The founder and beloved representative of the underground comic movement is headed to Richmond next week to talk about his latest work, The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb.
By no means am I an aficionado of underground comic books. My comic collection is admittedly comprised of mostly beat-em-up titles of a more conventional nature (X-men, Batman, The Goon, etc.). Consequently, the extent of my previous knowledge on R. Crumb was relegated to the Internet, a co-worker who “went to college in the sixties,” and a personal geek-out over his work with Harvey Pekar on now famous funny book American Splendor.
After thumbing through Crumb’s ambitious foray into the illustration of Holy Scripture, The Book Of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb, I have to say that my respect for the no-tights, no ass-kicking, non-escapist form of comics and illustration in general is blown wide open. In my research of Pekar, which included the above-mentioned co-worker loaning me some comics that are worth more then my whole collection, I came to know Mr. Crumb as a bit of a shock illustrator. He is know for such titles as Fritz The Cat and as the illustrating arm of the counter culture movement of 1960’s San Francisco, His work has been criticized for being misogynistic (due to his overtly-sexual depictions of women in subservient roles) and even slightly racist. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, I found the material I went over to be comically crude and so unique that, even having slept on this artist for years, I’m confident I’d be able to pick out an R. Crumb from a line up of impostors.
What really struck me about The Book of Genesis, was that Crumb seemed to transcend some of his thematic trademarks and still retain a visual originality that actually enriched an ancient text.
As a studier of the Bible, and specifically the Hebrew Texts of late, I found that Crumb’s illustrations exceeded entertainment value and are actually worthy of being listed with various scholarly interpretations of the Bible.
This book, from cover to cover, brings a surreal life to the text (which, I must mention, is unaltered for the most part). A few things I noticed which really affected my reading of stories I’ve read so many times were little details. The great thing about Crumb is that his details aren’t typical (shading, color, number leaves on trees) but rather creatively practical. For instance, the women in the book all have hairy legs. It’s a small detail, but one that’s a perfect example of the impressively fresh take that Crumb brought to a book that’s been read a billion times over thousands of years.
After seeing his other work, and reading the “Adults Only” warning on the cover of his new release, I was expecting some really racy stuff. Despite what your coloring books told you, The Bible (especially the Hebrew Scriptures that comprise the Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Pentateuch) is very graphic material. There is no lack of sexual hedonism, bloodshed, or scandal in this revered text. However, I was surprised to see that Crumb, boldly so, tackled the scripture just as it was. The sex scenes were no sexier then what they probably really were, the violence was not over-hyped, and even the part when the men of Sodom try and rape Lot was just as it appeared in the text. He even refused to edit out the lengthy (and boring) genealogical verses of the scripture!
My favorite part about this release is R. Crumb’s scholarly standpoint on the source material. He interjects none of his own beliefs into the illustration, he simply uses his imagination and definitive style to bring life to a book that has depth, historical significance, and no lack of popularity.
Considering all of the above, make it a point to go see Mr. Crumb speak at the Carpenter Theater, Richmond Center Stage on Tuesday October 27th at 7:30pm. This is an inimitable opportunity to get a rare peak into the rarely public mind of a definitive hand in the underground comics scene. Mr. Crumb will also be joined by Françoise Mouly, long-time art editor of The New Yorker.
Public tickets range from $19 to $38 and can be purchased online here. Use the coupon code CRUMB10 to get $10 off an adult ticket. Admission for UR students if free, but tickets must be purchased through the Modlin Center box office. And for all you VCU students, there are coupons for $10 tickets available in the VCU Libraries Administration Office and on the 4th floor of Cabell Library.