R. CRUMB’S ALMIGHTY PROJECT
If you didn’t grow up in the ’60s or you’re not a comics maven, today’s publication of “The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb” (that’s R. Crumb, counterculture icon and underground comics trendsetter, creator of “Fritz the Cat” and “Keep on Truckin”) may not appear to be the world-class story that it is.
Crumb’s 224 page book, which USA Today says “could be the ultimate graphic novel,” with an initial print run exceeding 100,000 copies, is “sensual and violent, unblinking when it comes to incest and lust, and at times, like the Bible itself, mystifying.”
One cover blurb souts, “Nothing left out!” while another warns, “Adult supervision recommended for minors.”
This is not your family’s King James — although that’s exactly where the text is from (as well as from The Five Books of Moses by Robert Alter, a 2004 translation that restored some missing connections to the original Hebrew as it added contemporary understanding).
From religious communities, early reaction is mixed.
“It is turning the Bible into titillation,” said Mike Judge of Britain’s Christian Institute. “It seems wholly inappropriate for what is essentially God’s rescue plan for mankind.”
A more understanding spokeswoman for Britain’s Bible Society opined, “It may surprise people but the Bible does contain nudity, sex and violence, because it contains real stories about real people.”
“I’m pleasantly surprised, and relieved,” says Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, a faculty member at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and author of “Up, Up and Oy Vey,” a history of the influence Jews had on the creation of superheroes.
“Crumb is a phenomenal talent, one of my sages,” he says. “But he’s not always the sage I would like him to be … The Bible is a complicated work and something the greatest minds of all time have cracked their heads against.”
Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest who writes about pop culture, agrees: “Whenever you engage in God’s spirit, it’s a workout.”
Crumb, however, assumes he’s not working with God’s text. “I believe it’s the words of men. I’m just another human interpreting the story.”
“I don’t doubt the existence of God, I just don’t quite know what God is,” said Crumb, who describes himself as an agnostic, not an atheist. “It’s a question that will challenge me until the day I die.”
“If people of faith say what I’ve done is blasphemous or profane, I’d shrug my shoulders and say, ‘I just illustrated what is there,’ I’m not ridiculing it, just illustrating the exact words that are there. I restrained myself. I really didn’t want to make visual jokes about it. I hope people see it for what it is.”
Audio from NPR: Crumb’s “Genesis” is a sexy breasts-and-knuckles affair (For NPR story, click here)
Illustrator R. Crumb is drawn to God with his latest project: USA Today
Cartoonist R. Crumb’s doubts are downright biblical: USA Today
Trailer from the 1994 movie: “R. Crumb”
Overview of the 1994 movie: “R. Crumb”
Biblical sex row over explicit illustrated book of Genesis: The Telegraph
Sketching his way through Genesis: NY Times
The Bible according to Crumb: Christian Science Monitor
Crumb will speak in LA: Brand X
Review: LA Times