Ken Sanders has been in the rare book business in Utah since the 1970s, founding Dream Garden Press in 1980 and Ken Sanders Rare Books in 1990. Dream Garden is responsible for the 10th Anniversary R. Crumb-illustrated version of Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, which can be purchased in book form and/or t-shirt form here. (Hayduke’s my favorite.) If you’re around these parts often enough, you’ll know I’m a huge Abbey fan, and with the MWG movie coming out soonish, Sanders was kind enough to answer a few questions about the making of the book and the 1987 Monkey Wrench Gang calendar.
Where did the idea to have R. Crumb illustrate The Monkey Wrench Gang come from?
I had been familiar with Crumb’s work since Zap Comix and the 60s. In my mind’s eye, I could just see the Crumb caricatures of Abbey’s characters. His artwork was perfect for the exaggerated comedic style of the novel. Crumb originally turned me down. He had never heard of Ed Abbey or The Monkey Wrench Gang. I went through two years worth of other artists that didn’t work out until I returned to Crumb. This time around I was smart enough to send him a paperback of the book and offer him pretty good money to do the project. Once he had actually read the novel, he was eager to proceed.
What was the process like? Was Abbey happy with the results?
There was some tension over the artwork between Abbey and Crumb; particularly over the rendering of Bonnie Abbzug! I had to intervene and get Mr. Crumb to redraw her portrait. But mostly Abbey was pleased. Something Mr. Crumb said down at Arches still haunts me to this day. While taking him hiking in the park, Delicate Arch, the Fiery Furnace, Devils Garden, Courthouse Wash, etc. he remarked that he wished that he had seen the country itself before he drew the artwork for the book; he would have drawn it differently! After Abbey’s death in 1989 I attempted to get Crumb interested in doing some additional artwork but he turned me down. He was living in France by that time and was only interested in working on his own projects.
We held a series of publication parties in Moab, Utah and Salt Lake City in the spring of 1985 when the R. Crumb illustrated edition of Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang came out. At the Moab event over 1000 people showed up for a cookout by Ken and Jane Sleight at Arches, overwhelming the park and gridlocking the only road in. Despite their enormous differences, Abbey & Crumb hit it off. Signed copies of that edition now routinely sell for hundreds of dollars. I wish I’d had the foresight to stash a few cases of signed books!
As you know, I recently bought a copy of the 1987 Monkey Wrench Gang calendar on Ebay. Do you have a lot of Abbey fans like myself emailing and calling to ask where they can find one?
The Ed Abbey/R. Crumb Monkey Wrench Gang calendar came out two years later. It was a financial disaster at the time. It didn’t sell and the vast majority of the print run was pulped! I saved a carton or two of those and still have a few left.