Robert Crumb became famous for his family-friendly erotic comics and, later, for championing ancient blues musicians nobody remembered. He is known for the high quality of his drawings and for the amazing speed with which he can produce them. It seemed, in the past few years, that he was slowing down. Now we know why. Crumb spent the past five years on an illustrated Genesis, the first book of the Bible. And oh, boy is it ever good.
You get to see Old Testament God in all his angry glory. All the violence and sex from the original has been lovingly illustrated in this remarkable adaptation.
Having never sat down to read Genesis before, I didn’t know quite what to expect. Yes, there are the pages of “begats”: Crumb mentions that the writers of the original text most likely wanted to pinpoint their lineage and trace it back to these illustrious and important characters. What was, on the written page, just a series of names, is now a family tree. It’s remarkable.
One of my favorite parts of the Bible as a kid was when people would interact with God. I mean, what are the rules of etiquette for that? You’re talking to the creator of EVERYTHING. At first, there is only deference:
Eventually Abraham gets enough courage to barter with God. God wants to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, but Abraham talks him down. Abraham doesn’t want God to destroy the innocent along with the guilty, and God proves he can be persuaded. In this version, you get to see Abraham, after speaking with God, hurrying back home with perspiration on his brow. Was he nervous? Heck yeah.
This edition – which should be called the Crumb Bible – uses the illustrations to give the stories context. You’ve got shepherds, and farmers, and the ancient Egyptians. Here they are all rendered in a realistic (well, sort of) manner. Their stories always seemed, to me at least, distant and disconnected. Crumb has done no less than put them into context by showing us how they lived. You see the desert the people called home. You see their dwellings – usually no more than tents – and their clothes. You see their facial expressions!
Most importantly, there is no overt attempt to show the text from a present-day perspective. It’s simply the stories, illustrated. I can’t imagine how much research went into making it seem that transparent. This gives the stories themselves more power. Their meanings are left open to the reader, just like in the original.