Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus

I have been a fan of Chester Brown's comics for a long while now. He is a well established and respected graphic novelist who broke into the comics world in the 1980s with his series Yummy Fur. This eclectic comic book contained serial stories, autobiographical material, and adaptations of the New Testament Gospels. These stories have been published individually as Ed, The Happy Clown, The Playboy, and I Never Liked You. He has also delved into nonfiction, creating a graphic biography of Louis Riel, a controversial figure in Canadian history. Most recently, he published a defense of prostitution called Paying For It. He is a multiple Harvey Award winner.

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is a melding of some of his first comics works and his latest interests. It builds from the theories of a few religious scholars to interpret certain Bible stories and passages in New Testament that point to Jesus actually being the son of a prostitute. But it also follows a thesis that the Biblical God does not so much reward blind following as he does those who actively question and push against the boundaries of faith. So, Brown here adapts Bible stories having to do with prostitution as well as The Book of Job, and provides copious endpapers, which contain essays, footnotes, and justifications, and take up about a third of the book. Not just a straight adaptation, this is a work of scholarship that goes into territory that will be uncomfortable, if not blasphemous, to many.

Still, I feel this is a very strong book, full of food for thought. It is well reasoned and well presented. I also think that Brown's spare artwork is extraordinary. These stories take on iconographic import, almost like black and white stained windows. Their lack of affect also lends a sort of omniscience, the narration a sort of authority-from-on-high, to the proceedings. I know this book will not be for everyone, but it is certainly the work of an adept and accomplished artist/thinker.

All of the reviews I have read of this book identify it as a work well worth exploring. Oliver Sava called it "a fascinating look at how women in the Bible used their bodies for personal gain without incurring the wrath of God." Charles Hatfield wrote that it "may be heretical and strange, but it’s also honest and generous." Etelka Lehoczky remarked that it "brims over with earnest faith and compassion."

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus was published by Drawn & Quarterly, and they have a preview and much more about the book available here. Brown speaks about his inspirations and work on it in this interview.

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