R. Crumb’s original pages for The Book of Genesis -- all of them, all 201 pages of comics plus the covers and other interior images -- were exhibited recently at UCLA’s Hammer Museum in west Los Angeles. On Saturday, February 7, the night before the exhibit’s final day, my wife Michele and I paid a visit and spent the better part of two hours among those pages (having already gone to the very well-attended Crumb/Françoise Mouly talk at UCLA’s Royce Hall back on Oct. 29).
Crumb’s Introduction to Genesis describes the project as “a straight illustration job,” as if to head off expectations that his treatment might be a radical adaptation or satirical hatchet job. Bear in mind that readers outside the orbit of comics may not know of Crumb’s reputation for dutiful adaptations of found texts (Boswell, Sartre, Kafka, etc.) and may expect comix hijinx served up with a subversive wink-nudge; I bet Crumb wanted to foreclose that kind of reading right off the bat. But saying that his Genesis is “straight illustration” is misleading. It’s right insofar as Crumb faithfully sought to subserve the text, observe its details, and bring it to life, but it’s wrong because it soft-pedals the role that Crumb’s own tics, preoccupations, and imaginative graphic input play in the project. It is still a R. Crumb comic, after all.