Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book of Genesis Illustrated

Considering the pictorial possibilities of the subject, Crumb’s depiction of the supernatural qualities of the story of Genesis is less than awe-inspiring. God’s creation of the earth, the sky and the waters is depicted in chunky visual shorthand. In his Haight-Asbury days the subject would probably have inspired brain-melting acid-inspired pyrotechnics from the creator of Mr. Natural and Flakey Foont. The animals in the garden remind this reader of the cute does and bunnies of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and Crumb's cartoon God is a grumpy, petulant old man walking through His creation wearing a pinched face, looking more or less like a street-bum suffering from bleeding hemorrhoids. The art is ham-fisted, precisely feathered, and cross-hatched to the point of obsession.

Crumb’s non-fiction work brings to mind previous attempts at illustrating the Bible from Gustave Dore’s masterworks to M. C. Gaines “Picture Stories from the Bible.” The most immediate connection that comes to mind would be Basil Wolverton’s over-worked illustrations of the destruction of unbelievers at Armageddon, and sure enough Crumb’s work has been received so well that *gasp!* Wolverton’s Bible has been announced for publication by Fantagraphics. What’s next in comic books; Dante’s Inferno, Pilgrim’s Progress, the New Testament, or the Talmud?

The work I found coming to mind most often, however, was not a Biblical work at all but Jack Jaxon’s “Comanche Moon,” “Los Tejanos,” and his various stories depicted in Last Gasp’s “Death Rattle” comic books. Jaxon was a pioneer of the non-fiction historical comic in the underground sex, violence and drugs style. Jaxon’s artistic influences are apparent throughout his western historicals, mainly John Severin and Robert Crumb. Crumb in turn may have been unconsciously inspired by Jaxon's minute attention to the historical details of costume, weaponry and facial variety.

The good news about Robert Crumb’s seriously funny “Book of Genesis Illustrated” is that you don’t have to be a biblical scholar to enjoy his adaptation; it works just fine as a comic book. The lowbrow look, and earthly feel, of Crumb’s "Genesis" actually works to the comic’s advantage. God skulking about the Garden of Eden peering at Adam and Eve through the bushes is not to be missed. I expected to be underwhelmed and instead spent an enjoyable half-hour with Crumb’s odd adaptation of bronze-age history and myth.

The first five pages, on the Creation, can be found HERE. One of the highpoints of the book, the bizarre story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom can be found HERE.

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