So Crucify Him
Religious Groups Tut-Tut At Robert Crumb's Illustrated 'Book of Genesis'

By Laura Hudson
Editor-In-Chief, Comics Alliance

Robert Crumb's illustrated version of the "Book of Genesis" is out, and it's incredible, and guess who's upset about it? Christians! The amazing part about this particular controversy is that instead of getting up in arms about comics with gay people in them or Japanese cartoons with comedic nudity, they're actually upset with the Bible, and it is blowing my mind.

The problem isn't that Crumb's illustrations are upsetting, which is what they're saying; the problem is that those stories in the Bible are upsetting, and many people—particularly Christians—would rather not have to look at them.

The book is this bizarre cultural nexus where the hyperactive moralism and whitewashed Scriptural cherry-picking of many Christians runs headlong into the reality of a) life and b) the book that they consider literally infallible, and it's seriously incredible to sit here and watch them crash together.

First, let's be clear about what's actually in the book. As reported by Ben Leach in, Crumb’s book has been condemned by religious groups such as the Christian Institute because "it includes graphic illustrations of Bible characters having sexual intercourse, and other scenes depicting naked men and women as well as 'gratuitous' depictions of violence," as though Crumb woke up one day and decided to illustrate original Bible slash fiction. Leach quotes Crumb as saying, “I take [the Bible] all for myth from start to finish, with probably some faint relation to historical reality. They’re great stories. But for people to take texts as something sacred, handed down from God…that’s pretty backward, I think.” In truth, all Crumb has really done is illustrate the stories that are in the book, which is why the following is complete and total B.S.:

"It is turning the Bible into titillation," said Mike Judge, of the Christian Institute, a religious think-tank. "...If you are going to publish your own version of the Bible it must be done with a great deal of sensitivity. The Bible is a very important text to many many people and should be treated with the respect it deserves... Faith is such an important part of people's lives that one must remember to tread very carefully."

Hey, Judge, do you know what that sounds like? I mean, exactly like? The response from many Danish Muslims over the cartoon depictions of Muhammed. Except that they were complaining about people mocking something sacred to them, while you're actually complaining about someone faithfully depicting something sacred to you. Are you seriously that afraid of pictures of things? Things that come verbatim from your beloved religious text?

Also, if we're going to talk about what is and is not "gratuitous," did I really need to know—for example—that one time, after a man being pursued by an angry mob threw his concubine outside to be gang-raped all night long, in the morning when they were done he took her home and cut her into exactly twelve pieces? Because that's one story from the Bible that I'm not sure I needed to hear in detail, or at all, but there it is.

Consider further that parents have no problem handing their kids a Bible, which has numerous stories involving rape, murder, dismemberment, incest, infanticide, and most notably, where the main character that everyone loves gets tortured to death in an incredibly horrible way—and even encourage kids to wear tiny replicas of the torture device that killed the hero around their neck—while simultaneously freaking out completely because a Japanese comic book in their local library may have included brief, comedic nudity depicted by several amorphous circles.

Of course, this isn't the first time that the morality police have gotten disproportionately upset with comics—as opposed to print books with often more titillating or controversial content—simply because you can see the events taking place directly on the page rather than reading a description of them.

But if you really want to deal with the Bible—or complicated, powerful stories in any medium—then you have to be ready to look them in eye, even when it isn't pretty. The power of the "Book of Genesis" in comics form is that is forces you to do exactly that. And the idea that we're not supposed to acknowledge the violence, sex, and even horror of many moments in the Bible because people like Judge want to ignore them in both Scripture and life offends me profoundly, not only because it is ridiculous, but because it is intellectually and spiritually corrupt.

