Monday, October 13, 2014

Genesis 22, Sacrafice is not easy

            Robert Crumb’s Genesis is a very unique work, especially for Robert Crumb. If one were to look at other works of Crumb’s, like his Zap Comics, one would find his vision of society extremely satirical and highly sexualized. In fact, in the documentary film Crumb several of his girlfriends in the past attested to how sexual he was. Thus knowing how Robert Crumb is as an artist and a person, upon finding out that he did a comic of The Book of Genesis, it would be automatically assumed that the interpretations of the must be satirical and sexual. However, much to the surprise of many, Robert Crumb does a very literal translation of Genesis. The entire text is word for word from the bible. He also took 5 years meticulously researching and drawing for the book, thus making it as accurate as one can.
            Despite his attempts at making his comic of The Book of Genesis as straight edged and from the text to the drawing as possible, it is inherent in art that even with a text so well known, it will be interpreted. The entire comic is Crumb’s way of humanizing the story. Most people when they first read Genesis 1-50, were reading it under the guide of Sunday school or a parent to teach the religion to their impressionable children. The text was made to seem very light hearted, or to show the loving god that created the world and was so crucial to shaping society. Of course, Crumb does not change anything, therefore god is still shown to have created the world and is crucial to shaping society, however he isn’t so inherently loving. Crumb makes it so that Gods power actually stems from fear. Often when he comes to Noah or Abraham, their faces look shocked and scared of what is going to be told to them. They succumb to his almighty power and oblige. This is not immediately apparent from just reading the words, but very obvious when drawn.
            One of the most striking scenes in The Book of Genesis is when Abraham is instructed to sacrifice his first born to God, by God. The words and images, while conceivably do match up, would not be initially associated together if looked at separately. The text is simply Abraham going up to the spot, tying up his son and when close to the sacrifice being stopped by God and rewarded for showing his devotion. This is obviously a very disturbing scene, but it is just taken for granted by many who read it from the bible. Crumb does a fantastic job of giving it new meaning simply with placement and facial expressions.
Isaac early on is smiling and happy just to go on this adventure with his father. Yet, once nearing the top of the mountain he realizes there is wood and fire for the offering, but no sheep and his worry increases. Once bound tears run down his face and he is very scared, deservingly so, for his life. All the while Abraham remained stoic throughout. He shows no emotion. The only emotion is the sweat on his brow once he was stopped by God, indicating how hard it was going to be for him to complete the task, and shortly afterwards he collapses to his knees in relief. Once the ram is sacrificed, God lists the rewards for his actions, but Abraham seems to be unresponsive, holding his sobbing child while staring off into space. With this Crumb makes the text very boxy and emotionless, the conversation between father and son are also separated or in different bubbles all together, to emphasize the emotional strain.
Crumb reimagines Genesis 22, with simply the addition, or more the subtraction with Abraham, of emotion and the placement of word bubbles. When reading the text itself it just seems like Abraham easily and willingly was going to sacrifice his kid simply because God said to. Yet, in real life, sacrificing your kid even if it had to be for the greater good would be one of the most difficult things to do and would traumatize an individual forever. Even simply losing a child in the mall for 10 minutes would haunt a mother for a week. Crumb shows the text in a powerful and human light with Abraham not willingly performing this act, but struggling with it every step of the way, and even when the action was revealed as a test and the ram was to be sacrificed, Abraham was still deeply affected. In effect, this scene embodies the whole text. Crumb did all he could to draw the Book of Genesis from word to image, yet the text does not show the emotion necessary to truly tell a story. Crumb does a fantastic job of making it more real, which in turn showed the true darkness of the text.


  1. There are alot of good points that you bring up. The strongest section is probably about the struggle with the sacrifice. You did a good job expressing what the characters are going through. It almost seems like the expressions of Issac and Abraham are opposite of each other. That also adds to the tension. I don't think the beginning (expressing images sexually) adds any meaning to the argument. There would need to be another section arguing why he did or didn't make it sexual and how that would change the work.

  2. Your argument could be clearer at the beginning. God’s power stems from fear, and the God of the Bible isn’t the guy we know from Sunday school (for those of us who went). It’s a fine starting point, and well on the way to being an interesting argument, but you are indirect and slow about expressing it.

    In the closing three paragraphs you pick a scene. We both agree that it’s critical, and I don’t disagree with your overall assessment of it, nor with your interesting if not fully developed comments about the *subtraction* of Abraham’s facial expressions. But although you’re on an interesting track, you struggle to do anything that isn’t simply descriptive. Nor is a a thoughtless description - you focus on good details, but what is your argument?

    Are you focusing on God as a God of, or through, fear? Are you focusing on Abraham’s choice? It *is* a dark text - but what does that darkness mean, and how do you respond to it? Are you a critic of Abraham’s? Of God’s? Are you trying to say something about the meaning of those choices in a dark and terrifying situation?