Drawn by R. Crumb and Sophie Crumb
Published by W.W. Norton
Reviewed by Marc Mason
Two new books from two generations of Crumbs…
THE SWEETER SIDE OF R. CRUMB is a different kind of book from the old master. Fresh off his smash hit adaptation of the Book of Genesis, R. Crumb throws the medium another curveball, and it’s a dandy. SWEETER SIDE brings together work that shows another side of his talents. Here we have material like beautiful life-drawings of jazz musicians, detailed takes on French locales, a portrait of his cat sitting on his chest, reverent representations of his wife modeling different dresses, and even some cute little comics detailing some of the more amusing moments in raising his daughter Sophie. The work itself is uniformly lovely to look at, but what astonishes most is the depth of style that Crumb displays here. I only wish he had offered some commentary about the origins of the pieces printed here. Whether he is producing simple cartoon pieces, rough sketches, or life-drawings that look like photographs, his hand never seems to falter. This is Crumb giving us a glimpse of who he is in a more rounded sense. He isn’t just anything. He’s an artist.
Speaking of his daughter, Sophie Crumb is a fine and fascinating artist in her own right, and SOPHIE CRUMB: EVOLUTION OF A CRAZY ARTIST aims to demonstrate that as loudly as possible. I’ve never seen an art book quite like it; her parents began keeping her artwork as soon as she started producing it at the age of two, and fanatically archived it from that time forward. Thus this book truly is able to show her evolution. There are almost 60 pages of material drawn by her between the ages of 2-8. Ultimately, those aren’t very compelling, but once she hits the age of ten you can really begin to see her talent coming out. About that time she develops a true style of her own, and the light bulb is coming on. Within five years, she begins to develop the skills to work in multiple styles. From there it snowballs, and she starts setting herself apart from contemporaries and from the long shadow of her parents. The level of sophistication is impressive, and Sophie’s notes about her own life and how it influenced her art are a welcome addition in giving context to some of the work.
THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED
Adapted by R. Crumb
Published by W.W. Norton
If you were asked to guess which legendary comics creator would take on the task of literally adapting a Book of the Bible into graphic novel form, I think we could all agree that Robert Crumb’s name would not be one that would be bandied about. Yet here he is, having taken all 50 chapters of the Book of Genesis and done his best to illustrate every single bit of it, including pertinent text and dialogue. But is he up to that sort of challenge?
You bet he is.
Whether you are a Christian or not, the one thing undeniable about the Bible is that it is full of stories full of amazing power and emotion. There’s a reason that the work has connected with so many millions over the past two thousand years. And what Crumb has done is to research the Bible’s origins, pore through various translations and explorations, and piece together the narrative contained in Genesis, from God’s creation of the Earth to Adam and Eve, to the great flood, to the saga of Abraham’s extended family.
Crumb’s work makes no judgment about the content of Genesis itself. Stories with contradictions and oddities remain as written, though Crumb offers up some commentary upon some of those moments in a text piece at the back. Characters are designed and drawn to look like humans living in that particular area of the world in the era being discussed. The Bible is full of sex and its consequences; that material is here (the front cover has a note saying “Adult Supervision Recommended For Minors”); blood (and plenty of it) is shed, both by God and by the sword.
Some of this book does bog down, but that isn’t necessarily on Crumb. There are passages laying out family trees that grind the adaptation to a halt, but that’s a function of Crumb sticking to the actual Bible and not omitting material. It was important for him to be faithful to the source material, and he has done so, even at the cost of occasionally reducing the effectiveness of the overall package.
Heading into the Christmas season, I suspect that this might make an interesting and enlightening gift for those of faith. Crumb has turned out one of the most unique and vital works of his career here, throwing the comics world a curveball, and impressing even his most ardent followers.