How New Yorker failed to see cartoonist's funny side

Artist Robert Crumb has finally revealed why his drawings vanished from the famous magazine

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The Independent US

For a publication as austere and revered as the New Yorker, the presence of the extravagantly lewd comic book artist and misanthrope Robert Crumb has long seemed like a bit of an aberration.

Mr Crumb's work, after all, was originally seen in such publications as Snatch, Big Ass and Weirdo.

But when Mr Crumb's work abruptly stopped appearing in the celebrated magazine in 2009, his fans might have been a little surprised. Now the artist has finally explained why his cartoons have vanished: he was so irritated by the editor's failure to send him a polite rejection for a particularly controversial submission that he has withdrawn his labour altogether.

Mr Crumb, especially well known for his predilection for drawing abnormally muscled damsels and the male shrimps who lust after them, seemingly had his falling out with the magazine in 2009 when it failed to run a drawing ordered from him for a cover about gay marriage. It was apparently the first time that a piece of his work had been rejected by the magazine. His response: I won't be putting pen to paper for them any time soon, if ever again.

The problem for Mr Crumb, 67, who these days lives in France, was not apparently that the image was rejected by New Yorker editor David Remnick – he had been paid for it advance – but that the magazine returned the work to him without bothering to explain the reasons for its rejection.

His angry response is getting attention because it is the New Yorker he is assailing, the Holy Grail of publications for freelance writers and illustrators. But that, it turns out, is precisely the point of Mr Crumb's tirade, which at some point he wrote down.

His explanation finally emerged in unconventional format: on the back of a bookmark. It was circulated among patrons of the Venice Biennale and was spotted by arts reporter Nadja Sayej, who went on to interview Crumb on the subject for Vice magazine.

"Remnick would not give the reason for rejecting the cover, either to the cover editor, or to me," Crumb vented on the back of the bookmark. "For this reason I refuse to do any more work for the New Yorker. I felt insulted, not so much by the rejection as for the lack of any reason given. I think part of the problem is the enormous power vested in the position of chief editor of the New Yorker. He has been 'spoiled' by the power that he wields. So many artists are so eager to do covers for the New Yorker that they are devalued in the eyes of David Remnick. They are mere pawns."

We are left to speculate as to what led Mr Remnick to spurn the Crumb picture which features a couple of indeterminate gender – one hunky in a skirt, the other slight – standing before a "gay marriage" window awaiting a license to wed. On the wall is a sign directing them to a "gender inspection" office down the hall.

In the interview with Ms Sayej, Mr Crumb says the problem surely was not that the New Yorker is homophobic in some way.

"It's the opposite. The New Yorker is majorly politically correct, terrified of offending some gay person," he suggested. And indeed it is possible that Mr Remnick was concerned the image, especially the "gender inspection" element, might have angered some of the magazine's gay readers.

But perhaps Mr Remnick just didn't like the picture or, more prosaically, dropped the idea of a cover about gay marriage entirely in which case the Crumb image was no more than some collateral damage.

Mr Remnick and officials from the New Yorker did not return phone calls seeking further comment last night.