Crumb creates his version of Genesis in a manner which rejects the orthodox conventions of the bible, to show a more humanistic interpretation of man rather than the subversive Christian archetypes which dominate the audience in the source text. His visual style rejects the holiness surrounding man, which usually dominates the landscape perceived by the readers and followers of the bible, and produces a more agnostically toned manuscript to show that the human protagonists where nothing more than mortal in their facilities. Crumb uses Genesis to graphically display the realistic tendencies of man, highlighting violence and deceit, which are facets not often grasped in the source text due to its medium and typical atmosphere surrounding its presentation. This is not to say that Crumb has extracted all holiness from the Book of Genesis, on the contrary he uses his visual capabilities to juxtapose the morality of man against extravagant religious symbolism and iconography. Crumb carefully chooses to portray the religious icons of Genesis, such as god, cherubs and the snake of Eden, in an over the top graphic manner which, to the readers of Crumbs work, separates them from the human subjects in the text.
In the early scenes centering on the Garden of Eden, Crumb creates a certain environment around Adam and Eve, one which is heavy-handed on religious symbolism and impossible fallacies. Crumb faithfully illustrates how preposterous the circumstances of Adam’s inception were by showing a three panel series involving God and his creation of the dirt man. “Then the Lord God formed man from the dirt of the ground, and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living creature” (Crumb 15). In this scene, Crumb shows Adam’s body before the breath of life was instilled as a rough, man-shaped mass of earth with a corpse like sunken face and no lower body. In the very next panel Adam is miraculously an anatomically correct human, producing a peculiar visual image to show how odd the pretense of God creating man from nothing would really look. This scene is thought-provoking as showing this creation forces one to think about the implications of God’s powers as some unattainable magic or wizardry. Crumb could have easily illustrated this scene in a manner which downplays Adam’s outlandish creation, but instead he broke it down into steps to highlight the religious symbolism early in the book to further separate the idea of God away from that of man.
While Adam and Eve, and the subsequent humans of Genesis, are depicted as normal humans, the Garden is accompanied by religious icons such as the snake and cherubim, which are altered from the typical prediction of appearance realized by the source text. Crumb’s depiction of the cherubim in the Garden of Eden strays from the iconography associated with typical religious depictions. After examining a few religious centered paintings, such as “St. Michael the Archangel by Giusto de' Menabuoi - 1377”, a classical painting of the typical cherub representation, it failed to be seen where Crumb’s inspiration came from for his cherubims guarding the Garden of Eden (Menaboui, Giusto 12). Cherubim’s are usually depicted as a winged angelic human bipedals, containing a soft face and radiating features. Instead he presents three sphinxlike beasts with the face of wolves and wings not resembling an angel, but that of stretched skin and spines which closer resemble the wings of a demon or gargoyle. It is not even in Genesis, but Ezekiel 1:5-11 where we get a more drastic representation of a cherub. "And within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. 6 Each of them had four faces and four wings” (Cherub/Cherubim). Even in the more beast-like depictions of cherubim’s, they still retain the essence of their human form. This is clearly one way in which Crumb alters the landscape of Genesis to compare and contrast unreasonable religious stereotypes against the relative normativity of man.
Analyzing chapter 27 in detail helps elucidate Crumb’s depiction of man that is prone to certain tendencies such as deceit, and how easily they will betray each other for the promise of a “blessing” or favor in the eyes of God. In an essay which examines some of the problems Christian readers may find with this replication, the author Liza Borders stresses inescapable nature of Crumb’s works. “Although this major production of Crumb is based on the Holy Word, much of his other handiwork is far from godly, forcing a Christian audience to wonder whether any of his material should be evaluated by an audience that is taught to avoid the appearance of evil and is given clear laws regarding how to live” (Borders 25). Crumb does not stray away from showing the evil that is present within man that is less likely to be speculated upon by a predominately Christian audience. 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 depicts the scene in a manner which shows the powerful range of human 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. The blessing appears and disappears around Isaac throughout these scenes which shows the reality of motivation which caused Jacob to take actions based on lies. The driving factor of the “blessing” alone is enough for Jacob to betray his own brother, all for the promise of an intangible idea.
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. Even though in the source text, it is Jacob’s character which is better suited for the blessings of God to continue on his journey due to his wit and ingenuity, over Esau’s brute force, Crumb does not show a favoritism between the two during this exchange, but rather exhibits the dark realistic tendencies for man to lie, cheat and steal his way to power. Jacob’s abuse of his father’s trust shows the darker, more realistic tendencies of man to manipulate others. In this visual medium, Crumb portrays Jacob as thief whose repercussions fall upon his brother with the eventual lack of blessing and does not show justice in any form for his brother, the should-be rightful recipient of their father’s blessing. The entirety of the scene works to remove holiness from man in order to show a more realistic nature.
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. Crumb intentionally up plays the fatherly aspects of Isaac in this scene to widen the depravity of Jacobs’s actions, and in turn show that even though Jacob betrayed his own brother, God did not seem to look down or intervene to stop the misconduct. This removes the holiness from man’s actions to show it is capable to successfully use deceit to manipulate another person to one’s own personal advantage as man has done throughout history. 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 and show how easily man can will deceive to enhance their own position in life.
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. Crumb could have shown God’s displeasure by removing the radiating aura when Jacob came to collect the blessing, but it is in fact still there, seemingly making Jacob’s actions okay in the eyes of God, furthering the separation between man and God, in the sense that if he was active in mankind’s plane of existence why would he have allowed actions such as these to take place.
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’s 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 man.
By illustrating the Book of Genesis, Crumb’s artistic influence over the text is inevitable, and is used to make a statement about the holy conventions which surround the work. The book is filled with sexualized figures, violence, deceit and immoral activity expected from mankind, but not necessarily imagined by the readers of Genesis. He intentionally draws attention to how ridiculous certain aspects and events of the bible would have appeared while unfolding. He promotes bizarre imagery surrounding the pinnacle figures of religion and downplays the religious aspects of man. The avid followers of the bible place the work high up on a scared pedestal, and Crumb’s visual style works to remove this masquerade and shows some insight to how humans would have functioned with their environment and each other.
Borders, Liza A. "R. Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated: Biblical Narrative and the Impact of Illustration." Digital Commons. Liberty University, Spring 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.
"Cherub/Cherubim." CARM. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2014.
Menaboui, Giusto. "CGFA Online Museum of Art." CGFA- M- Page 12. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.