From a mind that’s been called everything from genius to sick to sexist (by his wife, no less) to racist and back again, comes an astoundingly clear-headed new look at the book upon which our entire civilization is arguably based. No holds barred, straightforward illustration of the Book of Genesis. It’s fascinating.
Why is R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated getting a writeup in a satiric jerk rag? We can see why you’d ask, WHACK! artists. Truth is, this retelling of one of Western society’s greatest founding myths in graphic detail doesn’t have a whole lot to do with porn; it’s really straightforward, honest illustration of the stories of the Old Testament. But, if you think about it, the Old Testament sure has a shitload of sex, booze, violence, and hot chicks in it, and that’s what we here at WHACK! are all about. Not to mention that R. Crumb is one of the founding fathers of underground “comix,” whose explicit, graphic, and often misogynistic depictions of women throughout his storied career have drawn all sorts of sensationalism from all corners of the earth. Both reviled as a racist scumbag and revered as a visionary artist, Crumb has been made into several documentaries and movies; his work has featured in comic books and fine art galleries across the world (which the reclusive and mousey artist himself finds ridiculous); he has been interviewed thousands of times by illustrious to not-so-illustrious (he got a feature segment in Midnight Blue, the late-night TV series of Screw founder Al Goldstein) personages; many of his characters have become icons of the American counter-culture (Felix the Cat became so popular he was made into a mainstream animated movie without Crumb’s permission; in retaliation, the artist promptly killed his character in a comic book); and underlining every one of the millions of ink lines he has drawn and most of the controversy he has raised has been his powerful, almost obsessive sexuality.
R. Crumb fits right in here at WHACK! And while the Bible doesn’t necessarily, his take on it surely does. This reviewer fucking loved it. I can’t remember the last time I was paging through a Bible and literally couldn’t put it down when the subway came to my stop. I was entranced. There’s none of the difficulty one usually encounters trying to make sense of Elizabethan English. Nobody standing over your shoulder asking how this story here applies to your personal relationship with Jesus. No critics or bloggers trying to interpret the text’s take on femininity in the ancient Hebrew civilizations. Just historically accurate, deliciously detailed, straightforward illustration in an accessible style of our grounding myth, so forcefully and painstakingly drawn that Paul Buhle of The Jewish Daily Forward called it “one of this century’s most ambitious artistic adaptations of the West’s oldest continuously told story.”
Crumb is, of course, interpreting as he goes; he drew upon various versions of the Bible, Biblical art around the world, other author’s works on the same topics, and even on feminist interpretations of the text to get to his final version. And he carefully explains in the introduction: “I do not believe the Bible is ‘the word of God.’ I believe it is the words of men. It is, nonetheless, a powerful text with layers of meaning that reach deep into our collective consciousness, our historical consciousness, if you will.” In interviews he’s mentioned that he finds the idea of believing Genesis to be solid truth “completely insane and crazy.” But nevertheless, this twisted mind so full of vitriol for humankind unflinchingly takes on every scene of Genesis in all its violent, confusing, disturbing, often overtly sexual glory. Nakedness where it’s mentioned? Illustrated. Incest? Illustrated. Bloody sacrifices and slayings? Illustrated. Rape? Illustrated. Murder? Illustrated. It’s all there.
I have to say that as a porn writer with little time for religious musings between masturbating and writing, I found Genesis Illustrated a breath of fresh air. The stories take on a much more immediate feel when pictured in Crumb’s take-no-prisoners style. Thunder thighs and pointy nipples on the women aside, the pictures bring home the humanity in these stories brilliantly, with Crumb’s trademark facial expressions illuminating the human impact of the violence and turbulence of the early Hebrew tribes in a way that archaic “thou” and “thy” never could for me. For once I found myself interested, curious to learn more about this mythology that seems, when pictured in great historical detail (the hairstyles and clothing and architecture are all researched and rightly placed), so very foreign to a product of the culture founded upon its principles. – Miss Lagsalot