R. Crumb sells 120k copies of Genesis

Tom Spurgeon reports that R. Crumb’s Genesis graphic novel sold 120,000 copies.

Two comments: First, after all the hype for Genesis, I actually think that book was underplayed a bit in comics circles, perhaps because a lot of typical opinion-makers were slow in catching up to it. I think I’ve encountered more “I finally got around to this book and it blew me away” confessionals on this book than on anything I can remember for a long, long time. Second, I think it’s worth pointing out that the performance of this book marked a good year for major releases from the art comics-interested New York prose publishers after a what I believe were perceived as a couple of down seasons.

32 thoughts on “R. Crumb sells 120k copies of Genesis

  1. Even allowing for the usual publisher hyperbole, that’s astonishing.

    Honestly, I can’t imagine who would buy this book. For me, it’s one of those curiosities you flip through at the bookstore. I did. The art is great, obviously, but it’s not like I hadn’t read the story before. And Genesis isn’t even the best book in the Bible…not by a long shot.

    For me, cool art isn’t enough to justify buying a book. I see it once, great, I’m done, next. I need narrative, dammit, new and interesting narrative. But maybe I’m alone.

    Whatever. We are all alone.

  2. Yeah, I was a bit shocked too. I’m a big Crumb fan and I’m happy for him, but I’ll never stop being amazed at the selling power of religious material.

  3. Ted,

    Besides Crumb’s art — which shows no progression from his past work, but no diminution, either — I think the book has a few things going for it:

    – A simple concept
    – Not watered-down for kids
    – Inexpensive cover price

    For myself, there’s some humor and irony in imagining that perhaps one reason the book is selling so well is because it’s being carried in Christian bookstores.

  4. It may be that Crumb can sell just about anything. Consider how well reprints of his notebooks do. It also doesn’t hurt to have a major publicity machine ensuring reviews in The New York Times Book Review, etc. (Speaking of yet another reason print isn’t dead…the influence of print newspapers on book sales is vast.)

  5. “A quick search tells me that Christian bookstores aren?t exactly embracing this…”

    They don’t have to, I don’t think. There are easily enough skeptics who enjoy things that annoy Christians in the U.S. alone to sell 120,000 copies. Not saying that only atheists bought this – I’m sure a fair share of Christians did too. I’m just saying that it seems to be a bit of a hobby in Western culture these days to annoy religious people. And this kind of thing is being controversial about what is already a controversial topic, and everyone loves a little bit of drama. I’d think it would be fairly easy to sell this given just a small amount of publicity from the right places, which this had. To be honest, I’m surprised it hasn’t sold more than 120,000 by now.

  6. I personally don’t think this is one of Crumb’s great works, but as a feat of sheer cartoonist weightlifting, it’s pretty impressive. I was surprised by how crowded it started to look as it went along–no room for splashes or starting new chapters on new pages! And I’m also not surprised Christian bookstores haven’t embraced it–despite such standard Christian tropes as portraying God as an old guy with a big, white beard, it sticks pretty closely to the traditionally Jewish reading, which is to say, it doesn’t treat the whole thing as if it’s one big metaphor for the eventual arrival of Christ.
    As for Ted Rall’s assertion that the Book of Genesis isn’t “even the best book of the Bible”, I’d love to know what he thinks that book is.
    And yeah, Crumb’s name can sell anything. It’s good to be Crumb.

  7. For plot, I’d pick Exodus. For the life of Jesus, I like Luke. And Revelations is fun weirdness.

    Not overly into Psalms, but they’ve grown on me over the years.

  8. The next time you get knocked up or knock someone up accidentally, blame God. “I’m a virgin. It was the Lord!” See how far that gets you.

  9. Yeah, I think it’s the fact that Crumb’s now a mainstream cartoonist that drove sales on this. It’s probably just one of ‘the’ books to have bought this season. Heck, I bought it for that reason. I’m not the biggest Crumb fan in the world, but I’m curious to see what he did here.

  10. I’m not surprised by the sales. It was well promoted. If it just showed up in the local comic store, it’s possible I’d have never even seen it. But when I heard the interview with Crumb on NPR, I immediately ordered it.

