Sunday, October 4, 2009

Comics Review: R. Crumb, The Book of Genesis

Click here for the expanded version of the review that was published in The Comics Journal #301.


Anonymous said...

Your review is quite the hatchet job. And just what are your artistic achievements which you feel qualify you to attack Crumb's efforts mercilessly? It's because of unfair and unnecessarily harsh commentaries like yours that mainstream readers in the U.S. continue to turn their noses up to FINE efforts such as this. Once the awards and accolades from professionals flow in for Crumb's achievement, you will find that you are in a very small minority. Sorry, but your review does not receive a passing grade. The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb is clearly the best comics effort of the year, and its recognition will reflect on its worthiness for such praise.

Robert Stanley Martin said...

Yes, hatchet jobs always begin by calling the artist under discussion one of the greatest in his field and noting that his artistic powers are beyond his peers. Right.

Did it ever occur to you that "mainstream readers" might turn up their noses to efforts like Genesis because of the reasons I cited? You don't take issue with any of them, so I suppose you think they're valid.

As for the awards and accolades from professionals, well, a look at the stuff that wins the Oscars year-in and year-out is a pretty good guide to how worthwhile those judgments can be. Having worked in book publishing, I can tell you for a fact that a lot of testimonials and awards come from people who never even read the material they're honoring. Those things are about hype and buzz; they're not a measure of achievement.

All I can do when writing a review is be honest to my reaction and analysis of the work under consideration. If you disagree with what I write, that's your prerogative. However, if you respond to the review, I would appreciate you citing specific reasons for your disagreement. Your comment broadsides me for, one, being some sort of enemy to the cause of gaining acceptance for comics outside the comics readership, and two, for not holding a fashionable view about the book within the community itself. I don't give a damn about either of those things, and I don't think any reviewer worth reading should be.

The Inkwell Bookstore said...

I thought that the review was fair, informative, and in no way whatsoever a hatchet job.
So there.

petkov said...

I don't think Crumb could have even tried to be ironic or sarcastic or try any type of satire with the material. This is "THE BIBLE" after all, not "Flaky Foot talks to Mr Natural about his sexual problems".
Can you imagine the absolute furor
by million of idiots to whom "THE BIBLE" is an absolute "sacred" text?
Several recent incidents where cartoonists got into trouble for making fun of Muhammed show human are not rational enough to understand satire and especially when somebody is making fun of something they consider "sacred"
I can easily see Crumb getting hurt or even killed by some idiot who after not even reading the book Genesis maybe just hears about it and decided Crumb has made fun of his religion and his "God".
The material simply cannot allow for irony or satire unless it was a short story(which Crumb
did produce BTW and which i saw a page of). Even Mel Brooks' History of the world fell flat when trying to make fun of the same source material.
You are trying to fault him for that shows you are only comfortable with Crumb when he is producing what is essentially satirical and comedy material. The material itself is SO vast, he had to cut it down into single scenes
that yes didnt work together to flow into a coherent story but hey no work is perfect.
Did you see his interview with Francoise Mouly-norton where he discussed his work? She showed notes attacked to the pages because the editors felt they had to research EVERY SINGLE word Crumb used to make sure he didn't make stuff up? Crumb was right, he did it exactly the way it should have been done. If I was doing it, I would have done it exactly the same way.
As for the art itself, its's Crumb using what I suspect is rapidographs cuz they are much faster that a Hunt 104. yes it was flat and not as great as it used to be but he is getting in years.
Not the best stuff Crumb has done but very interesting and different and straghtfoward.

Robert Stanley Martin said...


The issue over doing a straightforward translation is that I question the need. If people want to read the Book of Genesis, they can easily do so without Crumb's help.

I don't think anxiety about reprisals over the content were an issue for either Crumb or WW Norton. If they were that worried about them, they probably wouldn't have done the book at all.

I wasn't necessarily asking for a humorous take on the material. What I wanted to see was an imaginative interpretation. I brought up the prospect of a satirical and/or ironic approach because that's Crumb's metier. And satire and irony don't automatically mean funny.

It's true, no book is perfect. However, many are good, and some are even great. Examples of the latter among Genesis interpretations include John Milton's Paradise Lost and Gustave Dore's illustrated Bible. Crumb didn't give me a Genesis I could even begin to think of alongside those works. It's a dull, creatively lazy effort on his part.