If the surprise here is how faithful, so to speak, the great satirical cartoonist has been in drawing and transcribing the first book of the Old Testament (he spent years studying various translations and biblical commentaries), the beauty and seriousness of Robert Crumb’s art are no surprise at all.
The extraordinary texture he achieves with his black ink shading results in a richness of realism. Executed, he writes, ”with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes,” Crumb’s Book of Genesis Illustrated cannot help but be as earthy as it is spiritually inspired, and sometimes as lusty as it is reverent.
His panels, crammed with delicate Detail — you see every fold in a robe, every whisker in a beard — do not distract from the emotions in his images. These range from Adam in a shamed panic after disobeying God in the Garden of Eden to Joseph’s imperious mien as he rises to power in the final chapters. Yet there’s comedy here, too, in the occasionally incredulous expressions different characters evince in the face of God’s miracles, as when God first appears to an awestruck Abraham.
And certainly anyone familiar with Crumb’s art will recognize the stocky, broad-beamed women who long operated as sex objects in his secular comics. Here, however, they just as easily register as strong female protagonists — from Eve in the opening verses to the vying sisters Rachel and Leah.
The godfather of cartoon counterculture has, in short, managed to turn Genesis into a glorious book of revelations. A