'Genesis': R. Crumb Illustrates The Bible Underground comic legend R. Crumb has put the entire text of the best known book of the Bible into a graphic work. In The Book of Genesis Illustrated, he depicts it all, from the creation of the world to the death of Joseph.

'Genesis': R. Crumb Illustrates The Bible

'Genesis': R. Crumb Illustrates The Bible

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'The Book of Genesis Illustrated'

Underground comic legend R. Crumb has put the entire text of the best known book of the Bible into a graphic work. In The Book of Genesis Illustrated, he depicts it all, from the creation of the world to the death of Joseph.

Crumb spoke with host Neal Conan about the challenges of adapting the 50 chapters of Genesis in panels and drawings. Crumb found his way into all of the sex and violence of the story, and The Book of Genesis Illustrated features a warning on the cover, recommending adult supervision for minors.

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

R. Crumb may still be best known as one of the fathers of underground comics like "Zap" and "Despair," for characters like Mr. Natural, Devil Girl and Fritz the Cat. But his latest project may change all that. He spent the past several years in an ambitious effort to illustrate the book of "Genesis," and he leaves nothing out, all 50 chapters from Eden to Egypt with every single begat.

Those who remember their Bible will recall there's a lot of sex and violence in "Genesis." That's in there, too. This edition recommends adult supervision for minors. The approach is neither satirical nor subversive, but given the material, it's almost certain to draw charges from irreverence to blasphemy. If you want to talk with R. Crumb about this project, his signature style or his body of work, give us a call: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We know R. Crumb has plenty of fans out there. He knows that, too. So with that in mind, we'd really like your questions. Later this hour, the first marriage. Jodi Kantor joins us to talk about her cover story on the Obamas in yesterday's New York Times Magazine.

But first, R. Crumb and "The Book of Genesis Illustrated." Robert Crumb joins us now from a studio at KQED, our member station in San Francisco. And it's great to have you today on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. ROBERT CRUMB (Comic Book Writer, Illustrator): Hey.

CONAN: First thing I wanted to say is thank you. It's been a long time, I realized, since I had read the book of "Genesis," and it's a wild story.

Mr. CRUMB: From Eden to Egypt - I wish I'd thought of that. That's a great cover line - from Eden to Egypt. Damn.

CONAN: You can have it at no charge.

Mr. CRUMB: Too late now.

CONAN: Well, maybe the paperback.

Mr. CRUMB: I was listening to the little preview blurb that was told about me before, like, a few minutes ago.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CRUMB: And it talked - it quoted me saying something about how crazy the Bible was.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. CRUMB: Where is that from, that quote? Where did I say that?

CONAN: I think that's from the news conference you had in Paris.

Mr. CRUMB: Ooh, boy. That's going to get me killed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It is. But these are amazing stories that are being told in the book of "Genesis."

Mr. CRUMB: Yes, they are. And that's why I decided just to do a straight illustration job, because the stories themselves are so strange that it doesn't need satirizing. It doesn't need, you know, making fun of or taking off on or anything. It just stands up on its own as a lurid, you know, comic book. So�

CONAN: A comic book. I'm not sure anybody would have said that before. There are�

Mr. CRUMB: It's a comic book.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Your definition of comic book is probably a little broader than most other people's.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: Well, comic books have many possibilities, you know. Comic books can illuminate a text, you know, break it down into panels, illustrate everything. And suddenly, it brings to light things that people might pass over in a - just in a written text, you know, that adding pictures is a whole other dimension. And yet it's not exactly like a movie, either. Because in movies, you have actors, and it's a whole other thing. So...

CONAN: I was fascinated - I'm sure other people are going to call with questions about why. I fascinated with how. This is a gigantic project. Even the�

Mr. CRUMB: Yes.

CONAN: �layout must have taken you a long time to figure out.

Mr. CRUMB: Four years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: Four years of work.

CONAN: How did you decide to do it? How did you go about it?

