Monday, October 20, 2014

Crumb on the Intimacy of Deceit

As Genesis progresses, Crumb does not hesitate to complement the source material with a greater deal of visual and literary interpretation, one in particular surrounding the intimacy of deceit in man’s actions.  In chapter 27, when Jacob steals Esau's blessing from their father Isaac, Crumb makes use of artistic freedoms throughout the scene to unbound Genesis from the constraints of the standard theology.  Without images accompanying the source, this exchange may seem uninteresting, but Crumb excellently depicts the scene in a manner which shows a powerful range of emotions beginning with Rebekah’s motivation and the crushing repercussions which follow.

            When Isaac first speaks to Esau in the beginning of chapter 27, he gives his son an ultimatum; that if he is to go out and catch him game for what will presumably be his last meal, he will receive God’s blessing in return.  During the dialogue between Isaac and Esau, Crumb portrays the father without a radiating aura, which then brilliantly appears later when Jacob comes to steal the blessing, and disappears again with Esau’s return.  The radiating aura does well to juxtapose the elements of God’s blessing, that is appearing around Isaac’s head when he believed his eldest and favorite son came to feed him the meal which he loved.

 Perhaps its exclusion with Esau in the first panels was one of trust the father shared with his eldest son, that the blessing did not need to be in the prominent foreground in order to act as motivation for his favored son to follow his commands.  However, this is Isaac’s mistake as Rebekah overhears and then devises a plan for her youngest son Jacob to receive the blessing. She dressed her youngest son in the clothes of Esau, and wrapped his hands and neck with the skin of baby goats in order to make Jacob as hairy as Esau.  The appearance of the kid skin on Jacob’s hands from Rebekah projects a literal cartoonish caricature of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.  How would anyone, even near blindness, feel and see these hands up close as that of another humans?  Dawned with this ridiculous attire, Jacob used deceit in a manner which plays less on his appearance and voice, but more so on Isaac’s fatherly instinct and religious affirmations, as it was “God” who guided the game so quickly in front of Jacob.

            Crumb interprets Isaac’s character as more trusting and less weary to deceit than the source text.  Crumb downplays Isaac’s reaction to Jacob’s arrival with the meal shortly after sending out Esau for the same task.  In the source Genesis 27:18, when Jacob took the food to his father and first talked to him, “My father?” he said. Yes, my son,” Isaac answered. “Who are you—Esau or Jacob?” Isaac was immediately skeptical of his voice and speed in which he returned.  Crumb’s Isaac reacted in a more composed manner to Jacobs’s arrival with, “Here I am! Who are you, my son?” (Crumb 108).  Crumb’s rendition of making Isaac more trusting, makes the scene harder to bear as Jacob’s deceit piles up lie after lie.  Reading  the source Genesis 27, Crumb alters further indications of Isaac’s skepticism such as in Genesis 27:24, “But are you really my son Esau?” he asked. “Yes, I am,” Jacob replied” becomes a more tame, “Are you my son Esau?” in Genesis Illustrated.  Crumb makes Isaac into more of a simple man and trusting father, who after a period of brief introspection, gives his son the benefit of doubt, and ultimately the Lord’s blessing. These literary freedoms taken to make Isaac more accepting of his son’s lies in turn make him a more humanistic character, which at one level is easier to connect with personally.

With Isaac’s ultimate acceptance that is was indeed Esau who came to him, the aura surrounding his head is illustrated in an emphasized fashion. At the end of page 108, the depiction of Isaac shows him sitting on the ground, legs crossed and stomach out as if he was resembling a Buddha-like archetype of holiness ready to finally pass on his blessing.  On page 109, when Isaac makes the physical connection with Jacob the aura intensely engulfs both of them and is detailed by Crumb with many hatched light rays of varying lengths which seamlessly fill a majority of this panel.  Crumb turns the transfer of the blessing into a literal physical expression which then drains Isaac of the illuminating aura.  

           With Jacob’s departure comes Esau’s arrival and the realization of his father’s grave mistake.  On all of page 110, Isaac is now absent of the aura’s emanating glow and much more detail is placed in the depiction of faces and eyes.  The panels go back and forth between Isaac and Esau showing pained expressions and the defeated slumped over depiction of Isaac cast in shadows.  Crumb’s depiction of eyes in this scene are unlike their appearance in the majority of the novel.  This is the apex of Chapter 27 and show Esau’s eyes bulging from his skull with lots of white, which is atypical to many prior depictions of character’s eyes.  Esau’s eyes are juxtaposed against his father’s which appear only as black slits.  Crumb took extra care in capturing the heated tone of exchange between Isaac and Esau in the aftermath of Jacob’s deceit in the emotions displayed by Esau’s eyes.  Each panel can be viewed as a different emotion which swept over Esau after finding out his brother’s actions.  Crumb wants to empathize the crushing deception felt by Isaac and the murderous rage swelling up with Esau in a manner which a textual representation of Genesis could not begin to capture.  Pairing those latter elements with the ease of Jacobs deceit and manipulation over his father makes this scene one of the pinnacles to observe Crumb's views on the abuse of intimacy and deceit between family. 


  1. This is a great in-depth look at a very specific scene in Crumb's Genesis. However, I feel at times you spend too much time describing the scene and what these illustrations mean. You do this very well, but it seems to stand in place of a deeper analysis of why this matters to the rest of the story, or in the context of the story. Your analysis of the illustrations and their meaning is incredibly insightful, but why does this matter, or how is this method of illustration present throughout Crumb, and to what effect is it used? Does it mean something else, or something similar in other areas of the story? Overall, I think this has a lot of potential to make for a great revision. Good work!

  2. I love the title, but the introduction falls flat - there’s nothing resembling an argument here. You have a good eye for the visual details of the blessing - the question (to go back to the first paragraph) is what you want to do with those details. A good eye is critical, but it’s only the first step.

    “Dawned with this ridiculous attire, Jacob used deceit in a manner which plays less on his appearance and voice, but more so on Isaac’s fatherly instinct and religious affirmations, as it was “God” who guided the game so quickly in front of Jacob.” -- I’ve always thought that this is one of the most satirical moments in Crumb’s text, although in his defense he is being literalistic, as always. One interesting question here is whether Rebekkah, deceiver though she is, is doing God’s will, or whether God himself is essentially following’s R’s lead.

    Question: Is Issac a fool? Does his deception relate at all to his previous experiences, being ambiguously deceived by his father?

    Here’s the problem overall (this is almost exactly what Kyle said). Your analysis of the images is detailed and interesting, and you could take us many interesting places from here. But I don’t know what you’re trying to do or why. It’s a great set of observations, but nothing more. The observations need to lead to an argument. What does this deception mean?