The Field to Labour Calls Us


Thursday, June 11, 2009

I’ve heard some grumbling from more than a few people about the excerpt of Robert Crumb‘s upcoming version of Genesis that was published in The New Yorker last week (“staid,” “unimaginative,” “overly literal,” etc.). I think those people are wrong. And that they probably haven’t read the original Genesis recently, and don’t remember that the beginning is the most boring part. (Well, except for all the “begats.” But I assume Crumb has a good solution for that.) If the rest of the book is as “literal” as the initial excerpt, it’s going to get very strange, very soon.

I know this is a half-baked idea for a post, but Frank’s starting to get mad at me for being lazy, and fully baked post ideas may not come along for a while. In the meantime, why doesn’t everybody take a shot at telling me why I’m wrong? Am I just a soft touch, being too easy on Crumb? To my mind, he’s earned the benefit of doubt.

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21 Responses to “The Field to Labour Calls Us”
  1. LOST CAT says:

    I just wonder why Crumb chose Genesis. There doesn't seem to be much to work with. It was a dull read except for a few surprising depictions. The devil looked good. I could see him doing Job or any of the Gospels.

  2. T. Hodler says:

    Oh no, there's lots of good material in Genesis: Abraham, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, Jacob's ladder, Joseph in Egypt interpreting dreams. Those are just the obvious references, and don't touch the weird things like giants impregnating humans and stuff like that. But you're right that both Job and the Gospels would make good subject matter, too.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Eh, think you're being too soft. Pretend that Crumb wasn't involved at all. Would you still be that interested in reading the rest?

  4. T. Hodler says:

    That's an impossible question to answer, really, as Crumb's drawing style is hard to mistake. But I'd have to say yes, I'd still be interested.

    Probably not as much as I am now, I'll admit, but I don't know why that matters. Because yeah, the fact that the guy behind it is maybe the greatest living cartoonist does make me more interested in the book, and I don't know why it shouldn't.

    You may still be right about me being soft, though.

  5. villainer says:

    i feel like he exclusively chose Genesis because there were some fucked up biblical Easter Eggs (incest, sodomy, etc) he came across and that was his main interest. I dont know, this is just really unimpressive, for anyone, let alone what people consider a pioneer of the form. If you saw this done at any random con by some 20 year old it would seem especially boring.

  6. Patrick Smith says:

    I think it looks amazing. But we're only seeing a fraction of the complete book… and the most well-known sequence, at that. It's too soon for sweeping judgements.

    I think the whole "what if somebody else did this" argument is silly. If Crumb had nothing to do with this book, it would be a different book. And if some twenty-year old produced these pages… well, I'd think he was a freakin' genius. Wouldn't you?

  7. Anonymous says:

    "There doesn't seem much to work with."??? "Boring"???

    The creation of the unviverse? The most most powerful creation myth in the history of humanity? The site of many a 'culture war' of religion, science, sex, language, men, women, humanity and nature?

    Do you just want to see Crumb draw himself ejaculate for the 1000th time?

    I can't wait to get my hands on this book – and I'm sure it'll be a reminder of why Crumb truly is a comics giant.

  8. villainer says:

    so you're saying if a 20 year old produced a safe, well crafted, yet tepid rendition of the Genesis stories you'd think he was a genius?

    also; to me the 'if somone else did this' argument works perfectly because so many things are about context. If R. Crumb didn't do this, no one would really care. It doesn't take a genius to copy Genesis verbatim and put it to some well cross hatched yet boring imagery. I'm glad he's doing something relatively different but I think this isn't anything mind blowing going on here, despite who created it.

  9. Patrick Smith says:

    Okay, I don't really understand the idea that this is "copied verbatim". Yes, he stays close to the text. But to actually imagine, compose, and render that text into images isn't straightforward at all. If he makes it looks easy, that's to his credit.

    And yes, again, I'd be amazed if a 20-year old produced this! Or a 65-year-old man, for that matter. But I think that's a matter where we simply disagree on the merits of the work. (Which, again, we're only seeing a fraction of.)

  10. Anonymous says:

    "If R. Crumb didn't do this, no one would really care."

    That's a pretty lame critical approach – it's like saying if it wasn't Kurosawa/Polanski/Welles doing Macbeth no-one would care. Or that Jack Kirby's version of the F.F. is a whole lot different to John Byrne's. Or the Kareoke version of Cole Porter is of equal merit to Frank Sinatra. It's just an absurd approach to any artistic interpretation.

    Of course we care because it's Crumb – in the same that his version of Philip K Dick is going to have it's own distinction comapared to Paul Verhoven. Maybe it will disappoint, but there are clear reasons why Crumb is the most influential living cartoonist.

  11. ULAND says:

    Let's say it is a dry recitation of Genesis; could that be viewed as a pretty daring choice, considering Crumbs' full knowledge of what his fans would probably want?
    That alone doesn't tell us wether it's good or bad, but it does make it interesting, to me, at least.
    The cartoonist widely regarded as the best in the world, largely due to his near-solipsistic self obsessions and willingness to put his horrid self on paper takes himself out of the equation? Yes, that's interesting. And, come on, the imagery alone is enough to sustain interest. You want more Crumb? Watch the movie again and read a few Zaps.
    Maybe he's sick of "Crumb"..

  12. afdumin says:

    I liked it, but I still have dreams that some day Drawn & Quarterly will release a nice big collection of Chester Brown's Gospel adaptations.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Crumb could certainly do with branching out in his subject matter – Mystic Funnies was a somewhat disappointing return to 'schtick' after his incredible run on Weirdo – not least because of the breadth of subjects and his amazing 'adaptions' (PK Dick, Kraft-Ebbing, Sartre, even classic songs).

    I'm not religious, but I've always found religious subjects fascinating in all art forms. Has anyone seen Wolverton's bible?

  14. Anonymous says:

    Honestly, I have no idea what the people complaining about the Crumb book are talking about. To my eyes, his art looks as powerful as ever. To complain that it's a dry "literal" translation misses the fact that the art offers a sly commentary on the words: for example, there is much debate among theologians as to whether Adam and Eve had sex in Eden. Crumb's drawings leave no doubt where he stands on this issue. (Crumb also does a good job of bringing out something that some readers miss: that there are in fact 2 contradictory stories about the origin of humanity in Genesis: one with Adam and Eve created together, one with Eve being created after Adam).

    I kind of suspect that the people complaining about the art aren't familiar with the Bible and how contested the meaning of those simple words are.

    We'll have to wait for the whole book to come out, but I have to say this book has every sign of being Crumb's masterpiece.


  15. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I think all of the anonymous posters are also Tim Hodler.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I am Tim Hodler!

  17. Anonymous says:

    I am Tim Hodler!

  18. Anonymous says:

    No, I am Tim Hodler!

  19. Anonymous says:

    I'm none of you!

  20. Brad Mackay says:

    I just read the excerpt on my lunch break, and i thought it was a great teaser for what may be a blockbuster book for Crumb.

    Maybe it's me an my Catholic upbringing, but Bible stories (Old or New) always fascinated me as a kid. They're a perfect fit for Crumb's black and white art (this IS going to be B+W, right)? A perfect adult complement to those Picture Bible books of my youth.

    I dunno though – maybe our culture is to secular for this kind of project? Then again, that new Jack Black/Michael Cera film is essentially an Old Testament comedy, and that'll rake in the moolah.

  21. Brad Mackay says:

    oh – and as for afdumin's comment, i can tell you that you'll be waiting a biblically long time for Chester's Gospels book. He's all about makin books about prostitution these days; after that, i believe he's comitted to doing a 'director's cut' of Ed The Happy Clown.

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