Mr. CRUMB: Well, I started out - for years, I was playing around with this kind of satire of Adam and Eve. I did a lot of sketches and preliminary stuff, and I wasn't satisfied with it. So I decided, well, this story is so interesting on many levels in and of itself and lends itself to lurid illustration, I just decided to go ahead and do it straight. But then once I got into it, I realized I had taken on a huge task. You know, once I got past Adam and Eve, the flood and, you know, Sodom and Gomorrah, I thought, oh, my God. Now I'm in for it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: I got to do the whole soap opera of Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Rebecca and Jacob and Rachel and all that, and all the way to the end. But it was interesting, interesting job.

CONAN: Did you lay out each page in advance, saying we're going to do this panel here and this one's got to be on this page? Or did you draw panel by...

Mr. CRUMB: No.

CONAN: ...panel and then...

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, I pretty much work panel by panel. Sometimes I do a preliminary pencil sketch of each panel. I actually did hundreds of those.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CRUMB: And somebody asked me - they'd had a big show of the original art in the Hammer museum in LA. And they said did you do any pencil sketches? And I said, yeah. I did a lot of them, but I threw them away. They said, oh, no.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: These are worth millions!

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, people want to see those. And I said, no they weren't any good. They were boring. Threw them away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: One of the things that will astonish people, as we all - everybody who's read the book of "Genesis" every time remembers all of the dozens and dozens of begats. And it is fascinating...

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, right.

CONAN: ...to see how you have created individual characters out of each and every one.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah. Well, I decided, you know, that was a problematic part of the whole thing, the begats. And I decided to not just make a big block of text saying so and so begat so and so, because then if you do that, it's just a block of text. People will pass over it. So you want to actually make the begets significant and important, too, by showing each of these generations as an individual, as a person, you know, and just show the family lineage. That's a very important part of "Genesis," and, you know, the Hebrew tradition, that's what it's all about. It's very tribal, you know. So they're reciting the generations from Adam, all the way down. And, you know, they do all the way to Jesus, actually.

CONAN: Yeah. And where did you get the inspiration for the individuals? Are they people from your family, are they from books? Where?

Mr. CRUMB: Old issues of the National Geographic Magazine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: That's where a lot of it came from.

CONAN: And the clothing?

Mr. CRUMB: Lots of different places. Some of that came from, you know, "The Ten Commandments," the Cecil B. DeMille, you know. I had a friend of mine who was willing to run the DVDs, freeze-frame them and take photos. He took hundreds of photos, still photos from "Ten Commandments" and some other biblical epics like that - "The Mummy" and "Intolerance" by D.W. Griffith. And those are very useful, actually, even though they might not be precisely authentic, but, you know, who knows what things really looked like in 2,000 B.C. There's very little visual evidence from that time, especially for Mesopotamia. For Egypt, there's more, but for what is now Iraq in, you know, the year 2,000 B.C., there's very little.

CONAN: One of the interesting things that these are Semitic people, and they -the Jews look like Jews.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: That's right. They're all Semitic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: If you look at the stills from "Intolerance," which was made in 1915, it's about Babylon.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. CRUMB: You look closely at the stills, oh, my God, every single person, all the extras, everybody, is wearing a false, hooked nose.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: It's incredible.

CONAN: Our guest is...

Mr. CRUMB: But if you look at the old bas-reliefs of the Assyrians, you know, there's - they're all profiles, and they all have hooked noses.

CONAN: Our guest is R. Crumb, Robert Crumb, the author of most recently "The Book of Genesis Illustrated." 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. Paul joins us on the line from Hailey in Idaho.

PAUL (Caller): Hi, thanks for talking my call. I find this fascinating. In growing up in an illustration class, you know, words paint images, and I'm wondering what is your mind like, doctor? I mean, to proceed to do four years of illustrated visions. I'm - did you dream this as well? And I have a follow-up question.

CONAN: Okay.

Mr. CRUMB: Have you seen the book?

