Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary by Justin Green
Reviewed by C. Tyler, long time Binky fan.
There are two boxes of the just reissued Binky Brown in his hallway. Sent by the publisher, they are Justin’s complimentary copies. Still in the boxes, yet unopened.
It’s not surprising. Those two boxes will probably remain like that for quite a long time. You see Justin is perpetually reticent about his great work. Sending copies to people, marketing, promotion — it’s
just not his thing. In fact, this whole reprint project spearheaded by Art Spiegelman with McSweeney’s has made him feel uncomfortably exposed again, as it did when he created Binky almost 40 years ago.
Why is this, you may wonder. Well when you read this book you will have the answer.
This underground classic from the comix era has held up. It remains a “ray” of pure genius. It is considered to be one of the most significant, groundbreaking contributions to comics history and Justin
is considered the Father of the Autobiographical comic. It has earned this designation not only because of its humor, artistry and craftsmanship but also because of its honest, unflinching appraisal
and confrontation of one’s personal truth.
In support, I have listed here 5 salient points, in no particular order, that explain a little more why this is.
Innovation in form
Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary was produced during the early days of the San Francisco Underground, when artists departed from the norm (DC/Marvel) and reinvented the form. Emphasis was on ‘anything goes’ in terms of subject matter, creator owned content produced with no editorial input. Justin was on the forefront of this energy. Without contract or provocation, he produced this remarkable work. Printed by Last Gasp, it was the first comic to grind away at the problems of self.
Despite the overwhelming compulsion/revulsion it took to produce it, Justin tackled sensitive, difficult and (for that time) stigmatized subject matter, i.e. mental illness. His foray into this taboo subject
matter was a first of its kind and opened the door to the flood of confessional/self-referenced style comics that have followed.
Some people think that Binky Brown is a “fantastic” story in the sense of having a manufactured intensity, that Justin had tweaked the truth here and there in order to intensify the drama of his situation.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This is an honest and painful work, representing Justin’s reality then as it still does today.
When I first read Binky almost 30 years ago, I loved it for the places where it intersected with my own experiences: the 50s, Catholicism gone awry, the Chicagoland area. But I also loved the personal feel of the work. Right away, I felt empathy for him, the author/character. I couldn’t believe how the story jumped off the page and shot directly at me — I had never had this experience from a comic book before.
Binky is impressive in its literacy. It’s amazing how skillfully Justin orchestrated the tone and timbre of language and expression, juggling the erudite with the colloquial in a manner that seems
effortless. The narrator’s voice is memorable and the emotional range of the character as expressed through language is significant, melding perfectly with the visual language, which brings me to …
Funk meets tradition
Binky Brown has an awkward elegance, drawn with a mastery that is rooted in the print tradition. Justin created a totally original visual lexicon, balanced it with traditional drafting skills and then goosed it with a raw twist of funk. His pages are structurally sound, the figures and details artfully and succinctly describe Binky’s world. The lettering – superb. No wonder that Justin went on from this comic to become a master sign lettering man.
Justin is the real deal. He doesn’t follow the trends. He risks. He gets in there and yanks out this incredible stuff, root canal style. He is the ultimate idiosyncratic artist. A loner. A creative genius. A
madman. That’s what you want out of an innovator and a National Treasure, which I believe he is.
So if you haven’t yet read Binky, smack yo’self up-side the head and go get a copy. It is a bookshelf essential. Along with his other works, like Sacred and Profane, Show & Tell, The Sign Game, Musical
Legends and many others.
On the back of Binky Brown it proclaims the book to be ‘Must reading for Neurotics of All Creeds’. No doubt, this is a mandate for all of us.
C. Tyler is a comics creator who was first influenced by Binky Brown back in the 1980s. An Eisner nominated artist/writer, Ms. Tyler is the author of three solo books, The Job Thing (1993), Late Bloomer (2005) and her current project, a trilogy entitled You’ll Never Know. Book I: A Good & Decent Man was published in 2009. YNK Book II: Collateral Damage is due out July 2010, with YNK Book III: Soldier’s Heart scheduled for 2011. All published by Fantagraphics
Ms. Tyler is an Adjunct Professor of Art at the University of Cincinnati DAAP School of Art. Comics, Graphic Novels and Sequential Art is the title of her course.