November 3, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Mr. Natural in New York. A deadhead past his prime. Aged and bloated, a nudist in clothes. A t-shirt invading foreign terrain; a revolt in the lower regions: the gut emerges victorious, extruding from the lower limits of the cotton tee.
Standing next to Mr. Natural is Flakey Foont, Phd: Native New Yorker. Still clueless, still Flakey, but he’s gotten a make-over. Is bald and wearing a cable-knit sweater. His forehead stretches back indefinitely and a burst of sweat clouds the air above him.
Relaxed, Mr. Natural balances a stack of wobbling books on his gut. Along the spine ‘Genesis’ is printed in archaic font. From Mr. Natural’s head emerges a thought bubble: That R. Crumb really is the cat’s pajamas!
Next to him, Flakey’s bandy little arms can barely support his own stack of books, with ‘Evolution of a Crazy Artist,’ printed on the line. Anguish and elation garble Foont’s features. A thought bubble: Oboyoboyoboy! I just love that Sophie Crumb. She’s a real hottie… And she’s got a twisted mind to boot!
Above the two cartoons hangs a banner: Barnes & Noble Presents R. & Sophie Crumb in Conversation. One Night Only! Autographed Books Sold Here!
Excluding a few teens, a few hipsters, and an art class, this was the scene in the upper-floor of the Union Square Barnes and Noble Monday night. Devotees to the Crumb Clan fill more than a hundred seats and during the half an hour before the interview begins they make busy buying autographed copies of the father-daughter duo’s books.
Though Sophie is relatively young and relatively unexposed, her father, Robert Crumb is, and has been, a hero of the underground for years. If you don’t know his work, you oughta. If not for the sake of history, or education- please!- at least to give your psyche a good kick in the pants.
He’s the Id-on-Acid artist of the 70s. Underground comic book illustrator Numero Uno. The master drawer who teamed up with the late great Harvey Pekar in rendering the underground classic ‘American Splendor.’ And he’s the creator of such characters as Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural, the Keep on Truckin’ Dude, and in her most famous incarnations, Devil Girl.
But this is pretty sordid stuff. Pretty weird. And, until about a half a year ago, a crowd like this gathered to see a man like Crumb and a woman like his daughter, Sophie, would have been somewhat inexplicable to me.
I mean, I’m a pretty normal guy, but I’m a fan, and a least half of this crowd seemed, for lack of better emphasis, too normal. The sort who never would have gotten into Crumb 40 years ago. Unless all of these aging, cable-knit sweater sort of Foonts just gave up the drugs and sex-crazed parties they were into in the 70s, yet came out on Monday because they still have a soft-spot for dirty old Crumb.
I will concede that in a certain sense everyone seems too normal for Crumb, and that’s part of his glory.
In any case, about 7 months back Crumb put out a work that explains the chino’d asses that occupied the seats of B&N this past Monday.
What was that work called?
Why, ‘The Book of Genesis,’ of course.
Yes, y’know, from the Bible. Adam and Eve and the Snake and all that good stuff. ‘All 50 Chapters!’ As the front cover proclaims in a big fat word bubble. A cover page which also includes an apt warning for minors, as well. Would that the Bible always had such warnings for adult supervision.
Not far into the book, the reasons for the warning become evident. Crumb illustrated the book verse-for-verse; every story and every detail. From Noah’s miracle through the brimstone burning of Sodom and Gomorrah all the way to the smoldering incestuous lust of Lot and his daughters, and beyond. Suffice it to say, some of the the contents of Crumb’s ‘Genesis’ make up a gnarly and lurid karma sutra, and other details are enough to make an adult or two squeamish, as well.
However, out of any images in Crumb’s ‘Genesis,’ these lubricious pics have the most precedent. Until ‘Genesis,’ aside from a few works like his lovely and sorrowful, “A Short History of America,” Crumb’s work was mostly a semi-psychotic melange of graphic sexual fantasies, anti-social sentiments, and bizarre flights of fancy. Yet, given an honest reading of “the beginning”— which Crumb surely gave— his early work proves the perfect primer for unveiling the clandestine dirt hidden in the simply worded Pentateuch. From page to page, it’s obvious that only Crumb could make the word become flesh in such sweaty, grit-of-the-desert detail.
One may argue that the modern Christian aesthetic excises the shit and blood from the Bible— an understandable impulse in the face of its cherished holiness— but the result of a Bible without blood, without sin, is a bleached, saccharine, non-Word.
To the skeptic, or philosopher, or poet— to the dramaturge— to just about any normal human being— a narrative of salvation lacking catharsis is no salvation at all.
Creation sans Fall yields no Redemption.
So, with no amount of irony, that’s what Crumb does. He injects ‘Genesis’ with original sin. And this is what put most of these folks in their seats on Monday night. Believers, ones who’ve seen the Word made flesh: Crumb’s thick-calved, callypegian Eve, his shadow-faced Adam.
If nothing else, ‘Genesis’ brought irony-mongers such as myself to the B&N. Those who’ve enjoyed the spectacle of a non-believer saving the Holy Bible from mouldering between pink, faux-leather covers till kitschdom come.
R. Crumb’s ‘Genesis’ is a victory for everyone, where both the saved and the hell-bound alike can admire the verve of an artist who entices both atheists and hippies to dig into the Bible, while still maintaining that Old Testament fire-and-brimstone spice we’ve all come to know and love.
More on Them Crumbs Bums Coming Soon!