I don’t really care for the artwork of R. Crumb; to my eyes and sensibilities it’s too harsh; there’s a pervasive gnarliness to it, a kind of crude mean-spiritedness I find unattractive.
On the other hand, when I was a kid I positively cherished Crumb’s character, “Mr. Natural.” I took very seriously Mr. Natural’s philosophical musings. Crumb’s “Mr. Natural Meets God” meant a great deal to me.
Some forty years after his groundbreaking work first gave stoners and acid-heads comic books they could call their own, R. Crumb, with his The Book of Genesis Illustrated, really meets God.
In it Crumb prints every word, and illustrates every story, in the entire book of Genesis. It’s a tour-de-force that’s exhilarating and humbling for the sheer scope of its achievement. It took Crumb five years to complete this book, and every second of every hour of that time is on the page to see and marvel at. It’s too easy to dismiss Crumb as a cartoonist; he is an artist, period. And this is the culmination of his life’s work, the long pike he has thrust into the ground of immortality. It will hold there.
With text by God, Crumb has created the ultimate graphic novel.
I fail to understand how any Christian could not welcome this book. In it Crumb does not make fun of God, or Genesis, or … anything. If I didn’t know that Crumb was an agnostic I wouldn’t hesitate a moment to say that his “Genesis” is a faithful homage to that wondrous book of the Bible. Crumb’s artistic style is an ideal match for the text of Genesis, so much of which is, after all, raw, lusty, and violent. (The cover of the book sports the warning, “Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors.” Fair enough. None of its illustrations are disturbingly graphic by any means—but we are talking about Genesis here.) His drawings look like the sort of work you’d expect an Old Testament prophet to produce.
I like it. I like that Crumb’s book has so many people talking and actually reading Genesis. I like the way his strikingly detailed drawings bring to vivid life the stories of that great saga; it’s too easy to gloss over the words of Genesis, to forget the scope and humanness of the dramas they relate. I like it that a man would dare to take on such a Herculean task, would so painstakingly print each word of Genesis, would care enough to imagine and portray the faces of the hundreds of characters and situations contained within it.
Christians have always relied on the visual arts to help them more fully imagine and understand the people and stories of the Bible. This book is a monumental contribution to that tradition.
(I was sent a copy of Genesis Illustrated by its publisher for review. If someone wants to send me a copy of their book so I’ll review it, that’s fine. But I’m hardly inclined to write a favorable review of anything just because the people who produced it hope that I will.)
Also, see the follow-up to this post: My Answer to Christians Denouncing R. Crumb’s “Genesis Illustrated”