R. Crumb, Countercultural Icon
Being a fan of the comics medium, it's fair to say that I was excited to see R. Crumb's recently released Book of Genesis, which illustrates the first book of the Old Testament. An icon of countercultural underground comics, Crumb gained infamy in the 1960s and 70s with outlandish stories that ranged from surreal sexual fantasy to scathing social critique to drug-addled nonsense. One might expect his take on the Bible to be cynically irreverent, if not downright blasphemous.
However, the artist also has a history of presenting sober and nuanced works of biography, with subjects such as writers Franz Kafka and Philip K. Dick, and a variety of American blues musicians. He applies this more refined approach to Genesis, drawing on research to inform the look of the peoples and places of the Bible, and he includes the full text (as translated by Robert Alter), without abridgement or interpretation.
Old Testament Comic
The story of creation gives way to the history of humankind as descended from Adam and Eve. Lengthy lists of generational offspring are interspersed with sometimes-puzzling stories of sibling rivalries, tribal feuds and alliances, and more than a few odd bedroom affairs. As a first-time reader, I was pleased to find that Crumb has included an appendix with research notes on each chapter. These were particularly helpful when addressing the roles that women such as Sarah and Rebekah played. Crumb suggests, drawing on Savina Teubal's book Sarah the Priestess, that many oddities in Genesis may be explained by the existence of matriarchal priestess societies, which were being usurped by patriarchies during this time.
I found this to be very interesting material on multiple levels, brought to life by Crumb's detailed illustrations of the characters and settings. Masterful pen-and-ink crosshatching and realistically expressive likenesses of characters bridge the gap of thousands of years of history.
NPR has an interview with Crumb, along with a preview of the book , called 'Genesis': R. Crumb Illustrates The Bible. To read the book, please come borrow one of our copies.
Chris Gray is an Extra Help Librarian (mostly working in San Carlos, Foster City, and Pacifica). He is 30 years old and moved to San Francisco from southwest Florida in March of 2009. When he’s not reading science fiction, comics, or cookbooks, he likes to listen to all kinds of music, hang out in parks looking for animals, cook, and make abstract video art.