Robert Crumb: The Big Jump

Couldn’t think where to stick this little strip, so it’s ended up here. ‘Twas back in the mid-1990s and HM Customs & Excise (Heathrow) had a new department head, obviously keen to flex her muscles. Knockabout’s Tony & Carol Bennett had recently published a Robert Crumb collection, My Troubles with Women. As always, they shipped a goodly quantity over to Last Gasp in California, for US distribution.

Then the Crumb movie came out and domestic sales rocketed, resulting in them selling out. Sensibly, as there were still plenty of copies Stateside, they shipped a whole bunch back to themselves. A British book coming back into Britain.

But the shipment was seized at Heathrow, deemed as obscene, and Knockabout was faced with hefty court costs if they wished to defend and get their books back. So it was time to do something madcap to raise funds!

Paul Hudson, then owner of London’s Comic Showcase shop, and I, then editor of Comics International, decided we’d do a sponsored parachute jump to raise money for the cause. Here’s how it went…
Parachute gig p1Parachute gig p2The ensuing court case was equally funny. On one side the briefcase-bearing suits of Her Majesty’s, all filed in with their new boss, eager to please and impress. On the other side a rag-tag bunch of comics sorts.

Their aim was to convince the judge that Robert Crumb’s work was pornographic smut. Ours was to justify it as autobiographic memories, drawn in such a style that NOBODY (except maybe Crumb himself) could consider it even a tad saucy.

Paul Gravett
Paul Gravett
Dez's Parachute Club card
Admission 16 years later: It hadn't been my first time!

Their side seriously started to err when they tried comparing it to Soho porn. My favourite moment was when comics historian Paul Gravett was cross-examined by the prosecution. “Is this not the kind of material you would expect to find in a typical Soho pornography shop?” they asked. Indignantly, Paul replied, “I certainly wouldn’t know!” (his face a picture at the very suggestion he was familiar with such). You had to be there.

Anyway, major victory for the little guy. We won, thrashed them. Humiliated them. Beat them hollow. Wonder what that did for the shiny new top dog’s career at Heathrow?