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The Playboy and Animals with Sharpies make BLOUIN ARTINFO Canada's list of top art books for spring

Updated September 10, 2013


"BLOUIN ARTINFO Canada's Top Six Art Books for Spring"

by Rea McNamara, Sky Goodden
BLOUIN ARTINFO Canada, May 8, 2013

ARTINFO Canada rounds up the most substantial art reads of the spring season:

“Glamour is Theft: A User’s Guide to General Idea 1969-1978” (D.A.P., $40)

The Art Gallery of York University’s Philip Monk provides a survey of the “pageantry of camp parody” in the work of Canadian collective General Idea, from their early mail art works to the 1977 “destruction” of “The 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion.” Following the collective’s strategies, Monk (in his typically abstruse but winking style) mimics the structuralist and semiological language and approach of Roland Barthes in his analysis.

“The Playboy” (Drawn & Quarterly, $16.95)

Chester Brown’s first graphic novel — not to mention the first graphic novel Montreal’s Drawn & Quarterly ever published — is now available in an expanded and even re-formatted soft-cover re-issue. Expect in this early autographical portrait of Brown’s “Playboy” adolescent shame, new lettering and format, re-drawn panels, as well as a new appendices and author notes.

“Seeing and Believing” (Black Dog Publishing, $29.95)

This illustrated overview of Canadian Neo-Conceptualist Luis Jacob focuses on the three recent exhibitions that have affirmed his rising star — Fonderie Darling’s “Tableaux Vivants,” MOCCA’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” and the McCord Museum’s “The Eye, the Hole, the Picture” — exploring how he’s consistently questioned what lies beneath a picture, and the framing of our encounters with visual art.

“The Last Frontier” (ABC Art Books Canada, $50)

The first monograph of the UK-based Canadian artist Kelly Richardson is a trip through her hyper-real cinematic installations of the last 15 years; post-apocalyptic visions that merge with references like B-movie science fiction, dystopic landscape painting, and wildlife cinematography. Most of the works included stem from her recent mid-career retrospective at Buffalo’s Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

“Working as a Drawing” (Burnaby Art Gallery, $48.95)

This process-oriented “bookwork” culls images from the files and archives of Micah Lexier. A “thirty years in the making” project, the publication includes newly-discovered drawings from 1980 to 2012 that reveal the artist’s process and approach.

“Animals with Sharpies” (Drawn & Quarterly, $16.95)

A second petit livre from former Royal Art Lodge founding members Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber, “Animals with Sharpies” brings together a mix of both new and old paintings that explore the absurd, hilarious, twee, and poignant sharpie messages of the animal kingdom.
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Michael Dumontier & Neil Farber

           Featured products

The Playboy
Animals With Sharpies




  Chester Brown interviewed in The Rumpus

Updated June 25, 2013


Johns, Marks, Tricks, and Chickenhawks: The Rumpus Interview with Chester Brown

The Rumpus, June 19, 2013

Chester Brown is an award-winning Toronto cartoonist who wrote the graphic memoir Paying For It, which chronicles his experiences as a john after deciding that relationships are too much trouble.
Stephen Elliott described Paying For It in a Daily Rumpus email as “concise and packed with meaning—the best book I’ve ever read about sex work, and I’ve read a lot of them.” The following is a clipped version of David Henry Sterry’s interview with Brown, which appears in Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks, a book on sex-work professionals and their clients edited by Sterry and R. J. Martin, Jr.

***

The Rumpus: I’m talking to Chester Brown. So you wrote the book Paying For It. Which was about paying for It—it being sex, of course. So I was curious about something. I’ve been trying to get men to talk about paying for sex, and it seems like at this time in history, it’s much easier for people to admit that they sell sex then that they buy sex. I wondered if you had any thoughts about why you think that is.

Chester Brown: Obviously there’s a stigma against both. I would think it would be about equal. But I suppose it’s obvious why there are guys who don’t want to come forward.

Rumpus: Why do you think that is?

Brown: Maybe it’s the idea of what you’re supposed to be like as a man, and, of course, most people who pay for sex are men. Although there are some women who do, but, yeah, it’s this idea that men are supposed to be able to get sex if they want without paying for it. You’re supposed to be able to seduce women or be appealing in some way, and if you’re not able to do those things, if you’re not able to get sex without paying for it, you’re not the sort of man our culture thinks you should be. I’ve certainly heard guys say, “I don’t have to pay for it,” as if that’s some kind of significant thing.

