Graphic Novel Reviews

The Book Of Genesis Illustrated

(2009) R. Crumb, Jonathan Cape, £18.99, hrdbk, 214pp, ISBN 978-0-224-07809-2

This is just what it says on the cover – 'The First Book Of The Bible Graphically Depicted! Nothing Left Out!”

The bible referred to is, of course, the Christian Bible and if you have done your bible study then you already know the story (and if not, do not worry). This (SF2 Concatenation) is not a religious website and I have no intention of taking any particular religious viewpoint or, indeed, of favouring any particular religion – so why am I reviewing this? For Crumb’s artwork!

R. Crumb became famous as part of the Underground Comix Movement in the 1960s and '70s. Amongst much else, he created Fritz The Cat and Keep On Truckin … (yes, you probably know the logo) and he has been illustrating ever since.

Like much of his work, this is a book of uncoloured pen and ink drawings. It tells the story of Genesis in the style of a graphic comic book and almost every sentence is individually illustrated – and that is a lot of illustrating. The appearance of each person has been carefully crafted and remains identifiable as the story progresses – though he is not kind to their appearance; the men are often swarthy and the women large-breasted and strong of face (but not what you would call beautiful!). There is a lot of begotting and taking comfort in each other – illustrated of course – but it is in the nature of his artwork that whilst it is graphic it never sinks to being pornographic (though the cover does warn 'Adult supervision recommended for minors').

This is not some vague attempt to produce an easy-to-read it’ll-do version to hold the attention of children, this is a genuine attempt to depict the story in all its 'glory'. To keep his illustrations realistic, Crumb has made extensive use of visual source material from a number of knowledgeable donors, discussed indigenous architecture with folks from North Africa, and made use of their knowledge of life in the 'pre-modern' world.

To keep the story as accurate as possible, Crumb has taken his text from a number of sources including the King James Version but mostly from Robert Alter’s recent translation The Five Books Of Moses (2004) (though he admits to occasionally making minor changes to make the words clearer). To increase his understanding of the original stories and their meanings, Crumb studied learned texts on the history of the time and the early versions of what became the Old Testament stories as well as discussing them with knowledgeable scholars. Following from his researches, the book finishes with his comments and observations on the whole of Genesis and on the individual chapters, and that makes very interesting reading in its own right.

If you are already familiar with Crumb’s work, you might be tempted to think that this is just an attempt to poke fun at the Book of Genesis – you would be wrong! Think again! Go, read it, study the illustrations, read the notes,get to grips with the history of ancient people and their story! And enjoy it!

Peter Tyers

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