This past Sunday, fellow PANELista Ross Hardy and I headed down to the Columbus Museum of Art for their temporary exhibit, The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis. The exhibit features every single page of original art from Crumb’s Book of Genesis, the graphic novel project wherein he illustrates all 50 chapters from the Old testament. At over 200 pages, laid out in order in a serpentine pattern around several exhibit spaces, the collection is something to behold in person. It took Crumb 5 years to finish the project, and looking at the art, you know why.
I was initially struck by the insane amount of detail in his illustrations. You’ve probably already seen many scans online, but to look at each page and each panel, with the thousands of tiny, intricate pen strokes is just awe inspiring. And then there’s the amazingly perfect hand lettering, nearly extinct in this age of computer lettering.
Of course, even a master craftsman makes errors, so it was interesting to note the white out marks here and there. Also, given the sheer detail, I was surprised to see that Crumb doesn’t work too big; the boards were probably around 11 x 16. I guess I was expecting Tom Williams size super-sized pages.
The exhibit also included a selection of Crumb’s reference material. It’s obvious that he researched the subject matter extensively, and the display case of references was filled with folder after folder of photos and magazine pages, with appropriate labels like “women,” “temples and buildings,” and “camels, horses, and oxen.” He also used a lot of stills from various Bible-themed movies, from The Ten Commandments to B-movie religious flicks.
On a humorous note, I jotted down a few comments left by the museum patrons. Throughout the exhibit (as well as in the museum’s other halls) there are little “Join the Discussion” stations set up, with questions relating to the artwork on display, pads of sticky notes, and a board where patrons can post their comments. Judging by the handwriting, most were left by children (or school field trips, one presumes) and while many were insightful, some were just funny. For example, on the board asking for thoughts on the Biblical characters depicted in the work, this note under the character Eve caught my eye: “Everyone always blames the girl! Unfair!” Another note read “What happened, happened…get over it!” And finally, in a bit of meta-textual commentary, there was a sticky note reading “My favorite was the space tower,” but upon this someone else had stuck a narrower sliver of paper with a “thumbs up” picture drawn next to the phrase, “Tara likes this”.
The exhibit was truly amazing, and if you’re an artist yourself, you’ll be impressed and more than a bit jealous. The sheer amount of work and craft that Crumb has put in each page might make you want to just give up. Then again, he had 5 years to work on it, living rent free in a house in Southern France that he got in exchange for a suitcase of original art.
On a somewhat related note: while perusing the museum’s other collections, I ran into Jeff Smith. He was there with his wife and a friend to check out the Crumb exhibit, and we chatted for just a bit. It’s funny, even though I’ve met him several times now, both on and off the convention circuit, I still get all nervous and flustered talking to the guy. But come on, the guy’s a hometown hero, and to me, every bit as talented and iconic as Crumb.