch a verdant whiff and maybe even envision a contact lens high. You see the same intense detail from the opening credits when one of the construction workers pees off of the scaffold on a long-haired hippie with a guitar, the golden shower separates on the way down in slo-mo, as it dances through the wind of the free fall, only to come splashing cruelly down on the oppressed artist on the street.
Cats or crows, rabbits or pigs, all the animals shuffle to their own rhythm. Ed Bogas and Ray Shanklin composed the score. Fantasy Records and Ampex Tapes put out the soundtrack and the single, “You’re the Only Girl” b/w “Winston.” Fritz the Cat also featured songs by Charles Earland, Cal Tjader, Bo Diddley, and Billie Holiday’s “Yesterdays,” which Bakshi bought for $35.
Skip Hinnant voiced the anthropomorphic New York City alley cat, but this was no Abraham De Lacy Guiseppe Casey Thomas O’Malley koshka. This cool cat was born of a sociopolitical consciousness and free love. When the film came out, Crumb said he hated that smarmy voice and that he thought Bakshi should have done it.
Ralph Bakshi narrates the film and plays Pig Cop #1. Fritz the Cat features Rosetta LeNoire as Big Bertha. John McCurry voices Duke in the pic. Judy Engles voices Winston Schwartz and the Lizard Leader. Phil Seuling plays Pig Cop #2. Mary Dean does an uncredited turn as Harriet and the other two hippie chicks. Charles Spidar plays Bar Patron in the Crow Bar.
But the best players weren’t professionals. Skip, who would go on to be a featured performer on the PBS educational show The Electric Company, was the only professional actor in the Washington Square Park sequence. Bakshi brought realism by recording almost all of the dialogue on Manhattan streets. He paid two construction workers fifty bucks each to record them as they drank Scotch. The voices of the praying rabbis in the synagogue were a documentary recording of his father and uncles. Bakshi also brought a tape recorder when he got drunk and asked questions in Harlem bar.
The Radicalization of Fritz The Cat
There is an aspect of Fritz that reminds me of Mimi in Mimí metallurgico ferito nell’onore, aka The Seduction of Mimi, which came out the same year, 1972. Directed by Lina Wertmüller, Giancarlo Giannini’s Mimi stumbles upon the revolution, but gets corrupted. Richard Pryor would perform a tour de force in his 1977 remake Which Way Is Up?. Fritz doesn’t get corrupted in the film. He freaks out over the rape and battery of Blue’s girlfriend, the only honest thing he’s encountered, grows a conscience and cavalierly reverts to form. In Crumb’s comic, Fritz becomes a self-indulgent superstar engorged with the self-importance of his own fame.
See, Fritz was never supposed to be cute. He was riddled with anxiety, hypocrisy, gluttony and obsessed with sex. He’s a fake, a kitty charlatan, a whiskered face of the counterculture, without his peer’s principles. The underground sells out to the corporation, much like the radical army in Paddy Chayefsky’s Network. The comic strip character, like Pryor and Giannini’s characters, stomps through the modern ‘supercity’ of millions of animals without regard to consequences. Pryor told Mr. Man he could shoot him in the ass and walked away like a nervous Pink Panther. Fritz takes the deal with his tail hung high and, because he is unencumbered by gabardine, his balls swinging as free as the end of the sixties.
Fritz’s arc starts when he is an idealistic college student sharing the drugs and free love. The feral creature is as self-centered, amoral, unethical, and hedonistic as Morris was finicky. Reviewers called Fritz a mix of Charlie Chaplin, Candide, and Don Quixote. At times he is a beatnik, a rock star, a hippie poet, college dropout, a CIA agent, a terrorist, a revolutionary and a womanizing burn-out.
Fritz made his first public appearance in the January 1965 strip “Fritz Comes on Strong.” Fritz brings a sexy young female cat home, they get naked and he picks fleas off her. In May 1965, Help! published “Fred, the Teen-Age Girl Pigeon” where pop guitar pop Fritz brings a female pigeon groupie back to his hotel room and eats her, and not in a good way.
“Fritz Bugs Out” was serialized in Cavalier from February to October 1968. Fritz drops out of college to become a hippie poet. “Fritz Bugs Out” was the first time Crumb used anthropomorphic crows to make racial commentary. Fritz is a hypocrite and the crows are “hip innocents.” In the film, Fritz scores three wannabe-slumming hippy chicks on the rebound from a cool “spade,” the most polite of the times’ racial slurs. The word was almost hip. Though not quite as hip as asking why a great actor like James Earl Jones always has to play black men. The young middle class liberal well-intentioned women are so intent on landing the slick brother they don’t realize he’s more effeminate than Flip Wilson’s classic character Geraldine. But don’t tell the judge.
Fritz and his on-again/off-again fox girlfriend Winston, who he was dating since “Fritz the Cat Doubts His Masculinity,” break up at the beginning of “Fritz Bugs Out.” She comes back in “Fritz the No-Good,” the story where Fritz gets involved with revolutionary terrorist. The former hippie college student rapes one of the revolutionaries’ girlfriends. “Fritz the Cat, Secret Agent for the C.I.A.” was provoked by James Bond.
