If you haven't already attended the Robert Crumb exhibit at the Portland Art Museum, I highly recommend you take some time this summer and plan a visit. At least buy the damn book! This is an amazing body of work drawn over the course of five years by one of America's most celebrated, prolific and perverse comic artists. For those of you who can't possibly come to Portland for the show, I offer the following 100% unauthorized and illicit photos as something of a glimpse into the inspired and inspiring spectacle that is Robert Crumb's Illustrated Book of Genesis...
This huge banner of Crumb's frontispiece greets you to the north wall as you turn the corner and enter the exhibit. I love how he drew this like an old EC Comic with all the major characters represented. Instead of the "Old Witch" we get "Eve", instead of the "Crypt-Keeper" we get "Adam". It is reproduced for the exhibit like a huge carnival sideshow banner and provides something of a table of contents and key for navigating the more than 200 panels of art as each section of the exhibit is marked with a plaque of the chapter's corresponding major character. I also appreciated the fact that Crumb's Abraham looks an aweful lot like Charles Bukowski.
He chose to depict the serpent as an anthropomorphic character, which actually makes perfect sense since the bible itself states that it is only after "The Fall" that the serpent is made to slither on its belly for all eternity. Crumb's portrayal is in stark contrast to most of the classical representations of the serpent such as the image above by the German master Albrecht Dürer.
Every meticulous panel was so well rendered that it was hard to choose a favorite page but this one naturally stood out for its violence and bloodshed. My kids were slightly disappointed to see that the wicked sinners are depicted as silly horned viking types but, nonetheless, we were impressed by that last panel of the psuedo-Aztec sacrifice. "You are in a position unsuitable to give orders, Dr. Jones!"
This panel just struck a cord for its insane detail and lush textures. This could be a textbook study for how to compose an engaging comic panel. The historical accuracy and emotional expression is worth noting as well.
Ding! Ding! We've got a winner! We knew Crumb's depiction of the destruction of Sodom and Gommorah was gonna rule! This is possibly my favorite page in the entire book/exhibit. Have you ever seen Basil Wolverton's biblical drawings? Highly recommended. Wolverton's drawings demonstrate a similarly unflinching and grand obsession with destruction and tragedy of epic proportions.
AUTOPSY! Well, actually an embalming.
I snapped this one right before being busted by a museum volunteer who sternly informed me that photos are strictly forbidden. Woops! It's one of the last panels in the entire 242 piece exhibit and I love this one because it shows lots of white-out, erasing and cut and pasted lettering. This is the sort of messy production detail you miss in the published work. Crumb's lettering is as impressive as his rendering of anatomy, architecture, historically accurate clothing, landscapes and animals. My kids seemed to think God's hair and beard got bigger as the story progressed but I'm not so sure. I'll have to pay more attention next time.
This is the sign that greets you as you enter/exit the museum. So what are you waiting for? This show rules so get your ass to Portland and get a bit of that ol' time religion. Next Friday (July 2) they'll be showing Terry Zwigoff's 1994 Crumb documentary in the museum theater!