Monday, October 20, 2014

The Film Crumb and How Genesis Relates to His Earlier Work.

The film Crumb was put together before Robert Crumb moved to France and before he spent four years illustrating The Book of Genesis. Given his rather perverse past work and his apparent refutation of religion it seems a really odd choice for an illustration job. His Genesis is a bit of a response to his earlier work and the reputation that it has given him. His illustration doesn't seem to deny his past or seem ashamed by it, but rather it seems to proclaim that his past work is not the only type of work that he can do. His reputation is that of a perverted, racist and sexist man; almost a cartoon himself. And while he does fully admit to that side of himself, he seems to want to proclaim that he has more than that single dimension.
At the very beginning of the film there is a scene where Crumb talks about his best known works to a group of people and he talks about some of the grief that those best known works have given him. One of those works, the character of Fritz the Cat, had been made into an x-rated animated film, a fact that Crumb really seemed to regret. He disliked the character enough that he had a very angry ostrich woman kill off Fritz with an ice pick. He said in the film that he felt he would never really live those works down, and it seemed to suggest that he was tired for being recognized for only those things. He takes full credit for creating them and does not shy away from talking about them, but he seems to want to be known for more than them.
Indeed, at the very beginning of The Book of Genesis he writes an introduction stating that he did a straight illustration of the text, that he “to the best of [his] ability, faithfully reproduced every word of the original text.” He has to explicitly state that this is not one of his satires that he is so well known for.  In that introduction he also preemptively defends himself against anyone being offended by this illustration, knowing that some people most certainly will.
His illustration of Genesis is far from a purely faithful adaptation. There are parts that he takes great liberty when illustrating, whether he is drawing out the text to many panels in order to devote more time and space to them or if he is taking the vaguer passages and interpreting them however he personally feels best. But given his earlier work, one can say that, for Crumb, this is as straight laced as he gets. Some of the scenes in his illustration of Genesis are more explicit or violent than most people would illustrate, but they are incredibly tame compared to just about anything else he’s done. The characters are drawn in a less cartoonish manner and he refrains from actively making fun of the text.
One of the aspects of Genesis and of his earlier work that people can’t help but notice is his portrayal of women.  In the film Crumb that women they interviewed had very extremely polarized feelings about his drawings. His drawings of women were extreme in themselves and it is no surprise that many people are off put and offended by them. He drew women in such an over sexualized manner that, in many instanced, they ceased to be people. What I found interesting were the women who took the opposite view and admired his depictions. They said they loved that he depicted large, robust women as sexy. In Genesis, Crumb seems to try and capitalize as best as he can on the latter view. Yes, he draws them in a sexualized manner, but he draws them as powerful and physically strong. They are limited to the situations presented in the Bible, but he gives them as much power as he can.

At one point in the film Crumb he is asked about some of his most messed up work and all he could say about it was that it was a “dark time” for him. It’s joked about that he really hated women during that time, but now he hates them less. . Things are no longer as “dark”. He addresses it and talks about his work as though it was a form of therapy for his own internalized problems but he really seems to want to move on from it. He’s still a perverted, sick person, but he wants people to move on and see the other dimensions of him as well. The Bible is a book seen by many as a book of morals, and Crumb is the seen by many as totally lacking in them, so Genesis, the first book of the Bible provides him this opportunity to show he is more than a cartoon caricature.


  1. I think you did a good job responding to the prompt and making a connection between Crumb’s previous illustrations and how he wanted to show a more serious side in Genesis. I did not see the movie, but I assume he had some fairly extreme illustration work before he decided to work on Genesis, and was ready to move on by the time he started Genesis. There could have been a few more specific references to Genesis and how he may have chose to portray something differently than how the average bible reader would have envisioned the text. Also, if there were any life events that lead Crumb to illustrate the way he did, they could have helped to support your argument and show why he may have felt the need to illustrate the book of Genesis after illustrating some immoral or perverse works. In the end I think you did a very good job and helped me understand more about Crumb without having watched the movie.

  2. I like the idea that the old Crumb is a cartoon, although that only gives us a starting point for understanding who the new Crumb is, or is trying to be. Are you attempting to argue that Genesis is a kind of slow-burning response to Fritz the Cat, or at least the reception of Fritz the Cat? You could be a little more clear.

    “His illustration of Genesis is far from a purely faithful adaptation.” -- a nitpick: what would a more faithful adaptation look like? I think all of us would agree that it’s an interpretation, but is it really an unfaithful one?

    The paragraph about women is an ok beginning to a separate topic, but I don’t see any continuity here - I’m less sure as we go about what you’re really doing.

    Your conclusion isn’t earned. It’s a reasonable speculation, even an insightful one, but you aren’t really arguing it in any depth. The previous paragraph on women, for instance, did nothing to advance that point.

    Overall: You have some good insights, but they are disconnected, and although your argument about Genesis as a response to his own cartoonish self/past sounds good, you don’t really pursue it in this version.