Book of Genesis illustrated by R Crumb

Book of GenesisRobert Crumb was a leading light in the underground comics scene. As an oversimplification, underground comics were small-run comics published in the 1960s and 1970s, which used satire to criticise society, and which had content that placed them outside the Comics Code Authority’s standards. Crumb’s works before The Book of Genesis, which was released in 2009, are closely tied to philosophies popular in the 1960s counterculture. His books are very explicit sexually, and are left-wing radical to the point, in some cases, of suggesting violence as a means of redistributing wealth.  So, when it was announced that he had taken four years to write the Book of Genesis, many people wondered what sort of scathing satire he’d been boiling up for so long.

The odd thing is, The Book of Genesis is, in so far as I can see, an honest and straightforward attempt to interpret the book. It’s easy, when writing Biblical satire, to take cheap shots, but Crumb steadfastly refuses to do this, which is unexpected given his earlier work. He is not, himself, a believer, and this is obvious, but at the same time, there are parts of the Book of Genesis where he could have chosen obvious objections to the contents, heckling the writers, but he chooses not to.

As an artistic project, The Book of Genesis contains hand-lettered versions of  “all the words” by which Crumb means all the words from the King James, with interleavings from a later translation. Its illustrations are in Crumb’s style, which is to say, they are in a sense deliberately curious and ugly. This is a useful, however, when he is illustrating the sexual elements of The Book of Genesis. The illustrations are explicit, but they do not attempt  salaciousness.

This sexual element is perhaps the most controversial element of the book. Crumb’s point seems to be that if you are going to engage the entirety of Genesis, then you are going to have to deal with the sex and violence, because it’s there. Some readers find The Book of Genesis by R Crumb quite confronting, and this shock is an effect of the visual element added by graphic novels, blended with Crumb’s particular artistic style: not beautiful, but effective.