Robert Crumb’s Stoner Art Worth up to a Quarter Million Dollars Goes to Auction

Who would’ve thought that original comic book artwork is worth a fortune?
Robert Crumb’s Stoner Art Worth up to a Quarter Million Dollars Goes to Auction
Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

Robert Crumb’s original “Stoned Agin!” artwork is going up for bid for the first time ever in Heritage Auctions’ Comics & Comic Art Auction Nov. 21-24 in Dallas, Texas. Crumb’s groundbreaking release of the first issue of Zap Comix in 1967, predating the premiere issue of High Times, included illustrated instructions informing readers how to hold in a hit and general tips about smoking pot more efficiently. From then on, Crumb more or less led the hippie comic book movement, defying all previously-held standards of censorship in mainstream comic books.

Crumb’s psychedelic legacy introduced the world to foul-mouthed cartoon characters such as Mr. Natural, the Keep On Truckin’ men, Mr. Snoid, Flakey Foont, and Fritz the Cat—which was released as an R-rated animated film and sequel. Crumb published Zap Comix, Head Comix, Your Hytone Comix, Weirdo Magazine, Mystic Funnies and dozens of other quirky titles over the years, almost always with a psychedelic theme. He also drew Big Brother and the Holding Company’s cover of Cheap Thrills for Janis Joplin and countless other contributions.

Robert Crumb’s Original Artwork

Crumb’s artwork “Stoned Agin!” [sic] depicts the various stages of the effects of cannabis—from being a little bit high to inner nirvana. The artwork original was the inside cover of Your Hytone Comix, published by Apex Novelties in 1971, but the image ended up being printed on incense and rolling paper packs for generations. As of mid-November, the current bid was at $105,000, with the Buyer’s Premium set at $126,000. But its estimated value is set at $250,000. It’s a small price to pay for such a huge part of stoner history.

Fortunately for everyone else, Crumb values rare blues records enough to trade them for his own original artwork. “The consignor received the artwork directly from Robert Crumb,” Heritage Auctions Senior Vice President Todd Hignite said in a news release. “After moving to Northern California in 1970 and getting to know Crumb through friendships with other underground cartoonists, a trade was arranged with the artist, swapping some rare old blues 78 records for the artwork. The original has remained in our consignor’s personal collection ever since, buried away and securely stored for more than four decades, which has only added to the appeal and demand among collectors. This art is not only the great ‘lost’ Crumb, but an incredibly key image for 1960s and 1970s counter-cultural history. Such powerful images that have been seared into the imaginations of so many very infrequently come up at auction.”

The ink Bristol board drawing measures on paper measuring 13-7/8 by 10-7/8 inches with an image measuring 12 by 8 inches, according to Heritage Auctions. The seller threw in a cardboard portfolio with a handwritten to-do list, perhaps written by then-Hytone Comix publisher Don Donahue. The artwork has been graded as in “Very Good condition.”

Robert Crumb’s Stoner Art Worth up to a Quarter Million Dollars Goes to Auction
Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

The History

High Times’ rare and unlikely 1977 interview with Crumb delved into some of the artist’s darkest, most deprived inclinations, which the artist usually expressed through sketches and comic book drawings. Crumb even created an exclusive comic strip to commemorate the occasion. Terry Zwigoff’s award-winning bombshell documentary, Crumb, uncovers the deep dysfunction of the artist and his family, leading film critic Gene Siskel to call Crumb “the best film of 1995.” Crumb’s disturbed brother Charles may have committed suicide in reaction to the film.

Robert Crumb is arguably the father of underground comics, who began peddling adult comic books on the street, which he called “comix” in San Francisco, California during peak of the 1960s hippie movement. Crumb’s comic books were admittedly influenced by LSD,  cannabis and other psychedelic substances. Robert Crumb—and later other visionaries like Gilbert Shelton, “Spain” Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and S. Clay Wilson—wrote and drew for Zap Comix and other subsequent comic book series, much to the dismay of parents everywhere. Zap Comix showed the world, picture by picture, the underside of America, complete with drugs, sex and profanity. Williams would go on to paint the original but banned cover of Guns N Roses’ Appetite for Destruction, while Griffin would become a psychedelic rock poster wonder. A lot of the psychedelic rock poster era art was derived from Zap Comix artists.  The others would eventually grow to become legends in the comic book community, particularly Shelton with The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

Before then, the Comics Code Authority, founded 1954, determined what was considered acceptable for young readers of comic books—including removing anything that remotely resembled homosexual activity. Dr. Fredric Wertham, author of Seduction of the Innocent, spearheaded the movement to cleanse comics in America. Until Crumb came along, comic books were thoroughly vetted and only images and text suitable for children were approved. Zap Comix #4 precipitated a case that escalated to the U.S. Supreme Court, concluding with a verdict in 1973. Released in Aug. 1969, Zap #4 pushed all boundaries of censorship, as its stories included highly controversial themes. The case People of New York v. Kirkpatrick represented obscenity charges brought up against booksellers Peter Kirkpatrick and others who sold Zap Comix. Ultimately, the charges were dropped and the hippie comic book artists prevailed.

Is It Worth It?

Robert Crumb’s comic books, like Larry Flynt,  challenged censorship when no one else would by pushing boundaries of what defines “obscenity” and flooding decent homes with information about drugs. Owning a piece of the underground comics that Crumb helped to popularize is something you can’t put a price on. Heritage Auctions calls the piece the “Holy Grail” of Crumb and psychedelic art collections.

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