The Book of Genesis Illustrated by Robert Crumb
Drawing the Bible is not for the feint of heart
When I was in Europe a few months ago, I kept my eye out for comic books. Not that I could read any because none of them were in English. I did manage to pick up a copy of a Tin Tin book in French though (you know, just because). As I browsed through the bookstore shelves in a number of different countries, I kept seeing the same book over and over again. It was pretty hard to miss with it’s bright yellow cover.
The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb. All 50 chapters of the first book of the Bible, illustrated and with nothing left out.
I had bought my copy just before leaving Sydney, but I wasn’t going to lug around an oversized hardcover comic book whilst being an overseas tourist. Seeing all those copies all over the continent showed me that this was a book that was going to be worth talking about.
Robert Crumb is well known in the independent comic scene. His artwork was a major part of the underground comic book movement of the 60s and 70s. Crumb has a reputation for being counter cultural, depicting drugs, sex and topless women. It’s easy to see why people might be concerned about his approach to the Bible. Would he treat it seriously? In the introduction, Crumb states that he believes that the Bible is the work of men, not God. However, he does believe it needs to be treated with respect.
The art work here is wonderful. If you’ve ever struggled through the many genealogies in Genesis, then have a go reading them with Crumb’s illustrations. He takes lists of names and makes them personal. Each genealogy is an untold story of families living their lives and loving each other. Crumb’s Genesis had me hooked with the artwork on every page.
Yes there are uncovered breasts in this book. Yes, there are depictions of sexual acts. But they are drawn in a way that is not explicit. You know what’s going on, but you’re not shown the details. Yes, there is violence. But it is restrained and not over the top. Why are these things in there? Because they are in the text. Genesis is a book full of sex and violence. To try and censor it would be to ignore what is in God’s Word. What Crumb has done is present the story of Genesis in the most respectful and dignified way he can without compromising the content of the Bible. And he does a good job.
Crumb does not believe the Book of Genesis to be the Word of God. This can show in his decision to choose a translation of some passages that either make God less unique or diminish his awesomeness. These times are few and far between, however. Crumb endeavours to be accurate to the text and he is true to this vision.
Some people would take issue with the fact the Bible is illustrated at all, that God is visually represented. That Bible texts that are deliberately ambiguous are now drawn in a set, unambiguous way. While ‘The Book of Genesis’ is a good read, it is not a replacement for the Bible. It is a helpful companion to the Bible and often had me returning to my Bible to compare notes. But at the end of the day it is one man’s interpretation of the text. Enjoy The Book of Genesis for what it is – a good looking piece of art that tells us something about God and his creation.