Finster, Wolverton, Crumb

Posted by on August 6th, 2010 at 1:47 PM

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22 Responses to “Finster, Wolverton, Crumb”

  1. patford says:

    Movies are just so unimaginative, I mean the size of the screen is static.

  2. Noah Berlatsky says:

    Pat, man, don’t change. You’re beautiful.

  3. patford says:

    One interesting thing is in silent film it wasn’t unusual for the projected image to change size, and shape (not only various rectangles, but oval shapes), during the course of a film.
    The Able Gance film Napoleon is an easy to find example.
    A very restricted format can be an avenue for creative expression. The best example in comics would be the majority of Krazy Kat dailies where the panel layout was static, and the theme of the strip as a whole was an exploration of a simple stock situation.
    Gilbert Hernandez used a static “CinemaScope” format for his latest Russ Meyers riff “The Troublemakers.”
    Crumb’s Genesis page layout isn’t a static grid at all. There are many variations he uses through the course of the book, all considered according to the drama inherent in the text.
    I suppose he could have gone for some kind of difficult to read exercise in form, but isn’t that how critics characterize much of what Ware does?

  4. Noah Berlatsky says:

    That is interesting about the changing cinema screen. I didn’t know that.

    Crumb doesn’t use a strict grid. I don’t think he does anything particularly interesting with layout either (not even using the strict grid in an interesting way, as Herriman does.) But obviously you disagree.

  5. patford says:

    Crumb is completely familiar with the Wolverton Bible illustrations. He’s talked about them for years off and on in various interviews.
    I have two complete sets of the Wolverton Bible the prefered version is the 6 volume Ambassador College Press, Pasadena, CA, 1961 edition.
    Wolverton not only illustrated the Bible, but the paraphrased text is his as well.
    I haven’t seen the Fantagraphics reprint, but I wonder if it is complete?
    The 6 vol. first edition has many more illustrations then some of the later reprints, the printing is superior, and the illustrations are presented in a larger size.
    R. Crumb: “Some people were disappointed that I didn’t do a sendup of it.
    I mean, the text itself is so lurid and barbaric, you don’t have to alter the text, you can just illustrate as accurately as possible the text as it’s written.
    I went through that whole thing too; maybe I’ll draw God as a black woman. But if you actually read the Old Testament he’s just an old, cranky Jewish patriarch.
    http://www.vanityfair.com/online/oscars/2009/10/robert-crumb-thinks-god-might-actually-be-crazy.html

  6. Caro says:

    Hey Pat — the introduction to the Wolverton Bible says this: “The artwork in this volume includes nearly all of these illustrations — more than 700 — created by Basil Wolverton for the Worldwide Church of God and Ambassador College corporations, from the years 1953-1974.” It also contains some unpublished drawings and Wolverton’s original captions for the images, which are longer than the ones that were published. Wolverton’s son provides some annotations and context at the beginning of each chapter. It’s a very nice book.

  7. patford says:

    Thanks for that information. It sounds like I’ll have to pick up the Fantagraphics book after all.
    The original six volume set released at a rate of about one volume a year between 1961 and 1966 doesn’t contain close to 700 illustrations so Wolverton obviously did a lot of other work for his church aside from “The Bible Story,”
    One advantage the original six volume set has is the complete Wolverton text which couldn’t possibly fit in a book the size of the Fantagraphics book.

  8. patford says:

    I really haven’t followed most of this very closely, and am wondering if anyone has commented on “The elephant in the room?”
    That elephant being that despite the fact Crumb respects the text in the sense that he is very impressed by it’s “ancient weirdness” it couldn’t be more clear from his many interviews that he thinks seeing the text as the authentic word of god is ludicrous.
    I would assume any person of faith reading the interviews might well be offended by Crumb’s attitude.

    Robert Crumb: Well, you don’t have to be a Fundamentalist Christian to be interested in the Bible. It’s really a fascinating mythology. Genesis in particular is really interesting to me. These books weren’t buried and forgotten and then dug up later by some archaeologists, like the myths of other ancient peoples. They’ve been in continuous use. The scrolls have been kept and studied by the Hebrew people for thousands of years, continuously. It contains this morality that’s so lurid, and it’s set in an ancient world that’s so grindingly primitive and brutal. It lends itself so well to lurid comic-book types of illustrations. It just invited it. And in a way, it’s kind of an audacious thing to do.

    It is loaded, yeah. It’s very, very loaded. It’s ridiculously loaded. When you read it, you think, “It’s absurd that people kill each other over these texts. And that people are fighting over some miserable piece of earth because of this text.” It’s just sad and tragic.

    When you’re a kid, they don’t inform you that Lot has sex with his daughters. Or that Judas slept with his daughter-in-law. Those parts are just glossed over. In illustrating everything and every word, everything is brought equally to the surface. The stories about incest have the same importance as the more famous stories of Noah and the Flood or the Tower of Babel or Adam and Eve or whatever. I think that’s the most significant thing about making a comic book out of Genesis. Everything is illuminated.

    But pictures have a lot more power than text. Text is just a bunch of little symbols. You have to actually read it and imagine it, and even that can be censored. With pictures, it’s a lot more immediate.

    I would call myself a Gnostic. Which means, I’m interested in pursuing and understanding the spiritual nature of things. A Gnostic is somebody seeking knowledge of that aspect of reality. That’s more of an Eastern idea, like Buddhism.

    I started scrutinizing it, it just fell apart so quickly. I asked the local priest, an Irish priest named Father Donahie, some questions that angered him so much, he came right at me with his fist. (Laughs.) I wasn’t being rude, I was just politely asking about some of my doubts. Obviously he wasn’t a thinking man. And I suddenly realized, “Oh, I get it. The people who hold these ranks in the church and pretend or presume to be the intermediator between us and God actually haven’t thought this thing out very well.” That was a big eye-opener for me.

    When you study these stories really closely, you realize that they don’t make a lot of sense. They’re filled with contradictions. When Cain gets condemned by God, he goes out and finds a city. But wait a minute, isn’t Cain part of the first generation of Adam and Eve? How the hell did he find a city? Who are these people who started a city? I guess it could be the later offspring of Adam and Eve, but they’d need to have spread out and multiplied quite rapidly for Cain to have found a city.

    It could be difficult. I wondered how I was going to show Onan spilling his seed. Without, you know, actually showing him jerking off. I consulted with my wife about that, and she said, “Oh, just show him sideways. You don’t have to show him actually holding his dick or anything.”

    Yeah, I was certainly tempted by that. But I decided not to do it. Cause I thought that would distract people from the meaning of the text. And then they’d just read the book looking for these little bits of hidden visual humor. I did put one little joke in towards the beginning. I had a panel where the serpent was talking to Eve and he was kinda touching her nipple. But the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. It doesn’t say anything like that in the text, so I decided to go back and just take it out. It felt like Froggy the Gremlin syndrome, where a guy is giving a serious talk and Froggy is back there making jokes and innuendos. The guy up front is actually the main show, and Froggy is distracting from it with his jokes and asides. I decided that no, I’m not going to do that.

    Look at something like the story of Noah and the Flood. God creates this rainbow and says it’s a sign to himself that he’ll never again destroy the human race by flooding. When I read that, I thought, “Wow, God is actually crazy.” He has to find a way to remind himself not to kill everybody again. That’s crazy behavior.

    But if you created it, would you want some fuck-ups like Adam and Eve hanging around? No, you wouldn’t. You created a perfect place, and a fucking serpent was able to trick what you thought were the highest of your creations. And you gave them free will! That’s what makes Adam and Eve such a profound story with so many layers of meaning. The implications of free will are still with us today. That question of the evolution of our autonomous selves, our autonomous intelligence and what we do with it. It’s still with us.

    Well, the word that comes up all the time in the Gnostic spiritual search is why. Why are you putting us through this game and making us suffer? Why are we going through this? Is it just for the excitement of it? Are we just particles of God, some small speck of a greater force of knowledge and understanding in the universe that wanted to hide from itself, that wanted to trick itself and make itself find itself again by creating a barrier that we had to penetrate back through to find our way back? Is that what it’s about?

    Hey, if a burning bush started talking to me, I would fucking listen, dude. If that happened to me, I would listen as carefully as I could.

  9. Benjamin D. Brucke says:

    Another unacknowledged elephant: official, Church-approved graphic adapations of the Bible like this:

    http://img70.imageshack.us/f/catholicbibleinpictures.jpg/

    Think Crumb’s images lessen the ambiguity of this much-admired passage in the Alter translation: “And the lads grew up, and Esau was a man skilled in hunting, a man of the field, and Jacob was a simple man, a dweller in tents. And Isaac loved Esau for the game that he brought him, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” In THE CATHOLIC BIBLE IN PICTURES, we are told that “Isaac and Rebecca had twin sons, Esau and Jacob. Esau was a hunter, Jacob a shepherd,” with no mention that anybody loved anybody, period. Now who really is doing the most violence to the Bible by adapting it into a verbal/visual format: Crumb the humanist or Christians themselves?

  10. Noah Berlatsky says:

    For Christ’s sake (as it were.) Crumb’s is not the only humanist version, and that random adaptation is far, far, far from being the only Christian version. Making this into some showdown between humanist and Christian versions is idiotic, to put it mildly.

  11. Benjamin D. Brucke says:

    You’re right. THE CATHOLIC BIBLE IN PICTURES is far from being the only Christian version. But if you think that Crumb’s graphic adaptation of Genesis is not, among other things, a response to the official Christian versions and that, as some have claimed, it is more relevant to compare his version to “Classics Illustrated,” well, that is what’s really idiotic. To put it mildly.

  12. Noah Berlatsky says:

    There are no “official” Christian versions! What on earth are you talking about?

    At HU, Crumb’s version has been compared to Blake, to Finster, to Wolverton, to Kierkegaard…and yes, to Classics Illustrated as well (a tradition he is surely familiar with). I just don’t see how saying, “Crumb: Better Than Random Piece of Christian Cultural Detritus!” is some sort of compliment. If you set the bar low enough, even Crumb can’t limbo under it. So what?

  13. Benjamin D. Brucke says:

    “There are no ‘official’ Christian versions! What on earth are you talking about?”

    I guess you missed the part where Pat pointed out that Wolverton’s illustrations were mostly created to illustrate his very own plain-language re-telling of THE BIBLE STORY, which itself only existed because it was commissioned by Ambassador College and the Worldwide Church of God. THE CATHOLIC BIBLE IN PICTURES was edited by The Right Reverend Monsignor Dante Del Fiorentino; the text was based on the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine version of the Bible; the illustrations “were all verified by Bible experts for historical accuracy”; the book was praised in writing by His Excellency Monsignor Domenico Tardini, Pro-Secretary of State at The Vatican, and a photo-reproduction of the letter was included as a preface to the book; and so on.

    That’s what I mean by “official, Church-approved” adaptations of the Bible.

    Now, maybe someone can tell me how one can praise Wolverton’s illustrations for THE BIBLE STORY without reading Wolverton’s words, i.e., the very words the illustrations were drawn to illustrate.

    ———-

    BTW, I’ve made no grandiose claims for Crumb’s accomplishment here or anywhere else. On the contrary, I’m one who thinks people ought to take Crumb a lot more seriously when he says things like this:

    “When you’re a kid, they don’t inform you that Lot has sex with his daughters. Or that Judas slept with his daughter-in-law. Those parts are just glossed over. In illustrating everything and every word, everything is brought equally to the surface. The stories about incest have the same importance as the more famous stories of Noah and the Flood or the Tower of Babel or Adam and Eve or whatever. I think that’s the most significant thing about making a comic book out of Genesis. Everything is illuminated.”

    His (very limited but, in certain circles, potentially quite provocative) goal, in my view, wasn’t to remake Genesis according to his personal obsessions or to provide a learned exegesis of it, but to “do it as a straight illustration job” with the intention of confronting ordinary readers with what really happens in the Bible, free of the mediation of those in positions of authority, like the local Irish priest, Father Donahie, who responded to Crumb’s questions about the Bible with anger, or like the creators of THE BIBLE STORY and THE CATHOLIC BIBLE IN PICTURES, who deform the Biblical text in the name of bringing young people to Christ: “I wasn’t being rude,” says Crumb, “I was just politely asking about some of my doubts. Obviously he wasn’t a thinking man. And I suddenly realized, ‘Oh, I get it. The people who hold these ranks in the church and pretend or presume to be the intermediator between us and God actually haven’t thought this thing out very well.’ That was a big eye-opener for me.”

