This week’s edition of The New Yorker magazine includes a 12-page excerpt from The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R.Crumb ($24.95), a 224-page hardcover, which Norton is publishing in October, and which is almost certain to be one of the most controversial graphic novel releases of the year. The cover to this graphic rendering of the first book of the Bible proclaims “Nothing Left Out!,” and it also contains a warning label, “Adult Supervision Recommended for Minors,” which is not unexpected given that Crumb is depicting scenes from the Garden of Eden.
But nudity is not necessarily the element in Crumb’s version of Genesis that could create the most controversy. In her introduction to the pages reproduced in The New Yorker, Francoise Mouly, art editor of the magazine (and editor of Toon Books), notes that after abandoning a satirical approach, Crumb decided to “use the words of the Bible unabridged,” and to look at his task as “a straight illustration job.” However, she also relates that Crumb developed a growing annoyance with the work he was illustrating, and Mouly quotes him as saying, “the whole thing is a piece of patriarchal propaganda engineered to consciously and deliberately suppress matriarchy.” Crumb sought to subvert the patriarchal message by including as many details of domestic life in his drawings as he could.
Crumb’s sophisticated, post-catholic view of Genesis as “much too primitive” to be a source of spiritual guidance won’t please fundamentalists, but his 21st Century take on the Bible’s first book provides plenty of insights for other modern readers. Based on the Garden of Eden excerpt in The New Yorker it is obvious that Crumb’s Book of Genesis is a powerful work, the most enthralling set of Biblical illustrations since the ecstatic visions of William Blake. Crumb’s Genesis will certainly be of major interest to admirers of his art, which is as detailed and gripping as ever—and his interpretations of other episodes from Genesis such as Sodom and Gomorrah, Pharaoh’s Egypt, and Noah’s Ark are likely to be every bit as interesting the Garden of Eden scenes.