In his latest graphic novel, Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, Chester Brown makes a few arguments that might be called unorthodox. One is that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was probably a sex worker (and proud of it), and that Jesus himself was pro-prostitution. Another is that God doesn’t expect blind, slavish devotion and obedience from his followers, but instead rewards those who think for themselves.
Brown is not a biblical scholar, and from reading his afterword, acknowledgments, and notes—which occupy almost 100 pages of this 280-page book—one could easily conclude that he has arrived at the above notions because he would really like them to be true. Brown’s last book,Paying for It, chronicled the Montreal-based cartoonist’s own experience of hiring prostitutes. The follow-up attempts to show that western society’s anti-sex-work bias doesn’t align with Christ’s true teachings.
To wrap your head around where Brown is coming from, it might help to know that he identifies as a Christian but doesn’t believe that Jesus was the son of God. Needless to say, he doesn’t put much stock in the immaculate-conception idea. Brown is asking important questions, even if the answers he proposes won’t sit well with most of his fellow Christians.
In any case, you don’t have to buy Brown’s thorny thesis to appreciate the rest of Mary Wept, in which he graphically retells a number of biblical parables, including the stories of Cain and Abel, Ruth, Job, and Bathsheba. His simple, clean illustration style (familiar to readers of past works such as Louis Riel) is, as always, wonderful, and his preference for contemporary speech over King James–style language (as when Adam tells Abel, “It looks to me like you’re sitting on your ass”) does much to make the characters relatable. It might not change your mind on the issues of prostitution and religious obedience, but it is a fascinating read nonetheless.