  11. An exhibit of the book’s art just closed at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and I saw it last week. I was very impressed by Crumb’s art and effort, trying to be faithful to the text and reasonably accurate about clothing, architecture and such. He made the traditional text very accessible to non-bible readers and even dealt well with all the dry “begat” chronologies.

  12. @Ted Rall “For plot, I?d pick Exodus. For the life of Jesus, I like Luke. And Revelations is fun weirdness.”

    I don’t do the New Testament. And everyone’s entitled to their preference. Exodus is, indeed, a fine, relatively straightforward story, with easy to understand conflict and tensions, though as narrative it gets sidetracked a fair amount in expositions on law and precise instructions on how to build Arks. But in defense of Genesis, I think it’s the weirdest, most baffling, most disturbing part of Bible and it only becomes more so as you spend more time with it. I suspect that’s what attracted Crumb to it as well.

  13. I thought the plot for the life of Jesus was pretty OK until the surprise ending. He comes back from the dead and everything is happy through some Dues ex machina plot device. It felt like the author was pandering.

  14. Good choices Ted. 😉 For OT reading I’ve always been partial to Ecclesiastes myself. Much to short and circular for a good graphic novel though (that and no action, just thought). Terry, I think Genesis was chosen strictly as a marketing decision. It’s the most well known and mythic.

  15. Ecclesiastes is cool too.

    I would appreciate a good Classics Illustrated treatment of the whole Bible, as well as other major religious texts.

  16. @Rich “I think Genesis was chosen strictly as a marketing decision. It?s the most well known and mythic.”

    I doubt very much that Crumb sat down with a group of marketing guys and decided that a graphic novel treatment of Genesis was just the thing to make big money. Crumb did it because purely because he wanted to–it’s the only reason he’s ever done anything, as far as I know–and he chose Genesis because it’s the most interesting part of the Bible, at least in terms of narrative. I don’t have anything against Ecclesiastes, but it’s not really a story, is it?

  17. Everybody is obsessed with origin stories. Look at how many times they’ve already done Batman. Now they’re going to go back and restart Spiderman. It’s the only interesting part of those stories.

  18. Terry, I’m not saying he sat down with marketing guys (although based on it’s high visibility marketing effort, he did at some point), but I think he had some things going for him with Genesis. First, the beginning is often a natural starting point, unless you are George Lucas, and second, I’m saying he knew it instinctively … and even a third point, it was probably most familiar to him. All three point to the marketability. The text itself points toward fertile illustration and cartooning. For example, I doubt he’d have decided to do Numbers or Deuteronomy. Tom, good point on origin stories.

    Ted, back in the 60s or 70s Robert L. Short (Gospel of Peanuts author) did a nice photo essay on Ecclesiastes. It was pretty good in it’s day, given the culture of the time. I don’t know about a classic illustration of the whole bible, but I continue my work on the cartoon illustration of it (single panels). 😉 Other religious texts too would be fun and interesting to see/do. One just has to be very careful in this arena!

  19. “Everybody is obsessed with origin stories. Look at how many times they?ve already done Batman. Now they?re going to go back and restart Spiderman. It?s the only interesting part of those stories.”

    Yeah, I liked that story where the main character dies and then he comes back to life and he’s even cooler than before.

    Superman, that is.

  20. Ted said: “The next time you get knocked up or knock someone up accidentally, blame God. ?I?m a virgin. It was the Lord!? See how far that gets you.”

    The virgin birth is interesting certainly – but what’s really more interesting is the fact that a Jewish man at the time would accept her as such.

  21. “what?s really more interesting is the fact that a Jewish man at the time would accept her as such.”

    Covered in Matthew 1:
    19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.

    20 But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

    21 And, in his dream, Joseph looked down, and saw that he was NAKED and yet none other had noticed it, so that he covered HIMSELF with his hands and attempted to depart.

    22 But a professor came unto HIM and said, “Take thee now this final exam, or thou shalt fail and be expelled from college.”

    23 And Joseph replied, “But I have not been to class, nor studied for the TEST nor even bought the book. How am I to take this final?”

    24 But then he was beset upon by wolves, and though he tried to flee, yet his legs became as stone and would not move, and his feet slipped even upon the sand so that he could not leave THAT place.

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