PAUL: No, I haven't, but I definitely am going to get it.

Mr. CRUMB: Oh, okay.

CONAN: All right. If you want to go to our Web site, there's some images from the book there, and you can get an idea of what that looks like. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. CRUMB: Are you old enough to remember the Classics Illustrated comic books from the '50s?

PAUL: Yes, I am. Yes, I am.

Mr. CRUMB: It's just like that. You know, it's no big deal.

PAUL: How fascinating.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PAUL: Were you at all ever bogged down trying to find the right perspective for the illustration itself?

Mr. CRUMB: Oh yeah, oh yes, often, quite often.

PAUL: How did you break through that?

Mr. CRUMB: You know, it's a problem-solving process, you know, like anything else. You figure it out eventually. Yeah, there's lot of challenges like that, hundreds of them.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: You work through it, you know?

PAUL: Did you grow up as far as any religious or spiritual persuasion?

Mr. CRUMB: I was raised Catholic, but you know, I rejected the church. I left the arms of the holy mother church when I was 16, and you know, I went through my own spiritual quest, you know, took LSD and read about Eastern religions and all that. And you know, I have my own little spiritual quest, but I don't associate it with any particular traditional religion. I think that the traditional Western religions all are very problematic in my view.

CONAN: Paul, thanks very much for the call.

PAUL: Thank you so much.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, thanks. Good questions.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Jeff(ph). How do you deal with contradictory Genesis stories: animals created before man or man created before animals, et cetera?

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, I just illustrate it as it's written, and the contradictions stand. When I first illustrated that part, the creation, where there's basically two different creation stories that do contradict each other, and I sent it to the editor at Norton, the publisher, who told me he was a Bible scholar. And he read it, and he said wait a minute, this doesn't make sense. This contradicts itself. Can we rewrite this so it makes sense? And I said that's the way it's written. He said, that's the way it's written? I said, yeah, you're a Bible scholar. Check it out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: But you know, it's - that's the Bible for you.

CONAN: You said the - one of the decisions you felt you needed to make about the begats and making each of these a character, another way to do that would have been just to skip over that part, to do a little editing.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, I didn't want to edit it at all. I wanted every word in there. That was part of the discipline of it was to keep every word because if you start leaving stuff out, then you're playing God. You know, which parts don't you like, and which parts do you think are, you know, too difficult to deal with, and then, you know, I just didn't want to do that. I wanted to show - I think one of the reasons for doing all that work was to show what's actually written there and illustrate it in the best possible way, you know. And to do that, I had to do a lot of background reading to make sure that I knew what the text was really saying because often the text was very vague, very terse, and sometimes it was open to interpretation.

You know, when God frowns on Sodom and Gomorrah and thinks they're sinful, it doesn't say what he thinks is so bad that they're doing. And you look at old, traditional illustrations of Sodom and Gomorrah, and it's - the old illustrations, it's just usually people having fun. You know, they're carousing, they're drinking, they're gambling, they're having a good time. For me, that wasn't enough. For God to think he has to destroy this place, these people have to be really bad. So you know, I drew them being quite brutal and nasty, you know, to each other. So in that way, some things are open to interpretation, and you know.

CONAN: You're likely to get yelled at for the stuff you put in. You're going to really get yelled at for anything you left out. So that's another reason to put everything in.

We're talking with R. Crumb. His new book is called "The Book of Genesis Illustrated." We'll have more with him and your calls in just a moment, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. We'll find out how he decided to picture God. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. "Genesis" may be the best-known book of the Bible, and though illustrations of the creation story abound, few are as grown-up as comic-book illustrator R. Crumb's "Genesis." We're talking to him today about his project, and if you'd like to see the beginning of the heaven and the earth and how he imagines God, Adam and Eve, you can head over to our Web site at npr.org.

