The Book of Genesis Illustrated – R. Crumb (2010)
I was gifted this amazing book by my brother. As a life-long fan of Robert Crumb and the big-butt, thick-legged femeninas he obsessively drew and lusted over, I wondered how his obsessive drawing style would lend itself to the stories contained within the Bible’s Book of Genesis. As with any genius artist, the results are more enjoyable than the actual source material.
The Book of Genesis is, like the rest of the Bible, a composite. The stories told within it are drawn from so many ancient sources that the words of Genesis constantly contradict or negate each other. For example, Genesis tells two different stories about the origin of the world. In one, god created everything all at once, and seeing it good, created man to rule it all. In the other version, told right after, god creates the universe bit by bit, day by day, until finally creating man on the 6th day, and resting on the 7th. This contradiction is never explained by the devout, who parrot the Bible as a holy book directly transcribed from the mind of god, infallible in all ways. These people are idiots, seeking to turn everyone else into the mindless drones they themselves have become. (To read a review of Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, where he discusses the many source materials for the sections of the Bible, click here: https://rxttbooks.blogspot.com/2014/09/isaac-asimov-tackles-biggest-book-there.html )
Robert Crumb is a very interesting person to undertake this difficult task. He was born to a Catholic household, but never sought religion or spirituality after his youth. In fact, as a devout teenager, his father admitted that the Catholicism he raised the Crumb family under was a lie, and that he was an atheist all along, just pretending at religion. Robert Crumb’s involvement in the underground comic books of the 1960’s helped make him a seminal figure in the alternative media world. Nothing in his work of that period showed a predilection toward Bible subjects.
One of Crumb’s collaborations, the many issues of American Splendor he drew for Harvey Pekar, pointed the way to how his art could serve the needs of a narrative structure. Harvey Pekar’s work consisted of vignettes, detached scenes of his everyday life. Crumb drew these scenes in his inimitable crosshatch, but without any of the sensational or outrageous imagery commonly associated with ZAP or WEIRDO comics. It is this method he employs for the book of Genesis.
What a beautiful book it is. Each page, each panel, is carefully structured and drawn, allowing for maximum storytelling. Crumb draws everything, even the preternaturally dull sections of Genesis listing endless “begets.” His art does not editorialize. It does not seek to magnify or diminish the words of Genesis, merely to portray them in a straight-forward manner. As a life-long fan of the Illustrated Classics comic book series, I felt right at home ingesting the first chapter of the Bible in comic book format. Those Illustrated Classics were my first exposure to Moby Dick, Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, and many other works of literature. I can imagine this great book serving the same purpose for anyone interested in actually reading the Bible, instead of analyzing it for divine proclamations. I also see it as a great stepping stone for other comic book artists to explore the canon of classic literature. Robert Crumb has always kept himself at the leading edge of sequential storytelling art. We are better off for it.