Friday, October 28, 2011

Crumb and Genesis

After having watched Crumb it is clear the complex issues that affected Robert Crumb’s life and work.  While he himself has his own set of oddities, they seem to pale in comparison to that of his family.  Crumb’s Genesis is in its own way a representation of troubled family relations like that within the Crumb household.

            At the beginning of Crumb’s interpretation of Genesis, he provides an introduction.  In it, he states that he decided to portray the characters and stories just as they are told verbatim because he believed the Bible is the word of man, not the sacred word of God.  For that reason, his interpretation brings the stories to a more human and relatable level because they are stories about man by man.  He portrays the people as they are, deeply flawed and sinners just as anyone else.  He had intended to work up the stories into parodies but according to him “the original text was so strange in its own way that there was no need to do any sendup or satire of it” (Wikipedia).  The fact that Crumb thought the stories of the people in Genesis strange speaks volumes considering his own personal issues at home.  Crumb himself admits to an obsession with women and sex, which is an apparent theme in his past artworks.  His younger brother Maxon, who spends his days cleansing his colon with cloth while sitting on a bed of nails, admits to having molested women.  His older brother Charles suffered depression and lived at home with his mother, taking tranquilizers and bathing infrequently while constantly attempting suicide.  He finally succeeded after the filming of Crumb.  His mother comes off being overbearing and judgmental.  His father was violent and abusive towards his children for not living up to his expectations.

            Likewise to Crumb’s own life, the book of Genesis is dense with intense controversies between parents and siblings.  A prime example of this would be the story of Jacob and Esau.  Sibling rivalry in addition to parental favoritism at one point nearly tore the family apart.  Rebekah’s scheming and Jacob’s compliance with his mother enraged Esau to the point where he was willing to kill his own brother in jealousy.  Meanwhile, Isaac, in denial of being deceived into giving his blessing to the wrong son does nothing despite being the patriarch.  The story gradually gets more complicated with the introduction of Jacob’s two rivaling sister wives vying for his attention and competing to produce heirs. 

            It seems while Crumb could appreciate the personal struggles and problems in Genesis, his own relationship with his children actually brings out the best part of him. His conversation with his son demonstrates their shared interest in drawing and his desire to teach his son proper techniques.  At one point he even mentions that his daughter is the one girl he sincerely loves.  He’s shown playing video games with Sophie and listening to her describe pictures she drew.  These brief moments of sentiment can also relate to the story of Genesis.  Jacob, after having believed his son to be dead for many years, embraces Joseph and weeps in shock and happiness.  Similarly, Joseph, instead of taking revenge on his brothers for selling him to slavery, welcomes his siblings warmly with hospitality and forgives them.  In the midst of all the terrible things the people have done in the book of Genesis, there are also times where they display compassion and affection.

            The book of Genesis is a multifaceted representation of human relationships.  It clearly touches a nerve in respect to the issues that Crumb faces in his own family.  Because of that, it can be seen that his version of the first book of the bible is highly related to his own family experiences.

Crumb, Robert. The Book of Genesis. Norton: 2009.
Crumb, The Documentary.
The Book of Genesis (comics)


  1. I don't think that Crumb was trying to interpose his own family problems with the story of Genesis. He made it clear in the footnotes of the book that he took nothing in the words of text differently from Aster's translation, I think that his images portrayed the different emotions that go along with the text and this was portrayed differently because of his own family relation, that much I agree with you. He had a respect for the text that he wanted to make right. I think an interesting point that could have been brought up in this post would be why he chose to illustrate Genesis based on his family relationship, not necessarily the detail and parts that he made in it.

  2. I'm not sure whether this goes with or against Ben's response, which in itself is interesting. I *liked* your take on the book and film, but perhaps like Ben, I think the argument could have been brought into a little more clarity.

    What's very effective here is what is ultimately a clear, well-drawn comparison. Crumb's family origins weird and traumatic, from beginning to end, but regardless of how that might have twisted or damaged him, he appears to do much better as a parent. Similarly, Genesis is full of family traumas and damaged families, but there are moments of powerful love and joy within its families as well.

    But what do you *do* with that strong comparison? Do you then claim that Crumb was drawn to Genesis because of its powerful vision(s) of family traumas and, in some cases, the resolution of family traumas? Do you claim that he is *interpreting* or further bringing out this element of Genesis?

    If he's *bringing* out this side of Genesis, you should be able to do something more to articulate where and how he is doing so. If he's simply drawn to it, without interpreting, really (I think this might be what Ben is saying), then maybe that simple claim could use a little more evidence (additional investigation of his family and his history?).

    This is a promising, interesting start, but the argument itself needs development.