Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reader's Diary #1081- Robert Crumb: The Book of Genesis

It's only recently that I've been paying attention to the influence and legacy of Robert Crumb. As one of the earliest and most successful players in the underground comix movement, creator of Fritz the Cat as well as other notable titles and characters, and illustrator for some now-classic album covers (such as Big Brother and the Holding Company's Cheap Thrills), you now see his name pop up often as an influence to such well-known and respected comics artists as Joe Sacco, Chester Brown, and Julie Doucet.

But Crumb has also courted controversy and many have found his work to be sexist and racist.

So diving into my first Crumb book, the illustrated Book of Genesis, I had a lot of expectations. Boring was not one of them.

First off, I don't find the source material (yes, this is that book of Genesis) boring. Sure there are boring parts, what with all the begats and other repetition, but that particular book is where so many of the familiar stories are told: the story of creation, the Garden of Eden, Noah and the flood, Joseph and his coat, and so on. The first time I read (the non-illustrated) Genesis, I remember looking at how much of the Bible remained and wondering what in the world was left.

But sadly, I don't know what Crumb added. See that note on the orange scroll on the cover? "Nothing left out!" it boasts, like it's a selling feature. Fine, I suppose that would appeal to a lot of people, and often comics artists do more of their "writing" through their art anyway, so there was still hope for something poignant, something to prove how great (or at least interesting) this Crumb guy was. I know and respect the power of the visual and I know how violent and sexual the Bible can be, so to be honest, I was expecting intensity. I was expecting something that would offend a lot of people to which Crumb could just shrug off for once saying something along the lines of, "I just draws 'em as I reads 'em." But while there's a bit of nudity here or there, some violence, scenes like this are about as raunchy as it gets and are rare:

All of which makes it sound like I wanted Crumb to step all over a book that 3 major world religions hold dear. Not so. I just think there was room for a bit more interpretation, more creativity. The most interesting things he does is give the serpent in the Garden arms and legs and make Noah's sons slightly resemble the three stooges, and that's about it. I mean there's some technicality to be admired. Crumb's fleshy characters with big slobbery looking mouths are at least stylized. The hatching and cross-hatching shading is well done. But even so, the angles are dull, straight on affairs with little change in perspective. And given the choice to keep all the text intact, the combination of a very wordy book with dull illustrations made me simply push through, almost tuning out the art altogether. For comics, isn't that a cardinal sin?

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