Synopses & Reviews
Reviewed by A. David Lewis On one level Brown’s new graphic novel is a stunning piece of exegesis. His 2011 graphic memoir Paying for It nakedly 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." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
The idiosyncratic master Chester Brown continues his thoughts on sex work
The Bible is Chester Brown s holy harlot. He plumbs the mysteries of her depths while she schools him in the ways of love. Like all of Chester s work, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is confounding, yet addictive, instantly re-readable, and expands with revelations in his hundred pages of notes. A work of passion, research, and elegant clarity. My new favourite. Craig Thompson, author of Blankets and Habibi
Chester Brown is both God s and the devil s gift to the world. David Henry Sterry, author of Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys
Chester s work never fails to surprise and delight me. Since I always enjoy mythic and legendary tales of harlots, I knew I would like Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, but I was pleased and impressed by the way he used all these stories to illustrate a larger theme about humanity s relationship to Divinity and the role my profession plays in that relationship. Chester shows that spirituality and sexuality, which are so often depicted in our culture as opposed to one another, are actually deeply intertwined. Maggie McNeill, author of The Honest Courtesan
The iconoclastic and bestselling cartoonist of Paying for It: A comic-strip memoir about being a john and Louis Riel returns and with a polemical interpretation of the Bible that will be one of the most controversial and talked-about graphic novels of 2016. Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is the retelling in comics form of nine biblical stories that present Chester Brown's fascinating and startling thesis about biblical representations of prostitution. Brown weaves a connecting line between Bathsheba, Ruth, Rahab, Tamar, Mary of Bethany, and the Virgin Mother. He reassesses the Christian moral code by examining the cultural implications of the Bible's representations of sex work.
Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus is a fitting follow-up to Brown's sui generis graphic memoir Paying for It, which was reviewed twice in The New York Times and hailed by sex workers for Brown's advocacy for the decriminalization and normalization of prostitution. Brown approaches the Bible as he did the life of Louis Riel, making these stories compellingly readable and utterly pertinent to a modern audience. In classic Chester Brown fashion, he provides extensive handwritten endnotes that delve into the biblical lore that informs Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus.