I have always liked The Bible.
Before some comic-loving-right-wing-type decides to take offence at this statement, I also like the Hindu myths. And Greek ones.
The fact that I had actually read the King James version of the good book when I was still in school stood me in good stead through my quizzing years. You’d be surprised at the extent to which quiz-setters depend on The Bible.
And so, I was thrilled to hear, late last year, that R. Crumb, one of my favourite comic-book writers, had produced his version of The Book of Genesis. A little digression may be in order here. Crumb must be a familiar name to regular readers of The New Yorker. He is also the author of classics such as American Splendor and The Quitter that have made their appearance previously in this column.
Crumb has a wry sense of humour and a wonderful style of drawing, one that would have probably fit into MAD magazine at its pomp (and I mean this as a compliment).
Now, back to the book. I say produced and not created or written because Crumb hasn’t written The Book of Genesis. Instead, what he offers is, as the jacket blurb helpfully tells us, a “literal” graphical “interpretation assembled primarily from the translations of Robert Alter and the King James version”.
So, the story, the plot, even the text, isn’t Crumb’s. Everything else though is, including, most probably, the blurbs on the cover. One says, “All 50 Chapters”. Another says, “The First Book of The Bible Graphically Depicted! Nothing Left Out”.
And the third says, “Adult supervision recommended for minors”. That’s probably because there is a lot of nudity, violence and sex in the book. Then, Crumb didn’t put these in.
Divine inspiration: Crumb’s style could fit right into ‘MAD’ magazine.
I enjoyed Crumb’s book—I must confess that this was one graphic novel I didn’t really read in a single sitting—for several reasons. His detailing—and this is as technical a comment on illustrations as you’re likely to find in Cult Fiction—is immaculate. And one can see that he has spent time and effort to interpret and understand Genesis. Although Crumb says in his introduction that he “approached” his five-year project as a “straight illustration job”, it is evident that The Book of Genesis is more than that.
I may still pick American Splendor as Crumb’s best work, but if someone were to ask me to pick his most representative work, I’d choose The Book of Genesis.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint.
Write to him at email@example.com