Rumpus: Yeah, I’ve heard the exact same thing from so many men that I’ve asked. They puff up their chests and say, “Hey dude, I never had to pay for it!”

Brown: Also, it occurs to me that there’s been a relatively recent tendency in the media to see prostitutes as victims and johns as exploiters. I don’t think most prostitutes see themselves as victims or see their clients as exploiters, but that way of seeing prostitutes and johns is pretty common now outside of sex-work circles, and it’s more shameful to be the exploiter than the exploited.

Rumpus: So what was your first experience, buying sex?

Brown: I think it was late ’99. No, no, no—early ’99. I’d gone without sex for a couple of years. My girlfriend, my last girlfriend, had broken up with me, and a few years passed, and finally I was so sexually frustrated that I decided to go ahead and pay for it. It was at a brothel here in Toronto. It turned out to be a really positive experience with a very nice woman who was very attractive. It was such a positive experience that I was sold on the lifestyle or whatever you want to call it. There was no turning back. I don’t know what would have happened if that first time hadn’t been as positive as it was.

Rumpus: And what was this woman like?

Brown: Like a lot of prostitutes, she was very good socially. She had good conversational skills, and she was chatty, but not too chatty. She could initiate a conversation if there wasn’t one going on, or, you know, she just knew how to talk and make me feel comfortable, and a lot of that isn’t in the book because I didn’t feel…Actually, a lot of what she told me was stuff about her family and, you know, personal stuff. It got personal really quickly, which surprised me. I thought these women would be more guarded, but she told me a lot about herself that I couldn’t put in the book. Her willingness to be open put me at ease.

Rumpus: I’ve noticed that the best sex workers that I’ve purchased sex from have a way of just making you feel at ease and comfortable.

Brown: Yeah, yeah.

Rumpus: I guess that’s true in almost all sorts of service industries, like from a psychiatrist to a nurse to a bartender. The best in their field, they just make you feel like you can let your guard down, because they let their guard down a little bit. It’s kind of a fascinating dynamic.

Brown: Yeah.

Rumpus: So did you see that woman again? Or was this just a one-time thing?

Brown: I saw her three times. And unfortunately, there was a little bit of an uncomfortable situation the third time. I guess I just going on a bit too long sexually, and she didn’t like it. There was a bit of poor communication. I didn’t quite get what was going on. So unfortunately, things ended on kind of a strange note between us, and I didn’t see her again. I didn’t want to go back because it had been a bit uncomfortable and strange. You know, I see one woman regularly now.

Rumpus: Right.

Brown: And if something like that happened with her—I call her Denise in the book, so I’ll call her that for this interview too—if something like that happened with Denise, we would probably be able to deal with it because our relationship has been going on longer. Plus, I was new to paying for sex, and probably, if I was seeing someone for the first time now, I’d know how to handle an awkward situation like that better.

Rumpus: I also think that’s one of the—I hesitate to say pleasures, but advantages to having a relationship with a professional like that is that you get to walk away with honor. There’s no expectation. Because you paid for it. Whereas with civilians, you’re invested in this relationship, there’s a social contract that says you can’t just walk away after most civilian sex.

Brown: Yeah, that’s true, although, as I said, I’m paying only Denise for sex now, and it’s been years. I couldn’t just walk away now.

Rumpus: Really?

Brown: If I did want to end the relationship with Denise, for whatever reason, we would have to have a conversation about it. Not that I’m thinking of ending it, I’m very happy in it, but it’s not a casual relationship anymore. It’s not casual the way a prostitute-john relationship would be if you saw each other once or a few times.

Rumpus: So do you find that a different quality in the sex that you have in civilian sex than professional sex?

Brown: Huh. Well the best unpaid sex, where you and the woman are really into each other, and there’s a lot of really intense passion, and things are really hot between you…I’ve never had that kind of sex when I was paying for it. The best unpaid sex is going to be, I think, more passionate and more hot than the best paid sex. The best paid sex can still be really great and really intense, but, you know, without the emotional passion there, it’s not going to be quite at the same level as the best unpaid sex.

Rumpus: Yeah, I agree with that. But sometimes sex workers have the most amazing skills. I enjoy that.

Brown: That’s true. The best blowjobs I’ve had have been from prostitutes.

Rumpus: Yes, I’d say that’s true, and I have a large data pool to pull from. Has there been any fallout from you coming out about being a john, about paying for it, from friends, family, or people online?

