Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Book of Genesis Illustrated: Did R. Crumb 'Get Religion'?

Abraham and Isaac
(Image from NYT)

Coming of age in the early 70s, I figured that underground comix artist Robert Crumb must be some dirty old man who looked like Mr. Natural and enjoyed drawing lascivious comics, but I see that the fellow is only now an old man in his mid-60s who's seen fit to illustrate -- occasionally lewdly -- The Book of Genesis:
One day 15 years ago, for no reason he can remember, Mr. Crumb decided he wanted to read the myths of ancient Sumer. Eventually he found a scholarly work that said some of the myths were similar to the stories in Genesis. He read Genesis closely, and the idea of illustrating it clicked.
Or so reports investigative journalist -- and popularizer of the obscure but popular festival Festivus -- Allen Salkin in "Sketching His Way Through Genesis" (NYT, October 16, 2009), who also quotes Crumb on the image above:
"I don't think Isaac knows exactly what is happening. He is very passive. In Genesis he is a very passive character. He is not as active as Jacob or Joseph or Abraham. Abraham is kind of a take-charge dude. But even Abraham gets pushed around by his wife. They all get pushed around by their wives."
That's certainly the impression that I get from reading Genesis -- Isaac is passive, something of a role model, perhaps, for Isaiah's suffering servant, while Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph are far more active, but the women nevertheless control things behind the scenes. Salkin observes that "As unlikely as it may seem, Mr. Crumb has become something of a Bible scholar," and he quotes the sage further on the image above:
"The matriarchal traditions, which were suppressed when the priestly class modified these old myths for the Bible, come through more strongly when the stories are illustrated."
And Crumb apparently looks at the Bible in the way that a lot of Westerners look at the Qur'an:
"The fact that people can persist in the information age to take this as a fundamental word of God, words to live by, rules to live by, that's really crazy to me."
But he's not setting out to offend believers:
"I had no intention to scandalize the Bible," he said. "I was intrigued by the challenge of exposing everything in there by illustrating it. The text is so significant in our culture, to bring everything out was a significant enough purpose for doing it."
Well, I for one would like to peruse Crumb's illustrated Genesis. I imagine that he has his lucid moments of graphically depicted insight in which he does, indeed, 'get religion'.

Take a look at the regretably abbreviated slideshow and see what you think, but if you want even more graphic details, see Boing Boing's sneak peek at Crumb's illustration of Sodom's dire fate.

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At 3:02 PM, Blogger R said...

Some of us appreciate Crumb as a trend setter and yes, he did break through the wall of censorship that went up after the Congressional comic book hearings in the ’50s. I had a sneak peak of the book of genesis illustrated here and wanted to compare more independent opinions.

For some of us it’s nostalgia—I was a horny, teen-age hippie when I first discovered undergrounds back in the ’60s. That being said, if you study his body of work you start to understand the point of view he brings to even the simplest illustration. Crumb is a self-aware, sexually immature, cynic who has few heroes (blues musicians, etc.). Sure, there are better illustrators but none that would deliver the Bible from his POV. I think of Crumb as the cartoonist’s Ivan Albright. He could draw/paint the loveliest subject and still make you wonder if there wasn’t something rotten just out of view.

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"He could draw/paint the loveliest subject and still make you wonder if there wasn’t something rotten just out of view."

Exactly right. Thanks "R" -- and also for your other remarks and memories.

Jeffery Hodges

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