Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb

From the creation of the world to the death of Joseph, Crumb displays the first book of the Bible with blunt black and white drawings. The depictions sway from respectful to sardonic but on the whole Crumb appears to have presented the text without adding much of his own commentary. Of course, any artistic interpretation of Biblical passages, from Bernini to Crumb, cannot help but reflect personal readings. In the intro, Crumb plainly states that he believes the Bible to be only myth. And he seems to put women into scenes, as active participants in daily life, even if the text doesn’t mention them being there. Obviously, women were there doing something to keep children fed and crops from dying.

What I liked best about this graphic novel is that Crumb didn’t try to sum up an episode by adding his own text of what he felt an individual might say but he draws straight from the Old Testament book– all 50 chapters as the cover advertises. What I didn’t like was all the nudity. If the text says so and so has sex with so and so then I can at least understand why a sex scene is included. But there were a lot of naked women randomly sprinkled throughout the text that just didn’t need to be there. I got tired of looking at boobies. If you haven’t read Genesis in awhile then let me remind you – it is a mature book. We send children to Sunday school to get the G version. Crumb’s text is the R version. It’s one thing to read or hear about people having sex and another to actually see it. But this was Crumb’s artistic license and he chose to depict every sexual reference. There is no use of prolific fig leaves and few strategically placed pillows. So, there you have it. You’ve been warned.

The people appear simple and stocky. Their emotions are easy to read which emphasizes the love, hatred, fear, jealousy, in essence, all the human emotions that are experienced by the first humans and their decedents. I’m not sure why, but Sarah, who’s supposed to be beautiful, looked ugly to me. As with most of the women she was robust and thick legged but lacked the beauty to capture Pharaoh’s attention. In the back, Crumb admits he doesn’t feel a beautiful woman could attract such attention but just look around at the way beautiful women are treated today and it seems perfectly plausible that Sarah was just a sex object to most men. Sarah’s was the only depiction I felt Crumb didn’t do justice. The clothing, living quarters and terrain felt realistic and enhanced the fact that this is an ancient text with very real and normal humans living out the stories. I liked the depictions of the nine hundred-year-old men all wrinkled and shriveled grasping for their last breaths.

My final thoughts: If you’ve never read the original text do so first. After thousands of years of preservation and compilation it would be a shame to miss out on, arguably, the most influential and revered piece of writing in the world. So, read Genesis from the Bible first. It was not meant to be a visual book or that’s how it would have been done in the first place. That being said, I enjoyed Crumb’s version overall and say, take in stride, with the understanding that Crumb is not a believer, what you find objectionable in his depictions.
Publisher: W.W. Norton and Company, 2009     Recommended Age: 17 and up
Source: IC Public Library                                  Pages: 224
Rating: 4 Stars

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