"I, IRONICALLY, do not believe the Bible is 'the word of God.' I believe it is the words of men," writes R. Crumb in the introduction to his graphic novel adaptation of the Old Testament, The Book of Genesis Illustrated. Rejecting divine authorship, the renowned cartoonist draws from multiple translations of the text in his complete reproduction—attempting to remove ancient political interjections and reestablish what he believes to be the original intent behind the grouping of stories.
The hand behind this reworking can be felt in the black lines and whiteout touchups of Crumb's original Genesis illustrations, on view at the Portland Art Museum (PAM) through September 19th. Unlike the louder social and political commentary of his early comics (Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat), Crumb maintains Genesis' dry procedural tone. In lieu of didacticism, Crumb sides with the subtle, letting the story speak for itself: wars are bloody, God is vengeful, sex is nude and unceremonious.
In staying so close to the source material, Crumb's Genesis can be tedious, and powering through 200-plus pages while standing in the museum invites exhibition fatigue. The nuances of Genesis are probably best internalized in book format from your couch, but that doesn't negate the power of the originals on view at PAM: In erasures and imperfect pen work, the drawings are indicative of the relationship between people and religious texts—a relationship we should be reminded of more often.