    —–

    “… pictures have a lot more power than text. Text is just a bunch of little symbols. You have to actually read it and imagine it, and even that can be censored. With pictures, it’s a lot more immediate.” — Robert Crumb

  14. Noah Berlatsky says:

    No, I caught that individual churches at various moments approved of various illustrated versions. To call those “official” Christian versions seems…well, it seems deeply confused, let’s say, and leave it at that.

    “like the local Irish priest, Father Donahie, who responded to Crumb’s questions about the Bible with anger, ”

    According to Crumb. But what the hell; let’s base the worth of the book on a self-serving anecdote told by its creator. Why stop lowering the bar now?

  15. patford says:

    Noah, The Wolverton “Bible Story” as well as the Gaines “Picture Stories from the Bible” were both officially endorsed.
    In fact the Wolverton “Bible Story” was published by a Christian church.
    I am profoundly (upping the ante with a Tower of Babel sized stack of chips) confused as to how anyone could see the Wolverton book as anything other than an “official” Christian version.
    The Gaines “Picture Stories” book is endorsed by.
    First Calvary Baptist Church
    Jewish Education Committee
    Synagogue Council of America
    New York University Dept. of Religion
    The Christian Herald
    Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America
    Marble Collegiate Church of Christ
    American Bible Society

  16. Caro says:

    Man, you guys — I missed all these comments! Thanks for talking about this. I’m reading them now! GRIN.

  17. Caro says:

    Thanks for quoting the interview, Pat. I think Crumb saying this “But pictures have a lot more power than text. Text is just a bunch of little symbols. You have to actually read it and imagine it, and even that can be censored. With pictures, it’s a lot more immediate” is a pretty good explanation for his not doing more conceptual things. I’m gonna repost that quote over at HU on Matthias’ post ’cause it ties into the conversation he and Domingos are having about Cezanne.

    I didn’t actually know — didn’t catch it in the Fanta introduction, if it’s there — that Wolverton had written all that text to go along with his illustrations until you told me, Pat. If you have any scans of the pages with some of that text I’d love to see them!

  18. Benjamin D. Brucke says:

    Here’s a poorly scanned (by me) two-page spread from “THE BIBLE STORY by Basil Wolverton,” Volume VI:

    http://img64.imageshack.us/img64/6350/thebiblestoryvolvi.jpg

    Every illustration in the book is similarly accompanied by a one or two sentence caption.

  19. Caro says:

    Oh, that’s great, Benjamin; thanks so much for scanning it.

    I’ll cross post it over at HU too!

  20. Benjamin D. Brucke says:

    Here’s the next two pages from Wolverton’s BIBLE STORY, Volume VI, fresh off the scanner:

    http://a.imageshack.us/img245/2640/thebiblestoryvolvi108an.jpg

    I hope that’s enough to give you the flavour of the book.

  21. Benjamin D. Brucke says:

    In his intro to Wolverton’s book, the founder of the Radio Church of God (later renamed the Worldwide Church of God) and Ambassador College (later, Ambassador University), Herbert W. Armstrong, describes the project, in part, as follows:

    “In November, 1958, The Bible Story started, serially, in The PLAIN TRUTH.

    But it is not written only for children! We like to say it is written for children from 5 to 105! Mr. Wolverton has written in simple, understandable language, easily read by children at the nine- to twelve-year-old level yet interesting to adults as well!

    “Very few seem to realize that a continuous story-thread runs through the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. That is the story-flow that Mr. Wolverton is writing. With professional expertise, Mr. Wolverton makes this story gripping and thrilling in plain and simple words. Parents can read this book to four- and five-year-olds, and with a little explaining, make it understandable and also absorbing and interesting.

    “Mr. Wolverton has stuck tenaciously to the literal Biblical account. He has taken author’s license to portray certain incidents in conversational style. Yet he has been zealously careful to avoid adding, or detracting from, the meaning of Scripture.”

  22. Noah Berlatsky says:

    Thanks for taking the time to do this Benjamin.