If you have a question for R. Crumb about his "Genesis," his body of work or what it's like to draw God, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Robert Crumb, one of the things you realize upon re-reading "Genesis" is if God wakes you in the middle of the night, you'd best be listening.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: I don't think you have much choice, yeah. You know, God wakes you up, yeah, you're going to listen.

CONAN: How did you decide - was there a debate in your mind about how to picture God?

Mr. CRUMB: Well, drawing God was hard. That was the hardest part. But I had this dream in the year 2000 that I saw God for a brief instant in my dream, and it was very powerful. It was a lucid dream, and he talked to me, but I couldn't bear to look at him longer than a split second. And he looked even more severe and more pained than the God that I drew. He was very severe, kind of like Mel Gibson when he's angry, you know? Like that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: He kind of looked like that, but you know, at the same time, he had the long, flowing white hair and beard like Michelangelo's God in the Sistine Chapel. You know, this is the patriarchal God of Western civilization, you know, the big father in the sky that we all fear so deeply.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: You should excuse the expression the Old Testament God.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah.

CONAN: Literally.

Mr. CRUMB: Which, you know, Jesus is the good cop. You know, he comes, and he's, you know, he's the nice side of God, the compassionate, the victim side of God, you know?

CONAN: Well, here's an email question from Liel(ph), I hope I'm getting that right, in Oakland.

Mr. CRUMB: Who?

CONAN: Liel, I think it is, or Tiel(ph), perhaps. You know, maybe I'm misreading it.

Mr. CRUMB: Liel, Tiel, whatever.

CONAN: Something like that. How did you make the decision that God was the classic old white guy? Any thoughts on other options or just went with the flow?

Mr. CRUMB: Well, he's described in the text as he and him, you know, and he's the ultimate patriarch. He's above all other patriarchs. So it's quite fitting that he be portrayed as a severe older man with long, flowing white hair, the longest hair of anybody and the longest beard of anybody.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: And he's very severe. You know, he doesn't have much patience for the human race, and who can blame him? If you were God, would you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: It would be very tempting to wipe out the human race if you were God, you know. This experiment's not working. Just forget it. We'll start over, clean slate. You know, you can see the temptation.

CONAN: One of the best - my favorite panels in the book is after God considers whether he should destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham is negotiating with him, saying if there are 100, would you destroy them if there were 100, and he finally...

Mr. CRUMB: He starts at 50. He starts at 50. If there were 50 good people, would you destroy it? Well, okay, well, if there's 50 I won't destroy it. If there's 40, would you destroy it? Well, okay, if there's 40, I won't. He stops at 10, I think, finally the conversation ends at 10, yeah.

CONAN: And we see Abraham walking away, doing the whew...

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, he's quite relieved to have that bargaining over with.

CONAN: Tough negotiator, God.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah. But you know, God's very personal in that, in that sequence. God's there. He's present. He's got to have a physical being.

CONAN: And about the same size as Abraham, too.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, maybe a little taller, you know, because he's a tall guy, but I didn't make him tremendously tall there, you know, because he comes originally in that chapter, he comes disguised as an ordinary person. It's not until he says some kind of like mind-reading thing that Abraham realizes oh, dear, it's the lord.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: It's an interesting chapter.

CONAN: Peter's(ph) on the line from Avalon in New Jersey. Peter, are you there?

PETER (Caller): Oh, hi there.

CONAN: Yeah.

PETER: Oh yes. I've already got the book, and I've read it and loved it. But I was just curious if...

Mr. CRUMB: Thank you.

PETER: I was just curious if Mr. Crumb would talk a little bit about the translation because I was impressed that he had used the Robert Alter translation sort of mixed in with some stuff from the King James...

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah.

PETER: ... to kind of give it his own sort of spin on it, which I thought was a really great choice. But I was just wondering if you would talk a little bit about that, about the Robert Alter version and how he found that.

