Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Crumbs Emotional Genesis (revision

The Book of Genesis is a best selling comic book by Robert Crumb. His comic is based off of the first book of The Old Testament, and the stories in this text contribute to the formation and ideologies (but are not limited to) of many prominent religions around the world. Throughout the Crumbs version of Genesis, all the writing is the same as in the original texts, portraying an authoritative relationship between god and his people doing as he says without question. However Crumbs illustrations portray sympathy and create emotions of the people that the text lacks. This emphasizes how imagery can reveal aspects complexities that texts may reveal as black and white. Crumb refuses to divide his artwork into good and evil, like the text does, showing human emotions of fear and desperation in many instances.
Chapter twenty-two is about sacrifice and remaining faithful to god. Crumb accurately writes how Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac as it is in the Old Testament. It is just as chilling in the original text as it is in Crumb’s adaptation. God requests this sacrifice from Abraham and just as in the original text he does as god requests, “And Abraham said unto his young men: 'Abide ye here with the ass, and I and the lad will go yonder; and we will worship, and come back to you.' And Abraham took the wood of the burnt-offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife; and they went both of them together. And Isaac spoke unto Abraham his father, and said: 'My father.' And he said: 'Here am I, my son.' And he said: 'Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt-offering?' And Abraham said: 'God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.' So they went both of them together. And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built the altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood” (Genesis 22:5-22:9). Just reading the text alone, the text is cut and dry. It reveals Abraham emotionless, as god’s slave, willingly sacrificing his son to prove his faith.
 However it is in the illustrations that reveal how troubled Abraham feels about this act. The framing begins with seeing Abraham and Isaac in the distance and as Abraham gets closer to committing the act of sacrifice the frames zoom in onto their faces. With the closer perspective one can see that Abraham always has his back to Isaac, looking in the distance physically attempting to emotionally remove himself from the situation. And Isaac never sees his face.  There are dark dramatic circles underneath Abraham’s eyes contradicting what is seen just a few frames before this. His face is drooping with expression of sorrow, and numbness. Abraham is troubled because he has a duty to his son as a father to keep him safe, but is clearly conflicted feeling the need to prove his faith to god. When binding his son there is a change of sadness to uncontrollable anger in his face, anger towards god. Then in the frame when god speaks to Abraham there is helplessness in his face. Looking up towards the sky, he is clutching the knife, jaw dropped open, and his eyes look as if they are about to well up to tears. Crumb reveals a number of emotions that Abraham is feeling, which is not seen nor considered in the original text. While the texts interprets that this was a pure test of Abraham’s fear and faith to god, Crumb shows the human emotions and traumatic effects the original text lacks.

          Additionally the story of Noa’s ark does this as well. When looking at the text alone, without the images is blunt, emotionless and straight to the point. It is said, “And Noah did according unto all that the LORD commanded him… And the flood was forty days upon the earth; and the waters increased, and bore up the ark, and it was lifted up above the earth. And the waters prevailed, and increased greatly upon the earth; and the ark went upon the face of the waters. And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high mountains that were under the whole heaven were covered. Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered” (Genesis 7:5-7:20). Just as in the text about the sacrifice of Issac, Noah is portrayed as willingly listening to god, doing as he is told. In addition this text there is little to no mention of the animals and people inside the ark. The text clearly focuses on the impact and strength the water obtains. The text indicates the destruction of life on earth without mentioning a single soul that was not in the ark. It is implied that the waters killed and destroyed everything in its path.
            However the combination of the text and imagery Crumb presents together creates a different tone, while there is little to no mention of people or animals in the text, people are Crumb’s main focus. When Noah is first commanded to take pairs of animals onto the ark, Crumb portrays Noah as terrified, and timid firmly grasping onto a rabbit he is holding. The dark shading between his eyes and nose along with his hunched posture indicate this fear rather than simple submissiveness the text shows. Additionally when the animals are loading onto the ark Noah’s jaw is dropped open and eyes wide as he sees the dark clouds in the sky. While this could simply be an illustration simply how Crumb interpreted the text, I think how he drew Noah is important. Noah’s facial expression and reaction to the oncoming storm shows that he is not sure if he trusts god with his safety, and the protection of the ark. If Noah trusted god completely with his life then he should not look so petrified of what is coming. Lastly it is interesting how Crumb depicts the people in the ark towards the end of the chapter. While two men are looking towards the ceiling in awe, the other woman and man are looking towards the ground. Both men looking upwards seem to be in shock and their beady little eyes, and bright faces reveal that they are full of wonder and surprise that they are surviving through the storm. Additionally the woman looks pained, with her scrunched up face, closed eyes and darkness around her face. Crumbs illustrations are important to note because they give the people in the text human emotions, and become relatable.
            It is also important to note Crumbs religious beliefs in relation to the imagery and text relationship. Crumb grew up catholic but as he grew up he started questioning the religious beliefs he was taught. In an interview shortly after the release of his comic The Book of Genesis, he stated, "That's a good question," he says. "I'm a spiritual guy. I'm not an atheist, more an agnostic. I don't doubt the existence of God, I just don't quite know what God is. It's a question that will challenge me until the day I die" (USA Today). His beliefs are important because it reflects his work in Genesis. His questioning of god’s commands through his illustrations of the people reflect his personal challenges with god. This helps explain why he kept the text the same and personalized the illustrations. He is more spiritual, concerned with his personal relationship and beliefs of god, while text and prayer may not influence his believes as greatly.
            Through Crumbs illustrations of people in The Book of Genesis, it explains why the characters facial expressions and body language question god’s reasoning for his commands. Crumb is reflected in the characters through his struggle with his relationship with god.

Colton, David. "Illustrator R. Crumb Is Drawn to God with His Latest Project - USATODAY.com." Illustrator R. Crumb Is Drawn to God with His Latest Project - USATODAY.com. USA Today, 18 Oct. 2009. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

1 comment:

  1. “Crumb refuses to divide his artwork into good and evil, like the text does, showing human emotions of fear and desperation in many instances.” -- it’s not a polished argument, but as a *direction* it shows promise.

    I’d argue in the biblical text that it’s God’s words, or the messenger’s, that betray Abrahama’s emotion (it’s the messenger who reminds us of how much Abraham loves Isaac). In any case, your discussion of the cut & dried nature of the text is ok, although I don’t know that you needed to quote the whole thing to make that point - it reads like you’re looking for filler.

    Your discussion of Abraham’s emotions is good up to a point, but it lacks sufficient focus. What argument are we making here? You observe important details well, but why?

    I’m on board with everything you say about Noah. I especially like this: “Both men looking upwards seem to be in shock and their beady little eyes, and bright faces reveal that they are full of wonder and surprise that they are surviving through the storm.” Crumb uses eyes a lot, of course, but the way he draws Noah’s eyes is especially worthy of discussion.

    Since you’re interested in the *challenge* posed by God (or the problem of God) to Crumb, I think you could have said more about the characters that interest him. What you’re showing in the earlier parts of the essay is that Crumb has a particular fascination with Abraham and Noah - and specifically with their doubt/fear/sorrow when faced by God’s commands. And then you lay out how Crumb understands his own relationship with God in terms of challenge. There’s an argument here waiting to be born. Is Crumb pouring himself into Noah and/or Abraham, for instance? Is the idea of challenge crucial here?

    You make many good observations and are on the way to a good argument, but you stop short of finishing it. A much more polished version could be a final project.

    The research is borderline (because of the source), but because it’s so effective in context I certainly won’t take any points off.