Justin Green’s Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary transcends our cultural limitations we place on religion and sexuality. Green’s comics narrative is so grounded in an exposure of taboo, that it almost slips into the realm of confessionalist poetry among Plath, Sexton, Ginsberg, and Berryman. The introduction to Binky Brown provides a scaffold for the play of the holy and the dirty that will unfold before us. We see the artist, Green, bound up to an Inquisition-esque torture device, confiding in us that this narrative is not just for entertainment, but also for the sanity of Green himself. As the record player spouts a rendition of “Ave Maria,” we are made aware just how private of an experience we have the privilege of witnessing in this work. Binky Brown is a chance for us to sit in the confessional booth and learn something in the gray space that emerges when the tension between the sacred and the sexual is exposed.
The graphic novel’s sense of openness with regards to nudity and sexual exploration is its most jarring feature. The relationship between American ethics/values and Catholicism is stripped down, consumed, and altered by Green. Panels depicting Binky and his father urinating, nude women, and Binky’s concept of his parents engaging in intercourse may strike us – an American audience – as so wrong because we simply do not see these things depicted all too often in our visual media. Binky’s first orgasm, caused by a toy pig, is so absurd yet so real that I’m immediately drawn toward the honesty. These are things that are rarely explored, developed, or even talked about. However, I can remember seeing, imagining, and thinking about these things from an early age. Even at the beginning of the graphic novel we are thrown right to the core of our greatest moral conundrum: censoring these kinds of images does not simply make them disappear. I’m reminded of Foucault’s The History of Sexuality, and in particular his theory of repression leading to expression. Binky’s repeated attempts to repress his sexual preoccupations results in visions of everyday objects becoming phallic. The more he tries to escape the images, the more they populate his world. One of Green’s most innovative techniques comes out of Binky’s repression here. The beams of light that shoot out of the phallic images create anxiety inducing scenes. Coming from every direction, there is little hope of evading their sinister effects. This visual technique opens up what our society rarely talks about: the fear of the unknown that accompanies our first experiences with sexuality. Green’s depiction of the soul as a blackening lung is an image that I actually thought in terms of while going through Catholic school. It is in these images that Green is saying things that no one else was saying at the time. I’ve found that most successful literature makes me pause and realize, wow! I’ve thought that too! Green, like Plath and Ginsberg, is certainly saying those things.
I was deeply moved by the (for lack of a better word) climax of the graphic novel, and its ability to psychoanalytically marry childhood trauma with our very adult desire to be free from that which shaped us. Binky ultimately destroys the statues of the Virgin Mary with the beams of light that traumatized him before. Even though he is freed from the plague of Catholic guilt, he ironically uses the beams (an extension of the guilt) to rid himself of the guilt. This is the problem that many of us face. Our childhoods really do shape us in ways that we are not always aware. Green uses the sacrilegious, the grotesque, and the unholy to show us that we cannot possibly escape the constraints of a childhood trauma without being honest with ourselves first.
We are all a sum of our experiences. Any attempt to hide those experiences from ourselves will result in a tumor that we willingly feed our own sanities to.