Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Religion: What is it Good For?

                “Genesis” is a classic story that has been retold in many different ways over the years. The meaning, the bottom line, the moral takeaway, however, has always been similar. Whether it was the King James’ version of the bible, the New International Readers version, or the New American Standard version, “Genesis” never truly loses the bigger picture meaning. Crumb has changed that in his comic book telling of this renowned tale. With his harsh outlines, his lack of color, and the crude expressions of his characters, Crumb has blared his thoughts of the biblical stories for all to hear. Throughout the graphic novel, there are instance in where Crumb illustrates a reality that breaks the ethereal feel these stories have come to possess. He is making the characters relatable in a way the churches perhaps have been ignorant to all these years. Crumb is trying to poke holes in this religious stigma, by showing the raw side of the characters. By illustrating the emotions of Noah, for example, as God is telling him instructions for the arc, there is a clear fear that many who are familiar with Noah’s adventure may not fully understand.
                The key to the stories put forth in Christianity are that God is the omniscient power that knows what needs to happen for the good of the people, even if the people are not sure about what that is. Crumb pokes holes in the strong belief of the antagonists in the stories when doubt is present. Genesis is meant to emphasis the benefits of blindly following God and all of his advice. Noah was one of the few who had “walked with God”. From the source, Noah is building this arc with confidence and taking criticism from others because he has faith in God. God would not lead him astray, and especially the Catholic faith (which Crumb has experienced) can make parishioners feel guilty for not having the same strength as idols such as Noah.
                Crumb puts Noah into context to help flip Catholic guilt on its head. On page 30, Noah is illustrated with God as God tells him about his plan to rid the world of the evil that has spread into human nature. The center panel of the third row outlines the ethereal Noah that words alone can paint. Crumb has illuminated Noah’s face in a way that shows God’s praise shining right in his face. The light is pointing towards Noah as he is the hope for the human race. Though there is no coloring, the mind can fill in the lines. The holy light (usually yellow) is making Noah’s old face brighter. Crumb also darkened the small corners furthest from the source, highlighting even more the light on Noah’s face.
                What truly shows Crumb’s overall meaning for his retelling of the book of Genesis, is the words he pairs with this panel. As I described, the visual is of Noah, the savior, the faithful, the good. God’s light is shining on this man, the future of the good of humans. God is telling Noah at this very moment that he is about to “destroy all flesh” that is on the Earth (Crumb 30). God is admitting that everything that is familiar to Noah – save his family – will be destroyed. Whether his neighbors were bad or good people, Noah has full knowledge that their lives will be ending. The cows down the street will be erased simply because they do not belong to Noah. On that note as well, if Noah owns more than one female and one male of any animal it will perish as well. Why exactly? Because God has decided. That is why Crumb has used Noah’s expression to combat the layout of the shining hero. Noah’s eyes are wide with fear, rightly so. He has wrinkles on wrinkles because he has accumulated so many years living his life previous to this moment. What fact that may be lost on some is that Noah is five hundred years old. God is asking this old man to build a giant arc in order to save the future of the human race. No pressure. Crumb’s use of outlining all of the experience and life on Noah’s face is what really contradicts the original lighting of the panel.
                Crumb’s bigger point is the overarching contradictions that are found in these religious stories. These stories are meant to evoke a sense of willingness to be better. Churches were originally meant to help improve the lives of others, and reach for the ‘better’ person inside yourself. Crumb is showing that all the role models and heroes of the stories may not even be those ‘better’ people. Showing that society will frame these stories in the best light (God’s shining light), the stories are still only that, stories. Religious communities may try and put forward the idea that humans can attain a goodness similar to what God has adopted, but Crumb is letting us know that the strength of Christian religion is built on the same storytelling that the Jedi religion is built on.



  1. Hi Arianna:
    Your argument that Crumb's "raw" depiction of the book of Genesis makes it more relatable to the audience of the book is interesting and well conversed. I like how you enlists comparisons between Crumb's adaptation with King James's, the New International Readers', and the New American Stand versions. I am not familiar with those versions. I am intrigued to know what the differences are and would like to see you expand on that. I especially like your attention to detail in analyzing Noah's interaction with God and what it entails.
    If you choose to revise this essay, I recommend you to state your thesis more clearly and not introducing new ideas in the conclusion.

  2. Your intro is messy but interesting. Claiming that the meaning of Genesis is stable is a little problematic - Crumb is hardly the first person to try to dig deep into it. I like your focus on Noah, but you could have gotten there quicker. Your second paragraph reads like a second, more focused introduction. To much introducing, too little focused attention to the text.

    “Crumb puts Noah into context to help flip Catholic guilt on its head.” -- that’s your real beginning. It’s a good line. Your discussion of the light on Noah’s face is good. Myself, I’m fascinated by the way Crumb draws his eyes.

    Your penultimate paragraph is pretty good. Noah is elevated and destroyed at once. God’s glory shines, but ironically. I like what you’re doing here, but I’d like you to continue it with an analysis of how Noah’s depiction develops through the section. Stopping here would be a mistake (and this is where your rambling introduction is a problem - start fast, so you have time to develop your ideas).

    Your conclusion has merit, but hasn’t been fully earned yet. A broader exploration of how Crumb portrays Noah would have been a great improvement here. Your focus on contradictions is good; I honestly think that you could probably do a whole revision on Crumb’s exploration of contradictions in and around Noah’s story specifically, but even for a draft this version is slightly underdeveloped - just a little more work with the images themselves here was highly desirable.