Speaking as one of those individuals who lacks the capacity to understand sarcasm at times (even when it’s blatantly obvious, it tends to fly over my head) I’m better at grasping crude humor when it’s on the table. Such is the case with R. Crumb: Bible of Filth, originally published back in 1986, is a real collector’s item for hardcore Robert Crumb fans as it never saw a release in the United States due to its graphic sexual content. Pun intended.
This is interesting for me as I wasn’t even born until five years after this was released, but that’s fine as there’s extra material that wasn’t in the original. Full disclosure: I’ve unfamiliar with the bulk of Crumb’s work, which either makes me the perfect – or worst – candidate to review one of his unreleased books. I’d like to think the former; being unready for the content, I dove in with about as much readiness as I could muster, though when it comes to Robert Crumb I’m not sure there’s enough readiness in the world.
As the title suggests, there’s plenty to make you feel guilty about reading it even behind the privacy of a closed door. When I was going through the Crumb’s artwork I found my emotions swinging between mild discomfort to rolling my eyes at the content. There’s no set narrative to follow as most of the material outlines situations with sketches of men and women in various state of undress, often in situations you’d never see in a family paper.
What I did find interesting was how Crumb wasn’t scared to let loose every bit of his perverse humor across the pages. I was rolling my eyes at the silly drama between two women meeting on a street corner and duking it out over a man they both liked. Other times I found myself scouring a page trying to make out what was going on between two figures before it clicked. Even with all the various nudity and nakedness throughout, there were political messages scattered throughout that surprised with their frankness (even when I didn’t quite agree).
There’s no sense of shame or provocation throughout these pages and bold as they are, it proved to be a challenge to get through to the next page. I don’t normally find this kind of humor funny, but at times Crumb did have me grinning with glee at the hyper-sexualized situations he creates. There were pieces that fell short and were more confusing than amusing, and yet…often still left me laughing despite what I had thought was my better judgment. What does that say about me?
Honestly, I’m probably not the proper audience to appreciate Crumb’s sense of humor to the fullest. If you’re a longtime Crumb fan, you’ll know what to expect before even opening the front cover; to everyone else, proceed with caution. Still, it’s fascinating to browse through Bible of Filth and come out feeling greasier as a result, but still glad I made the effort. There lay the hilarity, at least for me. There’s something about reading highly questionable content I hope none of my friends catch me browsing through and will probably keep hidden in the back of my closet. Who knows, maybe they’re reading it too.