Published January 1, 2010
Tags: autobiographical comics, autobiographical comix, autographia, Binky Brown, Confessional Comics, Graphic Memoir, graphic novel, Justin Green, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes
Confessional Comics: Part 4 of 4
The real mystery is this strange need. Why can’t we just hide it and shut up? Why do we have to blab? Why do human beings need to confess? Maybe, if you don’t have that secret confession, you don’t have a poem—don’t even have a story. Don’t have a writer (quoted in Gill, p. 67).
—‘Ted Hughes: The Art of Poetry’, The Paris Review 134: 54-94.
To situate the term “confessional comics,” let us examine a working definition of “confessional poetry,” a term generally applied to a group of poets working in the 1950s and 1960s who were experimenting with a hitherto unfamiliar poetic form, deeply personal in character. Elizabeth Gregory (2006, p. 34) assigns the following characteristics to confessional poetry:
- It is derived from the poet’s autobiographical context, and is usually written in the first person.
- The work assumes an authorial stance, insisting that the events and emotions being described are the narrator’s own.
- The confessional poem generally expresses ideas that are antithetical to conventional social mores; mental illness, familial tensions, acrimony between family members, childhood trauma and abuse (sexual and/or psychological), and a preoccupation with one’s body are topics that are often present.
- Where subjects generally considered forbidden to discuss are named and even explored in depth, the term “confession” may be applied. From within generally accepted religious, psychoanalytic, and legal frameworks, the events being described are considered sinful, neurotic and/or psychotic, or illicit: in short, the subjects being discussed are usually considered taboo. Continue reading ‘Reliability, Authority and Authenticity’
Published January 1, 2010
Tags: Aline Kominsky Crumb, Alison Bechdel, autobiographical comics, autobiographical comix, autographia, Binky Brown, Confessional Comics, Graphic Memoir, graphic novel, Justin Green
Confessional Comics: Part 3 of 4
Equally intriguing as Green’s original masterpiece “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” originally published in 1972, is the “Apocrypha” included at the end of the Binky Brown Sampler (Last Gasp, 1995), which walks the reader step by step through the rationale behind Green’s irrational acts, as he now understands them since having been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and having spent over thirty years learning to manage his obsessions.
In the “Message to Parents” in the Binky Brown Sampler, Green acknowledges that modern medicine has developed solutions that may help individuals suffering from OCD, a point that did not find its way into Binky Brown. Green goes on to self-identify as a “fugitive from the church and the A.M.A, (American Medical Association)” and concludes that he continues his lifelong quest for equanimity. (8). Continue reading ‘Obsessive-Compulsive Comics’
Confessional Comics: Part 2 of 4
Widespread recognition for the graphic memoir first occurred with the publication of Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale. Maus I took centre stage on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Book Review, and was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize Letters Award in 1991. Largely due to the success of Maus, confessional comics now loom large in the public imagination.
In broad brushstrokes, the roots of western confessional writing are most often attributed to the respective Confessions of St. Augustine (397-398 CE) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1781). In the Introduction to Modern Confessional Writing (Routledge, 2006), Jo Gill describes the historical and literary significance of Augustine’s work. St. Augustine’s tripartite confession begins with an inventory of his past sins; he then concedes that temptations to the spirit continue to plague his conscience, and finally declares his unwavering faith in God, acknowledging God’s splendour and magnificence. The passage through these stages is one early example of a confessor-persona engaging in active dialogue with a separate and distinct other.
St. Augustine by Rubens (1636-1638)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions is described by Gill as possessing a doubleness in which evasiveness and self-delusion are present in the authorial voice, a quality that is also seen in many recent confessional works (5).
In the Protestant tradition, emphasis was placed on the faithful practicing introspection to maintain an accurate sense of their relationship (or the absence thereof) with God. It is out of this exploration of the spiritual practitioner’s inner life that the roots of the novel are said to have emerged. The birth of the novel is often attributed to the works of Daniel Defoe and other authors of the day, whom Gill, citing Lawrence Stone, suggests led to the emergence of “secular individualism” and the rise of a “literature of self-exploration” (1990: 155, 154). Continue reading ‘Confessional Writing: A Mini-Primer’
Confessional Comics: Part 1 of 4
If literature is considered fictional prose of superior or lasting artistic merit, the kind of creative work that you can read more than once and still enjoy, then “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary” qualifies not just as the first instance of comics autobiography, but also as one of the original greats of graphic literature.
This is not just because the story is intellectually, imaginatively and emotionally engaging, but also because Binky Brown, originally published in 1972, remains highly unorthodox, even by today’s standards. How many comics have you read with a protagonist who agonizes over the belief that ill will is being caused by rays emitting from his penis and fingers, the latter of which also assume the form of phalluses? In my books, one of the only comics that rivals “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary” for sheer eccentricity is Chester Brown’s Ed the Happy Clown, in which “…the bizarre misfortunes of the title character include being chased by cannibalistic pygmies and having the tip of his penis replaced by the head of a miniature, talking Ronald Reagan from another universe” (“Ed the Happy Clown.” Wikipedia). In spite of this fierce competition, Justin Green remains the originator of the confessional comic, an illustrious title that will no doubt endure throughout the annals of history.
Make no mistake of it: Binky Brown is a serious psychosexual journey, a victory of id over superego, a subversion of the censor. Binky’s tale is an afflicted parable of male torment, by none other than our old friend (or maybe your enemy) the phallus. Between the covers of “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” a veritable Hall of Shame unfolds, in which Brown atones for years of religiously induced self-reproach and delusion. As if this were not enough, the comic serves also as one man’s testament to the stranglehold that obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) held over his life long into adulthood. Continue reading ‘Beware the Pecker Rays!’