Robert Crumb is one of the most famous artists of the modern age. He is most famous for his comic books, in fact he founded Zap Comix, which basically invented underground comics. His entire life he was a comic book lover and could not find anything else to do other than draw. Much of what people think of him comes from his highly perverse and anti-culture drawings.
The film Crumb was a documentary of Robert Crumb’s life which was released in 1994 and directed by Terry Ziwigoff. The documentary used interviews of Robert, his two brothers, several girlfriends, his wife and some art experts all to reveal a lot about the true Robert Crumb. While the film showed that Robert was the only brother of the three that was not diagnosed with a mental illness, it was made obvious that was very crucial to his development of an artist and man.
When Crumb wrote Genesis it was unique per se because it took four years of painstaking work and research, while most of his other work, he claims in an interview with Francoise Mouly, was on a whim from sketchbook to a comic book. Crumb was also much more experienced when doing this project. The work he put in was to find accurate translations, accurate clothing and tools all to do a literal translation of Genesis. The literal translation is probably more shocking than a spoof, since many would assume Crumb would do a spoof and to see the Book of Genesis in such a literal light from an artist like Crumb can take people by surprise. Not only because of how unexpected but also because of how real and dark the bible is.
Using the realness and the darkness and the literal use of words to images, Robert Crumb was able to tell a story about his life through subtle images and tells. His earlier work is all from his id and highly sexual, while this work seems much more conscious and real. In his interview, Robert Crumb could find no explanation as to why he would draw those shocking drawings, such as interfamily sex, but with Genesis it was a deliberate attempt to literally draw out the book of Genesis. All this work would have never led to where it was in Genesis if not for his life growing up in the family he did.
The Crumb family was on the outside a typical fifties family. It was headed by a military father then there was the mother, three brothers and two daughters. Yet, on the inside he had a militant father who was very oppressive, an emotional damaged mother and his two brothers had mental illnesses. While Robert was the most normal, he was still very much not a normal kid. He was always the outsider, the “nerd” that drew comics with his older brother and always sought approval. Robert could find nothing else to do, his constant outlet, both mentally and sexually was through drawing. His entire life he drained his emotions into art and sex and most of it done very irrationally and crudely. Then he started the project of Genesis. In this all his blind release was put into a very coherent and deliberate outlet of his emotions and life.
His life is almost characterized by Jacob, where he must push up great stones to mark memorials. Each stone being pushed is a stone Robert had to push himself. Getting through young life in a troubled family, finding his path as an artist, finding the right woman to be with, getting over the loss of his brother and finally settling down and owning his family life. Genesis is his way of showing the struggles of early mankind, to get through being condemned by god and then killed off, to find their way back into a society, only to be scattered when too powerful, then finding love, and finally becoming a functioning society.
Crumbs life and struggles have so many layers that could not fully be covered in the documentary. Nor, can it even be shown in just one work. He went through so much and has done so much that through careful analysis of everything and all the interviews may in fact finally give a full picture. It is still remarkable that through all he has done he was still able to sit back and write the coherent fully realized Book of Genesis Illustrated.