The Illustrated Story – In the Beginning(s)

In the Beginning(s)

Genesis (1997)

Illustrated by Ed Young

A Laura Geringer Book

“To me, Genesis represents the very beginning of all possibility – the energy that is the seed of life,” writes Ed Young in the introduction of this splendid little book.

Although I almost wonder if the smallness of the vilum works against it.  We’re dealing with abstractions here.  Each opposing page has a line from the King James version of the book of Genesis, set alongside Young’s best attempt to capture that thought artistically.  I would love to know more about his thought process in this.  For example, the first illustration is:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  And the earth was wihtout form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

Well, what would you paint?  Young presents a textured, dark red background, within which sit two vaguely human-shaped forms, one large, one small.  Is this God?  Is this the void?  The “firmament in the midst of the waters” takes the form of a bright stretch of light acorss a dark, thundercloud of blue and gray.

The only thing which is distinct are the two “great lights” set within the firmament of heaven.  Even when we get into the territory of the animals – birds of the air, fish of the sea – they are only vague and indistinct.  A feather, a fin, a hand, lost in a swirl of color.

I wish the book had been larger.  Much larger.  It reminds me a bit of looking at the paintings of Mark Rothko in books and not understanding what the big deal was.  It was only when I saw them in person and was overwhelmed by their sheer size that at last was in awe.  These illustrations too, I feel, could benefit from such an enlargement.  What would the impact be if the black and red shapes meant to signify God and Void were large and encompassing instead of small and compact within this book?

Nonetheless, this is a beautiful book.  But the beauty isn’t limited to the paintings.

“The endpapers,” Young writes, “are composed of the names of hundreds of endangered and extinct animals, with those that are extinct highlighted; for I also see in Genesis a gentle reminder that the earth is ours to protect.”

Creation (2003)

Written and illustrated by Gerald McDermott

Dutton Children’s Books

My telling is based on Genesis 1:1 through 2:3 of the Hebrew Bible, with an eye toward its antecedents in the ancient Near East, such as the Babylonian epic Enuma Elish, and sources as diverse as the illuminated Bibles Moralisees of 13th Century France and the Sarajevo Haggadah of 14th Century Spain.

A tall order, Mr. McDermott.  Though, to be fair, this is the same guy who wrote and illustrated the classic Anansi the Spider and many other cultural trickster tales from the world over.  McDermott has earned his credentials.  When he speaks, I listen.  When he writes, “The voice of the story is an inner one that begins with a breath and a whisper, a spark ignited within us all that grows to illuminate the universe,” I take him at his word.

The size of the book is what initially impressed me.  However, its first image makes ironic use of that size.  It is just a large, black page with a tiny gray dot in the center.  There is no text.  There appears to be movement within.

This is a story told in the first person.  “I was before time.  I was everywhere.  There was nothing.  I was there.”  God appears as a large, gray, textured breeze floating in the blackness of space.  Then the gray turns sheet white, which becomes the foam on the rolling waters, above which hover dark and stormy rain clouds, between them a strand of blackness, all the meanwhile God is still narrating:

I gathered together the waters below and made the sea.  Out of the sea I brought the earth.

Things are beginning to make spatial sense at this point.  The earth rises like a giant tortoise shell from the murky depths.  Soon it is covered with grass and tress, growing larger and larger, taking over the whole of the planet.  At this point, McDermott unleashes his whole palette of colors.  Reds and oranges and yellows are what he uses to fill the sky with stars and suns, which become the wings of colorful birds and underwater creatures, animals of every kind rising out of the sea and moving inland – a reference to God’s hand being instrumental in Darwinian evolution?

Regardless, McDermott loves animals.  His creatures always have a two-dimensional look about them, but taken together with so many and so brightly colored, they fill the pages with beauty and life and movement.  The charging of the rhinoceros and elephant and lion and boar seem as though they are charging toward life, rushing toward the earth with zealousness.

Lastly come the humans – curiously blue-skinned and faceless with wild multi-colored hair, reaching toward the atmosphere.

With the final few pages, the Big Bang seems to have begat the Big Crunch, as all the animals, the birds, the fish, the plants, the sea, all of it swirls about the people in a receding cyclone, until all that is left is that small dot, in parallel with the first page, but housing now a fetus in embryo.

I am all this.  All this I AM.


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