I must confess, I purchased a 2009 edition of the graphic novel Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary by Justin Green purely on both its title and the incredibly detailed gilded cover. As I researched each entry on our provided selection of additional reading materials for class, I stopped when I found the delicate, yet hilarious design on this edition, showcasing many panels from the comic in the form of golden print as a reference to that of a holy manuscript. What I found inside once the book came in the mail was beyond any of my expectations.
I was never raised Catholic, but my mother was, which ultimately is the extent of my knowledge of the religion. That did not, though, devalue my own reading of the graphic novel, but more so gave me a unique perspective on the tale of Binky Brown as he is engulfed in sexual repression and religious guilt. I can not say I have had the experience of being surrounded by religion, which makes this comedic and dark tale more foreign.
Immediately upon opening the book, I found the full page title introduction drawn in Justin Green’s incredible art style references vintage illustrations while abstracting the idea of religious typography. Taking place within the late 40s and early 50s, the illustrations both capture and abstract the time period. It’s in situations such as when the protagonist Binky loses his childhood innocence when learning the meaning of the word “Fuck” or when his fingers, toes, and even complete feet become penises that I knew this graphic novel was not something I would want to show my grandparents. (I did show my dad, though, which was an experience of its own.)
The symbolism of the graphic novel is incredible and the imagery had me laughing every corner. Creepy details such as comparing strands of hair jutting from a nun’s forehead to hairs coming from a bikini constantly mixed religion and sex is the most unnerving ways. I was incredibly impressed. I began seeing similarities between the works of Crumb and Binky Brown, going long distances to break what even to today is socially acceptable. Horrifyingly vulgar images of Binky’s fantasy self are showcased as his male peers announce how they should, “Look at his muscles…” and that, “nevermind, the muscle, behold his mighty pecker!” These images were never ending and I never felt that they should end. As Binky battles his sins and strange attractions to the Virgin Mary, I found myself witnessing the young boy falling deeper into madness.
What interested me the most about Binky Brown was how he develops a character throughout the piece. We see him in childhood innocence, his unknowingly growing sexual behaviors, his feelings of disgust toward his Jewish father, his world turned upside when he is placed in a Jewish school, and his ultimate twist in denying religion overall. I was extremely drawn to how by the end of the graphic novel, Binky had rejected the church, yet “Our Lady” loomed over him as “a supernatural reality somewhere ‘Out There’”. He ages and begins experimenting with all forms of sin and other trends that he would previously deny in his young age. In one final resolution, all of the bizarre sexual imagery comes to a masterful conclusion where Binky, now a strangely child-like adult smashes a dozen small Madonnas while in his underwear, crushing them beneath his now penis-shaped feet. As magical, sexual lasers fire from his feet and fingertips, we see Binky destroy all of what he perceives as the cause of the chaos in his life.
While I do not relate to the comedic and horrific interpretation of religious and sexual frustrations of Justin Green’s work, I fully support Binky Brown. It satirizes Catholicism in 40s and 50s America is ways that push boundaries far beyond uncomfortable. I am a firm believer in messing with what society considers correct for the sake of storytelling and art. I am incredibly pleased that Justin Green made me squirm and laugh the entire way through his story.