Talking about Crumb & God

Crumb's version of Abraham and Isaac


Crumb’s The Book of Genesis Illustrated is one of the most exciting books of the year. I reviewed the volume for Bookforum, which can be found here. On the Inkstuds radio program, I engaged in an extended conversation on the book with Paul Stanwood, an English professor at the University of British Columbia. You can listen to our talk here.


I was greatful for the radio talk, because it allowed me to bring up issues that I had to skimp in the review, in particular Crumb’s use of ethnicity (unlike many other visual represenations of these stories, the characters actually look Middle Eastern), the fact that Crumb is working in the tradition of the grotesque rather than the heroic, and the merits of the translation Crumb relied on. Continue reading

The Uses of Nostalgia


Robert Crumb’s nostalgia for that old time music.


Nostalgia is a suspect emotion, both psychologically and politically. Emotionally, nostalgia carries connotations of escapism, ignoring present realities while longing for a mythical past. Politically, nostalgia has often been used by conservative and Fascist leaders who have deployed images of the good old days in order to thwart social progress.


I’m uncomfortable with this view of nostalgia as a purely regressive phenomenon because some of my favorite contemporary artists often do work that consciously tries to evoke melancholy at the passing of time. I’m thinking here of the films of the Coen brothers, the music of Bob Dylan, and especially the comics of Robert Crumb, Seth, and Chris Ware (among many others). All of these artists are nostalgia-obsessed but none of them fit the stereotype of complacency and escapism that fit the nostalgia stereotype: these artists are all astringent and challenging. As an example think of Crumb’s use of blackface racial images: stylistically he is working in a nostalgic mode, but the end of effect of these drawings is to remind us of an uncomfortable past (which lingers into the present).

  Continue reading