This controversy has less to do with real faith of any kind and more to do with putting your hands over your ears and shouting LA LA LA LA LA LA. Many people turn to the Bible as a book that teaches them lessons about how to live, but no one ever got better at dealing with the hard, complicated realities of living by closing their eyes, or by trying to close them for other people. And in fairness, at least one Christian group interviewed for the article seemed to agree:

A spokeswoman for the Bible Society said she hadn't seen the book but that reviews had suggested that Crumb had "really engaged" with the Book of Genesis. "It may surprise people but the Bible does contain nudity, sex and violence. That's because it contains real stories about real people."

How interesting—comics do too. I'll have to remember that defense for the next time censors come for us.

Posted 10-19-2009 at


‘It Seems To Me He’s Done a Good Job’
Restless Bishop Gives Thumbs Up To Crumb’s ‘Genesis’

Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon and further noted as one of the Church of England’s “blogging Bishops” (, also weighed in on the Crumb controversy stirred up by the publication of Book of Genesis, claiming it was a bit of piffle initiated by Mr. Leach’s call to Mr. Judge of the Christian Institute, without which Bishop Baines asserts there would be no fuss made of Crumb’s four-year endeavor to depict the Bible’s first book in visual terms. But the Bishop was really ticked off by Mr. Leach “nicking” a quote the Bishop made to a London Times journalist and publishing it without attribution in his Telegraph article concerning religious groups condemning a book Bishop Baines commended by saying Crumb “set out to say; 'this is important, fundamental myth' and it seems to me he's done a good job.”

Bishop Baines goes on to remark that Crumb’s book would not have been condemned by any religious groups had the Telegraph’s Mr. Leach not “rung up Mike Judge of the Christian Institute who (from his response) clearly has not seen or read the book. When I got my copy it said on the cover, 'Adult supervision recommended for minors.' And 'The first book of the Bible graphically depicted! Nothing left out!' When I read it I thought it was excellent and realized that this is simply a case of an inept publisher trying to sell more copies by sensationalizing what isn't sensational.”

Ultimately, Bishop Baines offers the following observations on Crumb’s “Genesis”:

1. Genesis is a bit racy at times and tells stories of sex, lying, violence, hypocrisy and all the other things that are to be found wherever you find real people. The book is about real people and real things. If you can't cope with that, don't read Genesis in the first place.

2. Surprisingly (to me, at least), there is no pornographic representation of sex acts that are graphically described in words in the original. If children need to be protected from drawings of breasts and a man 'lying with' a woman, then pity help the children.

3. The text of Genesis has been stuck to faithfully and taken seriously. Isn't that brilliant?

4. The drawings bring the stories alive and impress upon the reader the “flesh and blood” reality of the people and events described—thus rescuing them from the sort of 'Holy Scripture' we gloss over and making the stories powerfully and engagingly real.

5. Crumb faces the problem of how to depict God directly. In an interview he said: "My problem was, how am I going to draw God? Should I just draw him as a light in the sky that has dialogue balloons coming out from it? Then I had this dream. God came to me in this dream, only for a split second, but I saw very clearly what he looked like. And I thought, OK, there it is, I've got God. He has a white beard but he actually ended up looking more like my father. He has a very masculine face like my father." He had considered, he said, drawing God as a black woman. "But if you actually read the Old Testament he's just an old, cranky Jewish patriarch."

Well, I disagree with the last bit, but I take his point.

So, who are the people likely to take offence at this book? I guess it will be the people who (a) haven't read it or (b) take offense at anything that involves bodies, sex, God or cultural intelligence.

Ignore the sensationalist nonsense. If the publisher thought this was “scandalous satire” and “subversive,” he should be sacked for having failed. It is an excellent book and well worth a read.

(The Bishop’s entire Crumb blog can be found at

Crumb Speaks! (Sort of)
(from Molossus, “An online broadside of intelligent world conversation,”

An Exchange with R. Crumb
11 October 2009 by molossus

Robert Crumb's much anticipated Book of Genesis Illustrated (W.W. Norton, $24.95) will be officially released 18 October. Art Director Geoff Gossett requested an interview for Molossus, but instead engaged in the brief conversation below, over the course of which he found Mr. Crumb to be a as lively and personable in his electronic correspondence as his drawings are on the page.

