bloody quest to find her and exact revenge
on the people who ruined his dreams.
Drawn mostly in black and white occasionally spattered with vivid red blood,
this graphic novel benefits from Hinkle’s
uniquely twisted character designs and
incredibly textured linework, which made
his previous work on books such as Airboy
so distinctive. His flair for detail makes the
already-disturbing subject matter truly
repulsive at times. McNamara, whose previous book First Moon won a Xeric Grant,
crams the story with twists and turns.
What makes this horrific tale especially
eerie is its connection to a real-life event
that almost befell McNamara himself.
Drawing on this chilling inspiration,
McNamara hauntingly explores just how
easy it is for good people to go bad. (Mar.)
The Book of Hope
Tommi Musturi. Fantagraphics, $34.99
(224p) ISBN 978-1-60699-877-9
Finnish artist Musturi finds grace in
the quotidian in this dense visual feast, in
which characters with the stocky, universality of classic comic strip figures cavort
through swaths of neon and acid colors.
Centered on the rich inner life of a retiree,
this book is both hallucinatory and routine.
Hikes through the forest are followed by
epic, wild west–themed dreams. Moments
of reflection in a sauna chase dizzyingly
complicated scenes of violence. Above all,
Musturi focuses on mortality and change
on the micro and macro scales. Its themes
are a little leaden at times—his eagerness
to express a weighty thought drags more
than a few pages into didacticism. But the
book’s visual splendor, especially in its
depiction of rural Finland, elevates it into
something more magical. This is a slow,
thoughtful, meandering journey of a book
that, despite its missteps, is worth a long
look. Those interested in alternative
comics, nature illustration, and experimental approaches to storytelling will
find much to linger over. (Feb.)
★ Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus
Chester Brown. Drawn & Quarterly, $21.95 (280p) ISBN 978-1-77046-234-2
On one level, Brown’s new graphic novel is a stunning piece of exegesis. His 2011 graphic memoir, Paying for It, na- kedly recounted his years of hiring sex workers and his changing attitude toward prostitution—evolving from a
nervous john to a thoughtful connoisseur and advocate of the
often-reviled oldest profession. Following his previous examination of the financial, social, familial, and medical objections
to sanctioned prostitution, the new book delivers more than a
well-researched argument, imaginatively reconstructed from
Scripture, against a Judeo-Christian condemnation of sex work:
rather, it’s a full-fisted counterpunch right to the biblical “souler” plexus.
Brown’s thesis is that the Bible endorses prostitution, but does so in a coded
manner. By reverting to what he believes is the uncensored version of Jesus’s parables—the Aramaic version of Matthew’s Gospel—and the “sexual initiative” shown
by the women in the Old Testament treatments of Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, he
aims to overturn a sacred attitude. Not only was the “virginal” Mary, Jesus’s mother, herself a prostitute, Brown contends, but Jesus himself had no objection to her
work, unlike James or later Paul. Therefore, neither should modern-day Christians.
Much as with Paying for It and Louis Riel, Brown keeps the art minimal, using
the pace of his panels rather than facial expressions or body language to communicate tone, suspense, or emotion. A casual reader might flip through the pages and
consider them cartoony were it not for women’s exposed breasts, unobscured copulating, and an image of God as not much more than a nude giant. This overall dichotomy between deadpan cartooning and wildly violent, sexual episodes is a hallmark of Brown’s work: staying graphically essential in order to have the reader confront matter as viscerally as possible.
The art is kept clear and simple, the vignettes short and direct, in order to maintain Brown’s message: prostitution is not wrong, and if the Bible were read/depicted
correctly (i.e. as Brown—and apparently Matthew the disciple—intend), it would
confirm that. Extensive notes, citations, and explanations for the Spartan scenes fill
the book’s last 100 pages, which promises to keep scholars and religionists engaged
and in debate for a long time. Given the amount of effort expended, it’s an impressive, worthwhile, and even brave text.
On another level, however, the issue isn’t so much the message but the product.
Brown’s approach, though logical, academic and detached, still smacks of a strange
naïveté. If one reads the afterword and then delves into his notes, the rationale for
his seemingly shocking interpretations are explained. But only the most devoted—or repulsed—are likely to read that additional material. The majority will
wield this book as a loud, blunt instrument either for the gleeful exploitation of
prostitutes or for the hellfire condemnation of whoring, as Brown feels was done with
Matthew’s work, the oldest of the Gospels. Mary Wept is a politely inflammatory
treatise, but it will likely be targeted more often than it’s read. (April)
A. David Lewis has a doctorate in religious studies and is the author of the Eisner-nominated
American Comic Books, Literary Theory, and Religion: The Superhero Afterlife.
Reviewed by A. David Lewis