Sunday, October 25, 2009

God and Crumb (Reprise)

Another reviewer reminds us that R. Crumb's body of work has nothing on the Book of Genesis when it comes to depravity and weirdness.
On this one, he played it (mostly) straight. And why not? If you have never read Genesis from start to finish, you might not be aware that the stories are as full of sexual perversity and surreal plot points as any comic book. Genesis has lust, inebriation, nudity, polygamy, harlots, men pimping their wives, masturbation, penis cutting, sex with a 90-year-old woman who gives birth, sodomy, incest and a father who offers his virgin daughters up for strangers to rape.

That's a lot of great material for an artist like Crumb, and the genius of his Genesis is that he portrays it all - every word and every illustration is given equal weight. That's not how they taught it to us back in Sunday school. Our Bible coloring books had only selected scenes: Noah and his animals, but never Noah lying passed out drunk and naked in his tent. And even when we outgrew the Sunday school cookies and punch and graduated to wafers and wine, we still never heard about Abraham selling his wife Sarah to Pharaoh in exchange for cattle, gold and slaves. It was a kind of scam for the couple, and they did it more than once, targeting King Abimelech of Gerar next and getting cattle, sheep, slaves and land in return.

Crumb's compositions are cinematic and the rendering of detail is deliciously fine. One is amazed at how well the text adapts to the comic book form with its speech balloons and narrative boxes. The "sweet" Crumb comes through here with tenderly drawn and emotionally insightful expressions. And the faces! Where did he get them all? Each individual in the "begats" is unique. They are all raw, rich and human.


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