The Comics Journal (#301) – Various

4 out of 5

The Robert Crumb Genesis issue.  30 bucks.  600 effing pages.  Worth it?  Yes.  Worth it even if you’re not a highfalutin, ten-dollar-word using elitist?  Yes.

I’ve never been a massive Robert Crumb fan.  Accepting his impact on the indie comix scene, much of which I have enjoyed and do enjoy, his particular breed of in-yer-face confessionalism and satire doesn’t interest me very much, nor do I sympathize with his general point of view.  Of course, this Notable Name’s 2009 attempt at pictorializing the entirety of the book of Genesis made enough headlines such that my completely comic book ignorant parents registered its existence, and, being Jews, and knowing their son read comics, picked it up for him to read.

…Or peruse.  As Crumb notes in his 70 page interview with Fantagraphics guy Gary Groth, the text (in its various incarnations / translations) is pretty dry, and if you combine my lack of interest in the cartoonist and lack of interest in the source material… well, I had no real impetus for plodding through the thing.  That was also ten years ago to my reading this comprehensive response to the tome (post the Crumb interview you get six professional critic responses, then their roundtable responses to each other’s responses, taking us up to about the 200 page mark), which is all very much to say: I have no outward interest in the book, and yet, almost all of the material here regarding Genesis is rather interesting.

I read the book in backwards order (it mentally seemed shorter that way?) – although I did read each critic’s take before reading the roundtable – and I actually recommend that, because I think Groth smartly incorporated some of their feedback into his questions to Crumb (which kicks off the book), and it’s fascinating how he counters or navigates his way though what they end up saying.  He’s a much more on-the-ball guy than I would have given him credit for based on how he writes, and I liked that his opinions generally stayed consistent (which honestly isn’t the case with a lot of interviews, where “playing it safe” impartiality ends up making people say two or three different things instead of just a straight-forward opinion).

The critical responses are also mostly interesting, each one focusing on an angle I would have completely overlooked – e.g. the source of the translations Crumb used; how the (my word) blandness of the material can actually be commentary – and I was happy that, in the roundtable, almost everyone trashes on the rather obnoxious critical entry by Kenneth R. Smith, which is – to quote one of the other guys – word salad.  I could not discern his actual opinion from his review, and in his roundtable, he gets into a beard stroking, blithering frenzy over one dude’s very Christian point of view, saying, effectively, bah humbug! many times, but forgetting to actually respond to anything at the same time.

In the book’s remaining 400 pages, there’s only one other similar fuck-off entry – a blabbing “review” of manga Black Blizzard, wherein the author just wants us to know how much he knows, but, as with Smith, his actual opinion on the work…?  No idea.  A long historical piece on cartoonist John T. McCutcheon is dry as heck, but once it finds its way past a really long-winded, winding opening, it’s not bad.

Elsewhere we get a couple sketchbooks (Jim Woodring – good; author Tim Hensley – kinda stretching it, but sure); a fantastic treatise on Cerebus by Tim Krieder; the full Gerald McBoing Boing comics; Al Jaffe & Michael Kupperman, Joe Sacco interviews; and some other random commentary and reviews that gave me some new writers (of the articles) to check out or books / comics to look in to.

So, yeah, my eyes rolled out of my head when I picked this up – which I did for the Woodring material – and I admittedly did not look forward to reading it, but it turned out to be an impressively put together chunk of words and pictures, well-bound for surprisingly easy flip-throughs, and very much worth my time and dollars.