It is one thing for Joyce Brabner to refer to fellow cartoonist R. Crumb as “polymorphously perverse,” as her character does in “American Splendor.” It is quite another, apparently, for an Australian newspaper to refer to the comics legend as a “self-confessed sex pervert.”

Reportedly rankled by a recent article in the Sunday Telegraph of Sydney, Crumb has pulled out of his headlining gig at the Graphic 2011 arts festival in that city, reports the Australian, a sister paper also owned by News Limited. The art and music festival will be Aug. 20-21.

In the Telegraph article, headlined “Smutty show a comic outrage,” an anti-child abuse campaigner calls Crumb’s artwork “crude and perverted images emanating from what is clearly a sick mind.”

“It was strong stuff and it made me look very, very bad,” Crumb tells the Australian. “All it takes is a few people who overreact to something like that to show up and cause unpleasantness. I have a lot of anxiety about having to confront some angry sexual-assault crisis group.”

The article also decried Crumb as a “very warped human being” and contended that the Sydney Opera House event was, in effect, endorsing his work.

“I do these crazy cartoons,” Crumb, 67, tells the Australian. “I have no defense.”

Crumb’s appearance was to be a conversation with Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth.

“I can certainly understand how he feels after suffering a moronic and philistine attack in a newspaper, but I wish he wouldn't let this intimidate him,” Groth tells Comic Riffs on Tuesday, noting that he hasn’t yet spoken with Crumb about the withdrawal.

“Robert isn't a glory-hound, is not comfortable making public appearances, and was probably ambivalent at best about appearing before so many people,” continues Groth, characterizing the article as ”a tipping point.”

Graphic 2011 co-curator Jordan Verzar wrote on the event’s Facebook page: ”I sincerely doubt that he will ever make it to Australia now. It’s a very sad day, but I’m still excited and looking forward to the rest of the great shows happening at Graphic.”

The France-based cartoonist first gained international fame in the ’60s by helping found the underground comix movement while in the Bay Area. The creator of Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat, of course, is both revered in the comics world and respected in the museum art world.

MORE: Henry Allen on Crumb’s “Book of Genesis Illustrated”