What’s the story, Fritz?
Plot-wise, the first part of Fritz The Cat comes from a 1968 story that ran in Head Comix. The second part of the film comes from “Fritz Bugs Out,” which Cavalier ran as a series from February to October 1968. The last part comes from “Fritz the No-Good,” which was in the Cavalier’s September/October 1968 issue.
Fritz lives in an anthropomorphic alternative New York super-city of animals. The buildings are all there, the bridges, tunnels, even the subways, but the world is wild and a little whacky. Crows are stand-ins for blacks. The proletariat know they are the proletariat. All cops are pigs, but not all pigs are cops. One of Fritz’s NYU roommates is a pig who plays guitar with the cat and a fuzzy bunny in Washington Square Park.
The story kicks in when the cat goes solo to catch some sexy hippie chicks on the rebound from a disinterested crow who makes Flip Wilson’s geralidine seem butch. After the well-intentioned middle-class predators are left not eating crow, Fritz offers his salvation for them to nibble on, leading to the most-taked about bit of the film, the orgy in a bathtub.
Two pigs, a vet and a freshly rolled pork rookie, get tipped off about preverts getting high and getting it on. We learn the proper procedures for dealing with the public. “On three you yell ‘Open the fucking door.’ Now, you’ve got to use the word ‘fucking’ because it makes you sound tough.” The unburnt bacon doesn’t care just so long as he gets to search the girls, though he turns a swinish mush of bashful red when a young, nubile hippie lands right in his cloven cuff-link hoofs. This humanizes the pig, not in the anthromorphic sense, but by making a clear association with earlier animated cartoons. You could see Porky the Pig reacting exactly the same way.
But pigs is pigs and they automatically revert to form and react the way their training taught them. They wail on everyone but the rubber duckie with their night sticks. In a moment of stoner’s clarity, Fritz grabs one of the pig’s guns and turns the place into a plumbers’ nightmare and himself into a fugitive before torching the dorms at NYU and starting a riot at a Harlem Crow Bar. A crow named Duke is offed in the collateral damage.
Fritz splits in his girlfriend Winston Schwartz’s VW Beetle. They run out of gas in the middle of nowhere and Fritz is recruited to do his part for the revolution. He balks at blowing up a power plant, but, as Batman once said, “some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb.”
Fritz lives through the explosion, which isn’t fair because Duke already proved you could die in Fritz the Cat. But cats have nine lives and Fritz signs up for some sexual healing in a Los Angeles hospital room. Bakshi intended to end the film with Fritz’s death but Krantz wouldn’t let him.
The main difference between Fritz The Cat from the comics and the film is his copping out at the end. Fritz the No-Good Cavalier Cat didn’t grow a conscience. Fritz was radicalized and seduced, like Mimi. In the film he gets hung up over how into Blue, the Nazi rabbit biker junkie, and his revolutionary fascist faggots ride the horse Harriet. Comic book Fritz wouldn’t give a shit. The movie didn’t neuter the cat, but pulled back some of the wildlife.
A Feral Cat in Heat
You think learning is a really big thing and you become this big fucking intellectual and sit around trying to out-intellectual all the other big fucking intellectuals but it all comes down to sex. Sex in comics is old hat now, as animators in the Far East try to reinvigorate the population.
Mention Fritz the Cat to anyone and the first thing they think about is the sex, which is for the most part joyful and even occasionally consensual. But from the moment the movie opens the lunch box for the constructions workers on the beams, the movie declares itself a social commentary of the divide of the times. Many people believed Fritz the Cat was a pornographic film.
Krantz said the X rating cost the movie playdates and 30 American newspapers refused to publish ads or cover it editorially. Cinemation capitalized on the rating by advertising the film as “90 minutes of violence, excitement, and SEX … he’s X-rated and animated!”
“We almost didn’t deliver the picture, because of the exploitation of it,” Bakshi said at the time.
Krantz appealed the X rating, arguing “animals having sex isn’t pornography.” The MPAA refused to hear the appeal. But after Rolling Stone and The New York Times praised the film and it got into the 1972 Cannes Film Festival, nobody cared what the rating was. Audiences came like lemmings to a mountain ridge.
“They forget it’s animation. They treat it like a film,” Bakshi said at a preview screening in Los Angeles. “This is the real thing, to get people to take animation seriously. … People going to work in the morning who loved Disney and Norman Rockwell, thought I was a pornographer,” Bakshi said.
“Now they do as much on The Simpsons as I got an X rating for Fritz the Cat,” Bakshi said later.
The film made a lot of money. It went on to get respect and be ranked at 51 on the Online Film Critics Society’s list of the top 100 greatest animated films of all time. But at the time, money talked. People mumbled. Other cartoons jumped on the bandwagon. Suddenly everybody wanted to be drawn with an X.
Dubbed versions of Japanese adult animated films Senya ichiya monogatari and Kureopatora, which were re-titled One Thousand and One Arabian Nights and Cleopatra: Queen of Sex and got an X rating. Down and Dirty Duck was promoted as having an X rating, but was never actually submitted to the MPAA. The subtitled version of the French-Belgian animated film Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle was released with an X rating.