Mr. CRUMB: Right. Yeah, I used Robert Alter's version mainly because he - it's a recent translation, and he studied every word of that old Hebrew very closely to get it right, and then I also use what's called the Jewish Publication Society version. It's this older Jewish translation. And sometimes the Jewish Publication Society version is a little smoother than Alter. Alter's translation is so careful and literate that sometimes it's a little bit stilted, just a little bit, a tad here and there, but it's very, very accurate. So it was the main one that I used.

But then I also liked some of the Biblical language of King James, which Alter takes out, like when King James will say "and behold," Alter says "and look," you know, which just doesn't have the Biblical ring that "behold" has. So I put back all the beholds.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Good poetry in King James, too.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, that's right. And what Alter says, and I'm sure it's true, that the original, the old Hebrew, since it's taken from recital, it has a kind of poetic cadence and plays on words and a kind of rhythm to it that's completely lost in any translation, which is unfortunate, but you know, the thing is so old, you know, it's bound to lose over time. It's just - it's bound to degrade over time. Unless you had, like, you know, a tape recording from 2000 B.C., you're going to lose something.

CONAN: In which case you could have quite a sale on eBay of that tape.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Peter, thanks very much for the call.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, thanks.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Michael(ph), Michael with us from Charlotte.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hey. I've actually had an opportunity to use the book as a visual aid in discussion about Biblical topics with folks...

Mr. CRUMB: You did?

MICHAEL: ...who would not otherwise use the Bible. I don't use it as a study guide, but like I said...

Mr. CRUMB: What kind of folks? I mean, in a group situation?

MICHAEL: Yes, in a group situation.

Mr. CRUMB: A Christian thing or what? Is it like a Christian group, a church?

MICHAEL: It is a - well, it's a Christian-based organization working with guys off the streets. So it's not necessarily...

Mr. CRUMB: That's very interesting.

MICHAEL: ...trying to convert anyone as much as it is to introduce them to Scripture. I did have a question, though.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah?

MICHAEL: With all that we know about the origins of man, African, you know, mitochondrial Eve and all the rest of that, I was a little disappointed with the absence of any pictorial representations of people of African descent.

Mr. CRUMB: Well, the only place you could possibly show that would be in Egypt. You know, there were some African - and in the old Egyptian paintings, sometimes people are black, sometimes they're red, sometimes they're yellow, sometimes they're white. You can't tell what's going on there, but among the Semitic people, you know, I just referred to, you know, the ancient Assyrian bas reliefs and all that and the Sumerian drawings, which they all look Semitic, basically.

CONAN: I think he's asking about since we now know that the origin of man, at least as far as science believes at the moment, was in Africa, didn't you want to re-change the image. But you're not drawing the story of Lucy, you're drawing the story of Adam and Eve.

Mr. CRUMB: Well, and Adam and Eve - it's a Hebrew story. So I just, I just decided - I did make a conscious decision to make Adam and Eve look Semitic, too. They've got black hair. They're, you know, they're kind of generic Semitic-looking. You know, a lot of times, Adam and Eve are portrayed as blonde-haired in traditional Western art. They're, like, Nordic-looking, which you know, I thought that, you know, considering that the Garden of Eden is somewhere down there in Iraq or somewhere in that area, that, you know...

CONAN: Have you ever been - and thanks very much for the call, Michael - have you ever been to the places that you're drawing in the book, to Israel and Syria and Jerusalem?

Mr. CRUMB: I was in Jerusalem once in 1995. That's about it. I'd love to go to Iraq, but you know, I'm not going to go there until things calm down a little bit. Because, you know, there's still lots of stuff to be dug up in Iraq, in - it's ancient Mesopotamia, and they know there's still libraries of those ancient cuneiform clay tablets buried in the ground there, but the place is so crazy now, they can't - I don't know if there's any archaeological digging still going on there now.

CONAN: I don't think there is at the moment. As it happened, back in 1991, I was in Iraq, in that part of the world, in the place that they believe was Ur, and...

Mr. CRUMB: Oh yeah, in '91?

