Mr. Natural’s Bible

CrumbBibleCartoonist Robert Crumb went to San Francisco in 1967 and published his first issue of Zap Comix in 1968, introducing underground comic fans to Mr. Natural, an unstable holy man whose motto was: “Keep on Truckin.’”

Now Crumb has turned his painterly pen to another group of unusual holy men with his The Book of Genesis Illustrated (W.W. Norton). Two major articles in two major papers expertly explore the dividing lines between the artist and his work.

A big article in USA Today by David Colton praises the highly anticipated book while noting Crumb’s disbelief:

Crumb has produced what could be the ultimate graphic novel–using the Bible’s sacred text to retell the stories of Creation and Noah’s flood along with Sodom and Gomorrah, the family saga of Abraham and the collaboration of Joseph and Pharaoh.

Its 224 pages are sensual and violent, unblinking when it comes to incest and lust, and at times, like the Bible itself, mystifying. “Nothing left out!” shouts a cover blurb.

But those hoping for a spiritual journey of redemption–hippie artist finds salvation transcribing the Bible–will be disappointed.

“To take this as a sacred text, or the word of God or something to live by, is kind of crazy,” Crumb, 66, says in a rare telephone interview from his home in southern France.

Crumb, whose dark back story and fragile psyche were on full display in the moving but troubling 1994 documentary, Crumb, offered similar sentiments to Allen Salkin of The New York Times, which published a full-page article, with six beautiful images from the book, on Sunday:

The fact that people can persist in the information age to take this as a fundamental word of God, words to live by, rules to live by, that’s really crazy to me.

Zapcomix1But Crumb told Salkin that he didn’t want to let his own doubts about the Bible diminish its cultural significance or weaken his own renderings:

As unlikely as it may seem, Mr. Crumb has become something of a Bible scholar. In a telephone interview from France, he bristled at a description of his book by his British publisher as “scandalous satire.”

“I had no intention to scandalize the Bible,” he said. “I was intrigued by the challenge of exposing everything in there by illustrating it. The text is so significant in our culture, to bring everything out was a significant enough purpose for doing it.”

One issue neither reporter explored sufficiently is why Crumb tackled the Bible. Given his feelings about the book, was he just doing this for the money? If so, he wouldn’t be the first artist to accept a religious commission. In the past, doubting musicians have composed some of Christendom’s most treasured liturgical masterpieces.

The cover of Zap Comix advised readers: “Fair warning: For adult intellectuals only!” Crumb’s Bible carries a similar warning: “Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors.”

Crumb has applied his gifts to creating a visually stunning retelling of Genesis’s key stories that can help readers/viewers appreciate these texts in new and compelling ways. These two articles give us a taste of the work and a peak into the mind of its maker.

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  • Martha

    That image there has – to me – definite William Blake overtones.

    Another non-traditional believer (who described the conventional image of God as Nobodaddy) who nevertheless was inspired by the Bible to produce art :-)

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  • Jerry

    Crumb told Salkin that he didn’t want to let his own doubts about the Bible diminish its cultural significance

    I’m glad that was brought out in the story. In current times, when radical atheists deny the impact of Christianity and the Bible on American and world history, it’s refreshing to read of a non-believer who does realize the significant impact of Christianity on the world.

  • Stephen A.

    Mr. Crumb was a lot more snarky and disrespectful (or maybe just more honest) about religion in his NPR interview.

    “Taking the Bible as a sacred truth, however, is another matter: “The idea that people for a couple thousand years have taken this so seriously seems completely insane and crazy, totally nuts. But the human race is crazy if nothing else,” Crumb said.”

  • MattK

    I know what my brothers are getting for Christmas.

  • Martha

    Stephen A., yes, he was honest.

    Compare the slideshow images with what the big brain atheist artists could come up with for International Blasphemy Day, and tell me which one is the artist grappling with the text? :-)

  • Jerry

    I wonder if R. Crumb is an adherent of “atheism 3.0″ as announced by USA Today or perhaps is a “fellow traveler”?

    Bruce Sheiman doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe in religion.

    Setting aside the question of whether God exists, it’s clear that the benefits of faith far outweigh its costs, he argues in his new book, An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity is Better Off With Religion than Without It.

    • Dolmance

      Yes, it’s always better to believe in something that is patently made up, because it’s better than the truth and you’ll feel better, assuming you can pull it off, that is.

  • Chris

    It is interesting that in the NPR interview piece linked to by response #4, Mr. Crumb identifies himself as “Gnostic”. I suspect that he really said “agnostic”. They have rather different meanings! :-)

  • Greg

    According to NPR, he considers himself a Gnostic.

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  • S

    um….. soooo……. a bit unstable are we?