A few weeks ago, I got a fantastic surprise in the mail: The Book of Genesis illustrated by R. Crumb. My friend (and business partner) Topher decided to surprise me and got it for me as a gift. I’d had my eye on it for months, and when he got his own copy, I pouted. So then he bought one for me.
It was so satisfying to finally check it out!
I should start by explaining that I’m a huge R. Crumb fan. Cheap Thrills is one of my all-time favorite album covers, and I’m also a big fan of his comic, Keep On Truckin’. While many people find Crumb’s work offensive and ugly, I really like it. It may be that I have a taste for 1960s illustrations in general, or it may just be that I like the guy.
Anyway, if you’re not already aware, Crumb is notorious for these risqué illustrations and cartoons (most notably Fritz the Cat), so it surprised everyone when he published a hand-drawn version of the first book of the Holy Bible. Not only was it surprising, but it was shocking: every verse is depicted beautifully, drawn in great detail and with the utmost respect. There’s not one ounce of mocking or distasteful work in the entire book. Kind of interesting for an artist who was so surrounded by moral controversy and outrage for most of his career.
This lovely book took R. Crumb five years of his life to complete. What began as a plan to create a light take-off of Adam and Eve turned into a labor of love for him. Once he began doing research, Crumb fell in love with the language of the Bible, the stories, and the characters. He wanted to portray them as best he could. He studied the Bible for years, and even worked with a Hebrew expert and people who knew about the clothing and everyday customs of ancient times. He wanted to do it right, and I think he nailed it. He even dedicated The Book of Genesis to his longtime wife, Aline.
I love how R. Crumb was so caught up in Genesis that he decided put his original idea on the back burner and took on a completely different, reverent, time-consuming project. That’s what artists should do—work on what inspires them. It turned out to be one of the books that I’m most proud to own.
A few of my favorite panels:
For more information on this very interesting artist, I highly recommend Terry Zwigoff’s documentary, Crumb. It’s a great movie.