CONAN: Yeah, well, it was under unfortunate circumstances. I was being escorted by the Iraqi army, but anyway...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: It was incredible to look at a place in the delta of where the two great rivers come together.

Mr. CRUMB: Tigris-Euphrates, yeah.

CONAN: Indeed. And you're amazed that any of the ground can hang on there at all. These great trees just seem to be the only thing that keep it there at all. At least in the spring, it was the floods and...

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah.

CONAN: ...it was - but an amazing-looking place, anyway.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to the callers. Let's go next to Chris(ph). Chris with us from Mentor in Ohio.

CHRIS (Caller): Hi, there. I had a question for your guest. I guess listening to all of the conversation, I'm unclear as to the motivations for coming up with the book because, you know, you make some references at being comic bookish, but then you're, you know, you're talking about - you're not necessarily, you know, a Western religion. Where do you, you know - did you write it out of like - this is going to sound harsh - mockery of Genesis or what was kind of your motivation, and that came out wrong, but at least I know...

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah.

CHRIS: ...what I'm trying to ask.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah. Well, have you seen the book? Have you read it?

CHRIS: No, I haven't. This is the first I've heard of it. So�

Mr. CRUMB: Okay.

CHRIS: �that's why I was trying to get a feel for, like, what�

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah.

CHRIS: �you know, what kind of the impetus was for�

Mr. CRUMB: Right.

CHRIS: �for coming up with it?

Mr. CRUMB: Well, if you read it, you'll see that there's no mockery in it, there's no attempt to satirize it or to make fun of it or ridicule it at all. I did it as a straight illustration job. And why I did it? The reasons are quite murky, you know? I'm not sure ever why I do anything precisely, you know. It's hard to nail down precisely.

I've been very interested in a long time in ancient stories. I've read a lot of ancient mythological stories of Sumer and Babylon and all that stuff, and then I kind of start comparing the Genesis stories to these other stories from that region. And I just - and the more I got interested, the more I thought, well, this might be interesting just to make a comic out of - without, you know - at first, like I said, I had worked up these kind of satires on Adam and Eve and wasn't satisfied with that. So I saw that this - just illustrate it as its written, you know, do a - refrain from making fun of it, don't put any visual jokes in because that will distract people from the text.

CHRIS: Right.

Mr. CRUMB: Just exposing the text with illustrations, it's - I think that's worth doing. I don't know. It was a lot of work. And I questioned sometimes whether it was worth doing, but�

CHRIS: Right.

Mr. CRUMB: �I don't know.

CHRIS: That clarifies it. Thank you very much.

Mr. CRUMB: Does it? That clarifies it, okay. Great.

CHRIS: Well, thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Chris.

CHRIS: Thank you.

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah, check it out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Here's an email from Eddie(ph). Read the book, my first Bible readings. Thanks, I think. Any plans to illustrate any more sacred text? And what is next from the hand of R. Crumb?

I have to say, as somebody also read it, saying, oh, come on. Please give me Job.

Mr. CRUMB: Give me a joke?

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Job. The Book of Job.

Mr. CRUMB: Oh, Job. Oh, Job. No, I'm finished with the Bible. I've done my, you know, my time on the Bible. Somebody else got to do the rest of it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We're talking with R. Crumb. He's the author most recently of "The Book of Genesis Illustrated," with us today from our member station KQED in San Francisco.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION coming to you from NPR News.

Let's go to Jim(ph). Jim with us from Spencer in Iowa.

JIM (Caller): Oh, hello, Mr. Crumb.

Mr. CRUMB: Yes.

JIM: I have always been fascinated with your work right down to the time when I was actually imitating your work.

Mr. CRUMB: Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

JIM: Yeah. I had to make a decent-sized version of the game board for Dealer McDope and - because it was tiny.

Mr. CRUMB: Hmm.

JIM: Anyway, I'm wondering how you work today, if you're still using, say, Rapidograph pens or what is your method of illustration and lettering right now?

