Crumb himself said, "I decided just to do a straight illustration job." For example, he portrayed God as the traditional old white guy in a toga with a long beard. He even gives us the perfunctory starburst to symbolize the creation of heaven and earth.
I would've enjoyed seeing Crumb's demented imagination applied in earnest. Instead, he handled the Bible "just like [the Classics Illustrated comic books from the '50s]. You know, it's no big deal."
You might wonder why the world needs another comic book version of the Bible, a book which raises the world's most challenging and complex subjects. After all, there are plenty of versions out there already for lazy students seeking a study guide the night before exams. Do any of these illustrations contribute anything original on the subjects of creation, mortality, sex, destiny, spirituality, love, passion, miracles, etc.? From the Classic Comics version to the Kubert version to The Graphic Canon treatment to The Action Bible, the graphic novel format seems to dumb down, rather than enhance, the text.
As Mario Naves wrote, "An artist who trades in trivialities should know well enough not to mess with themes that are beyond the scope of his talent."
Which brings me to the new book, Garden of the Flesh, biblical stories by Gilbert Hernandez. [CAUTION: EVEN WITH MY REDACTIONS THE FOLLOWING IMAGES ARE NSFW.]
According to the cover, "Beginning with Adam and Eve and continuing through the story of Noah's ark," this book offers "biblical tales of Original Sin." Inside is perhaps the most barren treatment of the Bible or of sin I've ever seen.
What in the world was the artist thinking? These awful drawings-- flat, bland and unimaginative--together with the sparse, inane dialogue suck the IQ points right out of your head.
(N.B.: I promise these are not unfair excerpts. The entire book limps on like this, page after page.)
If these drawings had been scratched on a men's room wall I'd say, "go for it!" I agree with the wise man who said, "Bad drawing, even bad bad drawing, almost always has character.... the vision has a weird purity you kind of have to admire, no matter what." But bad drawing loses some of that "weird purity" and no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt as it become more pretentious.
Today we're all good post-modernists; we evaluate pictures based on the artist's success at achieving his or her individual ambitions. But that doesn't mean we have no standards whatsoever. A book that is essentially a Tijuana Bible at heart gets evaluated differently when it is packaged in a deluxe embossed cover and presumes to address Biblical stories of original sin. It's hard not to feel insulted by this book.
Authentic Tijuana Bibles may not get reviewed in prestigious journals but they are superior works of art, more successful at achieving their artistic ambitions.
Many of the artists who drew Tijuana Bibles were technically unskilled but their drawings were more genuine and human and lusty than the thin, pleasureless drawings in Garden of the Flesh.
Not only that, but their plots were more intelligent.
|John Dillinger stops to aid two pretty girls who are having car trouble.|