Fritz the Cat opened on April 12, 1972, in New York, Hollywood and Washington, D.C. The reviews were mixed but most critics dug it. Some predicted it “should change the face of the animated cartoons.” Thomas Albright of Rolling Stone saw a thirty minute preview and declared it “the most important breakthrough in animation since Yellow Submarine,” in his December 9, 1971 preview review.
New York magazine’s film critic Judith Crist said it was “gloriously funny” and grooved on how it targeted “the muddle-headed radical chicks and slicks of the sixties.” Vincent Canby of The New York Times said it had “something to offend just about everyone.”
We interrupt the Israeli-Arab war for this special announcement. The President, after conferring with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, has agreed to send more arms to Israel – based on the return of New York City and Los Angeles to the United States.
Reviewer Patricia Evans found the Jewish stereotypes a real drag, calling them “vicious and offensive,” adding “only the jaundiced eye of director Ralph Bakshi, which denigrates all of the characters, the hero included, makes one reflect on the nature of the attack.”
But the biggest critic was Crumb who said the film was “one of those experiences I sort of block out.” Crumb saw the film for the first time in February 1972 with underground cartoonists Spain Rodriguez, S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, and Rick Griffin.
Crumb “didn’t like that sex attitude in it very much. It’s like real repressed horniness; he’s kind of letting it out compulsively.” Crumb thought the film condemned the radical left, labeled Fritz’s dialogue “red-neck and fascistic” and complained the filmmakers “put words into his mouth that I never would have had him say.” He also took issue with quoting the line “the love you take is equal to the love you make” from The Beatles’ song “The End.”
Crumb hated the movie so much he said he filed a lawsuit to have his name stripped from the credits. Although San Francisco copyright lawyer Albert L. Morse reportedly said an agreement was reached but no suit was filed. Agreement or not, Crumb’s name is still on the final film.
Bakshi said Crumb threatened to disassociate himself from any cartoonist who dared work with Bakshi, which meant they probably couldn’t get published. Cartoonist Vaughn Bodé warned Bakshi that Crumb was “slick.” After the movie, Bashki called Crumb “one of the slickest hustlers you’ll ever see in your life.”
R. Crumb hated it so much he killed Fritz the Cat. He killed him for good and all in Fritz the Cat Superstar, which was published in The People’s Comics in 1972.
“I eventually killed Fritz off in 1972, after the animated film came out,” Crumb told The Paris Review. “The film was terrible. I didn’t want this character to exist anymore in the world. It affected me very strongly. It inspired me to be even more personal, to be autobiographical.”
The cartoonist didn’t just want to kill Fritz the Cat, he wanted to make sure that his popular character would stay buried under an avalanche of rubble. Crumb set out to make Fritz so unappealing that he could no longer be commercially viable. Fritz becomes a sex criminal. He initiates a gang rape and uses his celebrity to screw as many women as he can fit in a room. Crumb satirized Bakshi and Krantz in a script conference sequence where they talking about making a sequel called Fritz Goes to India.
The strip ends with a neurotic ex-girlfriend killing Fritz by stabbing him in the back of the head with an ice pick.
After the movie, National Lampoon’s Michael O’Donoghue published a parody called “Fritz the Star in ‘Kitty Glitter‘” where Fritz was a jaded Hollywood mouthing liberal platitudes on talk shows to callously promote his next movie. The strip ends with a full page shot of “Crumbland” where all of Crumb’s countercultural icons have been commercialized.
Steve Krantz produced the R-rated sequel The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat in 1974 without Bakshi or Crumb. It was directed by Robert Taylor. Skip Hinnant reprised his role, but Fritz the Cat was married with a chronic jerkoff kid named Ralphie. The family is on welfare.
Bakshi recently created, wrote and directed Last Days Of Coney Island where “a group of characters live out their sordid, strange lives trying to get somewhere fast – any way they can. Desperately trying to love and be loved. These cops, call girls, mafia hoods, transvestites, fortune-tellers, clowns, and freaks are all intertwined, heading on a crazy roller coaster ride into a black hole they think is life,” according to the website.
Crumb hocked his sketchbooks and moved to France in the early nineties with Wimmen’s Comix creator Aline Kominsky-Crumb, his wife since 1978. Terry Zwigoff finally got around to finishing the documentary he started on Crumb in the mid-eighties, in 1994. James Ubaniak played Crumb in the 2003 movie American Splendor.
Crumb put out his unabridged graphic novel The Book of Genesis in 2009. Crumb has kept himself out of further trouble with his music. He’s into blues, country, bluegrass, Cajun, jazz, big band, swing and a French-style called musette. Crumb played banjo, sang and wrote songs for his R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, who put out their own albums. He drew iconic album covers for Janis Joplin’s band Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Grateful Dead, Yazoo Records, Blue Goose Records, and music from Laurel and Hardy movies. Crumb even talked about music, sex, aliens and Bigfoot, and alien sex with Bigfoot on a 2012 broadcast of John’s Old Time Radio Show.
This article originally ran in August of 2016.