Mr. CRUMB: I always used for printed work, generally the Crow Quill pen that you dip each time. And, you know, I use liberal amounts of Wite-Out nowadays. And I worked - on Genesis, I used a magnifying glass a lot for the fine details.

CONAN: It's much finer that people who remember the early comic book days�

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah.

CONAN: �this is real draftsmanship.

Mr. CRUMB: Well, I don't know about that. But it's a lot more detail and, yeah, it takes me a lot longer than I did back in the day when I was doing "Mr. Natural." That was easy compared to this.

But I will say that I improved my drawing working on Genesis. I think my ability to draw anatomy correctly and draped clothing correctly and camels and donkeys, that definitely improved. I can draw you a freehand camel now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Cool. Jim, thanks for the call.

Mr. CRUMB: For what's that's worth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JIM: I appreciate what you're doing in the sense that a lot of times when people read what's in the written word, they don't necessarily see, in the sense of somebody who's spent a lot of time considering what's happening. And I think this should help people solidify some of...

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah.

JIM: ...what's in the book.

Mr. CRUMB: You know, that's good, because I did - was very conscious of trying to make an illustration which informed the text, you know? And that took a lot of background reading and studying to make sure that I got it as accurate to the text as I could. And sometimes it's difficult. But...

JIM: Well, a lot more people will be reading the Bible, or this portion of the Bible...

Mr. CRUMB: Yeah.

JIM: ...as a result.

CONAN: Which goes to our next email. And, Jim, thanks very much for the call. This from Brooke(ph) in Oklahoma City. Just based on the panels available for review online, I could see this actually being used by churches as a teaching outreach tool. Giving your past relationship with Judeo-Christian beliefs, I'm curious how you feel if the work is used in an evangelistic method.

Mr. CRUMB: Hmm. Well, that's hard to imagine those kind of fundamentalists being receptive to this as a tool for evangelizing because, for one thing, there are panels in there showing people having sex. And the other thing is that if any of those evangelical people get a hold of my older work, say this Crumb, he's a pornographer. He's done, you know, this and that and the other thing that, you know, that would kill it for them right there, so they wouldn't want to touch it just for that reason.

But who knows? I have no idea. And so far, I have not got one single, like, truly hostile religious reaction at all so far. But who knows?

CONAN: It's early yet.

Mr. CRUMB: Right.

CONAN: Here's another email. We'll go to Lou(ph) in Boise. After living together for four years, how has Genesis changed your thinking?

Mr. CRUMB: Hmm. It hasn't really changed my thinking. I know a lot more about, you know, Bible history than I did before. But, you know, I wouldn't say that it's really changed my thinking.

CONAN: And on the basis of a lot of people who called with the question, what are you working on now? What's next?

Mr. CRUMB: I'm not telling. I don't like to talk about things I'm doing. It dissipates the energy if you talk about it.

CONAN: After working on a project that took four or more years, are you going to do something with a little more instant gratification? Let me just put it that way.

Mr. CRUMB: I think I'll go back to doing pornography. It's a good idea.

CONAN: Well, that sold well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CRUMB: No, actually it didn't, because my pornography - in my pornography, it was so personal and fetishistic that, you know, I was basically doing it for myself. I wasn't really pandering to anybody else's taste. It actually did not sell well. My sex stuff did not sell well. What they really liked was, you know, "Mr. Natural" and "Fritz the Cat." That's what the kids really wanted.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, maybe now they're going to be calling for more of "Genesis." Robert Crumb, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. CRUMB: Is that it? Okay.

CONAN: That's it.

Mr. CRUMB: I'm out of here. I'm out of here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: R. Crumb's new book is "The Book of Genesis Illustrated." He joined us today from KQED, our member station in San Francisco.

Coming up, a peek inside the most public of private relationships. Jodi Kantor on her New York Times magazine story "The Obama Marriage." That's next. Stay with us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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