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There’s a new Chester Brown book coming out, and it’s a doozy. It’s called Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, and it examines stories of bibles heroines via their relationship with prostitution. This profession was at the heart of Chester Brown’s previous book, Paying For It, which is all about how he switched to seeing prostitutes instead of dating nearly 20 years ago. (It’s also an argument for the full legalization of sex work and a call for respect for those who do this work.)

Of course, because it’s Chester Brown, Mary Wept is as weird a comic book as you will ever find. The cartooning is awesome, totally deadpan in its depiction of a naked God, naked men and women, sex acts, violence, ritual prostitution and much more. The stories of Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba and Ruth from the Old Testament are full of drama and emotion, but you’d never know it from Brown’s emotionless characters, The women seem to be toughing it out in a brutal society, playing the odds to get some respect or property in a social system that’s rigged against them. The men are all motived purely by their brain stems, it seems.

And because this is Chester Brown there are also 100 pages of notes about how he did his research to come up with the idea that Mary, mother of Jesus, was herself a prostitute.

It’s all weird and compelling as hell. Brown’s interest in telling bible stories predates even his interest in prostitution, as his abandoned gospel adaptations from the back pages of Yummy Fur attest. Now it’s all put together in one stunning polemic.

And here come the interviews! From Salon:

Where did you first get a sense of prostitution in the Bible and how widespread it was?

It’s no secret — there are quite a few Biblical characters who are prostitutes. The significant thing for me was when I first had that sense that perhaps the Virgin Mary was a prostitute. The book that prompted that thinking was called “The Illegitimacy of Jesus,” by a Biblical scholar named Jane Schaberg. Her theory was that Mary – the mother of Jesus – was a rape victim, and she pointed to the existence of these women in the genealogy for Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew – the odd fact that Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba and Ruth are all mentioned in there even though women are nearly never mentioned in ancient genealogies. There are several other women who could have been mentioned, but Matthew, or whoever wrote that gospel, seemed to be focusing on women who were involved in some kind of sexual impropriety. And that indicated to me, once I rethought the theory, not that Mary had been raped, but that she had been involved in some sexual impropriety.

 

Charles Hatfield has a long review that points out things like the “yonic imagery” of the book. For those who don’t know, yonic means it looks like a vajazzle.

So, this is a book in which mixed messages—born of navigating between texts, and between female and male—will be the very basis of conflict. That conflict turns out to be mainly argumentative rather than dramatic in nature; the mini-dramas conveyed through comics are so disparate, and loosely joined, that it takes Brown’s hundred pages of back-matter to explain why they’ve all been roped together. Mary Wept, then, continues Brown’s habit (indulged in the biographical Louis Riel and autobiographical/political Paying for It) of pitting his comics, with their deadpan humor and knockout cartooning, against a ream of discursive notes written out in his distinctive hand. These voluminous notes seem to want to reason with the reader, whereas the comics want to provoke and challenge. The comics are the more interesting part, yet I confess that as soon as I began reading the book I found myself wanting to spend time with the discursive Brown of the back-matter. That’s me, I guess, always wanting to get the work out of the way before the fun starts. If reading comics is a matter of seeking wholeness by working out the relationships among fragments—in Scott McCloud’s familiar term, seeking closure—then Brown’s recent books raise the problem to a macro level by juxtaposing comics that perplex with notes that seek to explain. Mary Wept does this to death, and so easy closure ain’t to be had. I have to admit, though, that I enjoyed arguing with Brown, in my head.

 

And here’s some art; it speaks for itself!
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Brown is on tour for the book; at his last tour he did readings and they were pretty amazing, so I’ll be at my local one for sure.
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