Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Book of Genesis Illustrated

Underground comix legend Robert Crumb might not seem a likely choice to adapt the first book of the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah, but he does an admirable job doing so with an eye toward historical and linguistic accuracy. Using a number of scholarly translations and input from Hebrew and religious scholars, Crumb depicts well known stories in a human and earthy manner. His adaptation is very faithful and includes everything from the stories of Adam and Even in the Garden of Eden, to the Great Flood that Noah and his family survived, to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the lives of Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph. Because these stories frequently involve adult situations, violence, and nudity, Crumb has placed a warning for adult supervision for reading this book.

Adapter Robert Crumb is a huge figure in comics. He is an influential creator who tackles controversial and taboo topics involving sexuality, race, religion, and social problems in his work. His anthologies Zap! and Weirdo helped launch the careers of many creators like Spain Rodriguez, Peter Bagge, and Aline Kominsky-Crumb. He has created indelible images like the "Keep on Truckin'" man and Mr. Natural.

Because of the artist, this adaptation has drawn criticism for its base subject matter, even though the depictions within are not particularly gratuitous or far-afield of what is in the actual text. Most reviews are tempered between the artistic and textual aspects of the book. The New York Times reviewer David Hajdu wrote that it has a sense of "narrative potency and raw beauty" but lacks "a sense of the sacred." The New Republic's Robert Alter opined that it is "a bold undertaking, and most readers will be grateful for the many delights afforded by its visual inventiveness." The Guardian's Michael Faber wrote that it is "enlivened by flashes of inspiration" but was disappointed by how much Crumb was hemmed in by his subject matter.

This impressive undertaking was published by W. W. Norton and Company. A preview from the UK Guardian is available here.

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