The Bible. Translated into every language in the world, real and imaginary (Yes, there is a Klingon Bible, look it up) to inspire a modern audience to live a good and righteous life of piety, devotion and the Golden Rule. It is probably safe to say however that The Bible has probably never looked like this! Today marks the release of R. (Robert) Crumb’s illustrated take on one of the most well-known parts of The Bible, the book of “Genesis”. Officially titled The Book of Genesis: Illustrated by R. Crumb, the 224 page tome will depict in vivid, Crumb-style detail each story, action and character involved in “Genesis”, from the story of Abraham to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
For younger Examiner Readers who might not know the infamous R. Crumb, google search Fritz the Cat... just make sure Safe Search is off. Starting in the mid 60s, underground papers began introducing the young subversives who read their publications to Fritz the Cat, a feline con artist who frequently finds himself in wild adventures, often involving a variety of sexual experiences, drawn in a scratchy distinctive style that showed neither hesitancy or shame in depicting every nuance. A film by Ralph Bakashi, 1972's Fritz the Cat was the first animated feature to receive an X rating from the MPAA. The film's distributor capitalized on the rating in the film's advertising material, which touted the film as being "X rated and animated!" According to Ralph Bakshi, "We almost didn't deliver the picture, because of the exploitation of it." Producer Steve Krantz stated that the film lost playdates due to the rating, and 30 American newspapers rejected display ads for the film or refused to give it editorial publicity.
And, now, Crumb takes on the Bible! But, is this blasphemy or brilliance?
“If people of faith say that what I’ve done is blasphemous or profane, I’d shrug my shoulders and say ‘I just illustrated what is there,” said Crumb to USA Today. Crumb’s words come on the heels of high anticipation for the project, rooted in Crumb’s noted artistic style that tends to pay careful attention to detail and spares no expense when it comes to vivid depiction. Every act from “Genesis” is illustrated here, and according to Crumb, he had a certain epiphany while working on this project, “To take this as a sacred text, or the word of God, or something to live by, is kind of crazy. So much of it makes no sense. To think of all the fighting that’s gone on over this book, it just became to me a colossal absurdity.”
Crumb used the King James version of The Bible and a 2004 translation of The Five Books of Moses to begin his undertaking, and he spent hours researching ancient cultures, translations and various Sumerian myths as he took on this task. Crumb has even said that the book is simply a “straight illustration job”, reiterating that he simply drew what was stated.
"It was hard to draw God," the reclusive cartoonist says about his latest project, which begins at the Beginning, with Creation itself. "Should God just be a bright light? Should I use word balloons? Should God be a woman?" Crumb says the answer came to him in a dream. "I ended up with the old stereotypical Charlton Heston kind of God, long beard, very masculine. I used a lot of white-out, a lot of corrections when I tried to draw God."
With a mixture of anticipation and anxiety, the art world has been awaiting Crumb's long-rumored work, a four-year, monastic-like effort to adapt every word of the first book of the Bible in distinctive pen and ink. The religious community, however? Not so much.
Mike Judge of God Botherers' "think-tank" the Christian Institute has said, "It is turning the Bible into titillation. It seems wholly inappropriate for what is essentially God's rescue plan for mankind. If you are going to publish your own version of the Bible it must be done with a great deal of sensitivity. The Bible is a very important text to many many people and should be treated with the respect it deserves. Representing it in your own way is all very well and good but it must be remembered that it is a matter of people's faith, their religion. Faith is such an important part of people's lives that one must remember to tread very carefully."
An unnamed spokesman for the Church of England offered: "I haven't seen the book but I think trying to sell something by emphasising the sexual nature of some of the scenes doesn't seem to be a good way to pass on the message of the bible."
Crumb himself has gone on the record as saying he does not believe that the Bible is the word of God. "I take it all for myth from start to finish, with probably some faint relation to historical reality. They're great stories. But for people to take texts as something sacred, handed down from God... that's pretty backward, I think."
So, I ask again, brilliance or blasphemy? Is it disrespect to represent the Bible in it's entirety, naughty unwashed bits and all, turning God's most holy lessons into something for the horny disaffected to giggle over? Or is it the no nonsense, unashamed look at a collection of ancient myths that despite their sometimes unsavory aspects offers those who have faith a foundation to build their lives upon, to keep them safe, happy, and comforted? There are rapes in the bible, there are murders, there are graphic scenes of war, and sex, and torture, and sacrifice. Would such things be included if we weren't meant to learn from them? In a world where so many of us get our news in 140 character Twitter tweets, maybe Crumb's 'in your face' style, is simply the next Illuminated Manuscript, drawn not by monks in silence, but by a just as reclusive, and just as devoted lover of saying what needs to be said.
The Book of Genesis illustrated by R Crumb is currently available in the US only for $24 bucks. The cartoonist's website says fans will shortly be able to buy one of 250 "special, signed, limited edition books" at $500 a pop.
For More Info on where to get your copy, see the artist's official website: http://www.crumbproducts.com/