Saturday, November 16, 2013

Comic Book Beard: R. Crumbs' Mr. Natural

The one and only Mr. Natural... still truckin' after all these years.
For my previous Comic Book Beards post, I dug deep into my back issue long boxes and for today's, I had to go underground. Mr. Natural (Fred Natural) is a comic book character created and drawn by 1960s counterculture and underground comix artist icon Robert Crumb. As I very young comic book fan, I recall a friend of mine finding and sharing a collection Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers issues (with Fat Freddy's Cat, naturally) found in his father's closet beside nudie magazines. It's blend of "bad behavior" and stories (with drug and sexual references) satirizing the establishment appealed to my 14 year-old sensibilities. An added bonus was that the guy who owned the comic store I frequented at the time had the same aesthetic appearance.

The irony of my black boxing Mr.
Natural's book cover is not
lost to me.
My introduction to the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers underground peer, Mr. Natural (and what real fanboy doesn't at least have a passing awareness of R. Crumb?), came much later in life. A few years ago, while browsing graphic novels at a bookstore, I came across FantagraphicsThe Book of Mr. Natural collection (which was recently released as a hard cover). I bought an original print softcover from 1995 online soon thereafter, and was fortunately not too surprised at how relevant Crumb's underground anti-establishment humor still is. In adhering to that long time facial hair trope, the sagacious Mr. Natural is part prophet and part conman, and always depicted with an extremely long white beard.

I'll defer to online resource Wikipedia  for am articulation of Mr. Natural's origins: "At first appearance, Mr. Natural is a mystic guru who spouts aphorisms on the evils of the modern world and the salvation to be found in mysticism and natural living. He has renounced the material world and lives off anything he can get in exchange for his nuggets of wisdom. Usually depicted as slightly overweight (although his size varies), he is bald with a long white beard, and wears a gown which makes him resemble the Old Testament God or a prophet... Crumb's bearded guru is too unapologetic to be called a con man. Despite his renunciation of the material world, he's an unrepentant sybarite. His straight talk, while refreshing, can get him into trouble, as when he was kicked out of heaven for telling God it's "a little corny" in "Mr. Natural Meets God". But he may be the only Crumb creation who is genuinely likable.[2] Mr. Natural's aphorisms such as "Keep on Truckin'" are seemingly at odds with his image as a sage..."

The fact that one of Mr. Natural's most famous aphorisms, "Keep on Truckin'," is still so relevant should not be that surprising. Just as everything old can be new again, Mr. Natural's satirical message seems as fresh as ever in our world or Oprah-Dr. Phil-ized life coaching and mumbo-jumbo. Sometimes the call to just keep on truckin' is all that is necessary... well that, and a bada** beard.

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