Written 5 November, 2009
By the Way... Genesis
Robert (R.) Crumb has long been one of my favorite illustrators-- since the early 70s, in fact, when I stumbled across his Zap #4.
Having been raised on bland comic books that followed the insulting (to my intelligence) and obscene (to my standards) Comics Code, I was blown away by Crumb's work.
Crumb went places that would have been unimaginable to psychiatrist Frederic Wertham, whose book The Seduction of the Innocent led to the threat of congressional hearings on comics and the formation by the comics industry of the Comics Code Authority. For instance, that Zap 4 featured a Crumb story about happy family incest, dad with sis, mom with brother.
Crumb's comic artwork has elicited harsh commentary from critics. He frequently draws pictures of overly sexual women in subservient roles, as well as "darky" afro-americans among other stereotypes. Numerous critics cite his overly sexual women, calling him "the chief sexist of underground comics." Other critics, such as African American cartoonist and author Charles Johnson, claim that Crumb's comics are inherently racist because of their racist portrayals of minorities. Crumb's response to such criticism is that he was only "playing around."
But Crumb has a serious side, too. His 1979 poster A Short History of America was revelatory and his Heroes of the Blues and other trading cards were and still are inspiring.
Shortly after the 1994 movie about him, Crumb moved with his family to France-- but clearly, he is still busy.
When I was on Cape Cod last month, I chanced across a new work by Crumb: The Book of Genesis Illustrated ($14.95, W.W. Norton & Co., 224 pp., cloth or cover, available at www.amazon.com). Read about it here.
Crumb spent four years researching Genesis, searching ancient texts to determine the historical meaning of words and making sure the buildings in his texts didn't look like movie sets. The result is astounding, a read of at least four hours, a faithful telling of the entire book of Genesis.
The illustrations are typical Crumb, black-and-white, heavily inked and highly detailed. And it's wonderfully entertaining. Even those dreadful begats are readable, as each of the begatted is shown as a distinct personality. And no sexual or racial stereotyping here.
Whether or not you are Christian, I really recommend Crumb's book.
And if you're really wicked, find a copy of Zap #4 and read it.