From: Robert Crumb
Date: August 6, 2009 1:10:42 AM PDT

Mr. Gossett:
Alex Wood forwarded your e-mail to me concerning your interest in interviewing me, presumably during my brief visit to Los Angeles in October. I must respectfully decline the proposal, as I am booked as solidly as I can stand to be with interviews for the next four months, mostly arranged by the publisher of my Book of Genesis Illustrated, W.W. Norton & Co, to promote the book. Already I'm worried about how I'll be able to bear up under so many interviews, since I know I will quickly grow tired of answering questions about this Genesis project, and will start repeating myself mechanically, and in the worst, most advanced stage of burn-out, will become sullen and sarcastic, like the famous Billy Bob Thornton radio interview. So you see, I can't take on any more interviews... Contact me again around the year 2012... that is, if the world as we know it still exists in 2012...
R. Crumb

From: Geoff Gosset
Date: Aug 19, 2009 at 8:33 AM
To: Robert Crumb

Dear Mr. Crumb,
Thank you very much for your personal response. Despite the fact that we're sorry to hear that you won't be able to make an interview with us personally, we're very excited to hear the details of your book and its publicity tour. Although we would gladly accept what would be automatic droll, we wouldn't want to add to what's already a hellish pan-American book tour. You're right, there's no reason to republish that which has already been documented well by others long before us.

After talking it over a bit my colleague and I did figure out a way to work out our situation without having to bother your schedule. With your permission we would like to publish this small email correspondence (with your address blocked out, of course) alongside our feature of your Genesis book as a testament to an older, more personable and dignified character-type which rarely exists in the general public let alone the artistic world.

I do have one question that I would like to ask. It's about your technique. I've read many times that you use a lot of love and white out to fix mistakes so that you can trace over lines again to make the final, clean layout. I go to school for illustration and they teach us to clean/fix/change everything on the computer in Photoshop and Illustrator from term one. It's difficult keeping clean line work on the hard copy when you know you can just scan it in later. I wanted to know if you think any part of the essence of a visual piece is lost by the digital editing that has been thrust on my generation, which hardly knows anything else.

Again, we're quite humbled and content with the fact that you took the time to personally respond and will leave this correspondence to be the last. In the meantime we hope that our fair city of Los Angeles, which has raised and nurtured me personally, finds a way to drudge up some of its former dignity to give you a pleasant short stay while you're here.
Geoff Gossett

From: Robert Crumb
Date: August 25, 2009 2:14:59 AM PDT
Subject: Re: Request to Use Email

Mr. Gossett:
Are you describing ME when you refer to "an older, more personable and dignified character type which rarely exists in the general public let alone the artistic world"??

It seems that you are. Maybe that's just my letter-writing style that you're perceiving, or maybe I've grown more civilized with age.  I think in my younger days I was something of a crude, foul-mouthed customer, socially inept, clumsily offending people without realizing it, even going so far as to leap on the backs of women in public. I guess I've become more socially skillful and polite in my later years.

Certainly you're free to publish this correspondence.

"A lot of love and white out"?? I certainly do use a lot of white-out, that is true.  You want to know if I think "any part of the essence of a visual piece is lost by... digital editing." What would bother me about making corrections on the computer is, where does that leave the original art?? If the original art is actually done on paper with ink or paints, and then corrected by Photoshop on a computer scan, your original is left uncorrected, flawed, inferior to the scan... So what do you do, throw away the paper original?? Wouldn't you want the original art itself to be brought to its fullness of realization? Isn't the original art considered into the equation??

As for the "dignity" of Los Angeles, I'm afraid it's pretty much long gone, but it is still a city full of beautiful women, which is some compensation... Maybe one a'them will even let me leap on her.  You never know.
R. Crumb

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