Brown: Not that I can tell. No real negative fallout. I mean, certainly not all my friends or family think what I’m doing is good, they might have a somewhat negative take on prostitution, but it seems like they’re all still willing to hang out with me. No one has shunned me or shut me out of their lives. The relatives that I thought might have the most negative take on it still seem to love me.

Rumpus: You mentioned that for the last eight years you’ve only paid one woman for sex.

Brown: That’s right. The first time Denise and I had sex would’ve been back in 2003, and in early 2004, I started seeing her exclusively. Although, at that point, back in 2004, I had no idea I’d still be having sex with her eight years later. She’s managed to keep me fascinated all this time. I’m never tempted to call anyone else or search for anyone else. And she’s basically left the profession. She stopped seeing other clients several years ago. And she doesn’t have a boyfriend; she’s monogamous with me. But I do still pay her for sex.

Rumpus: And do you ever have to explain this to like civilians that you are dating or anything?

Brown: To civilians that I’m dating?

Rumpus: Yeah.

Brown: No. I don’t date civilians. I don’t even try. I’m totally out of the game of dating or trying to get a girlfriend or anything like that. I’m very happy with the situation I’m in with Denise. I’m not looking to get married or anything like that. I’m just a john now. I’m going to be paying for sex for the rest of my life.

Rumpus: That’s very interesting. It’s definitely outside the norm. As a society, we’re programmed so that at a certain age, you have to have a girlfriend, you have to have a wife, you have to have a kid, you have to have a house. These things seem so arbitrary to me, but it’s like our culture wants us desperately to fall into this mold of conventional relationships.

Brown: Well, after my last girlfriend broke up with me, I looked at how our relationship had gone and how my previous relationships had gone, and even though those girlfriends had all been very nice women, I realized that I did not like being a boyfriend. I didn’t like that role, so I thought I had to figure out some other way to, you know, have sex. And I much prefer paying for sex to being a boyfriend.

Rumpus: What didn’t you like about being a boyfriend?

Brown: A lot of things. When you’re in a relationship, the dynamic seems to change over time. I only had two long-term girlfriends, but with both of them, as time went on, the sex tapered off in terms of frequency. We had sex less and less often. And talking with friends or whatever, hearing other people’s stories, that seems to be the case with a lot of romantic relationships. You know, if a relationship has gone on for five or six years, that couple is not having as much sex as they were at the beginning of the relationship. In a lot of marriages, the sex stops altogether. So that’s a very common thing, even if they still like each other. And I just didn’t feel free. I felt like I was reporting to someone else all the time, accountable to them. Like if I wanted to buy something expensive, I had to get permission from her. Another thing was, I felt like when I was in a romantic relationship, I was responsible for the other person’s happiness, and maybe that’s my own peculiarity, but I didn’t like that feeling. You can’t be everything for another person.

Rumpus: I find myself overwhelmed by that from time to time. There are many cultures, contemporary and historically, where the social norm is for a married person to have a spouse and then to have a lover who tends to be more the sexual partner than the spouse. But that doesn’t seem to be the case for us North Americans.

Brown: Yeah, well, that’s one way other cultures have handled it, but there’s also polygamy.

Rumpus: Yes.

Brown: There are a lot of cultures where it was normal for a guy to have multiple wives.

Rumpus: Yes.

Brown: I don’t think our system, where we have one romantic partner, where we get married and we’re only supposed to have sex with one person—that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Not that polygamy makes any more sense. I’ve found a system that seems to work for me, and it doesn’t require monogamous commitment from anyone. I think the big problem is what I call “possessive monogamy.” I think we should have a lot more freedom in our sexual lives. We should stop making monogamous commitments. Trying to get your sexual partner to make a monogamous commitment to you is not a loving thing to do; it’s selfish. Having said that, though, I have been monogamous for the last eight years with Denise, and it’s working for me. But one of the reasons it works is because there isn’t any heavy pressure on the relationship.

David Henry Sterry is the author of 16 books, a performer, muckraker, educator, activist, and book doctor. His first memoir, Chicken, was an international bestseller, and has been translated into 10 languages. His anthology Hos, Hookers, Call Girls and Rent Boys was featured on the front cover of the Sunday New York Times Book Review. The follow-up to that book, Johns, Marks, Tricks and Chickenhawks features writings by people who have bought and sold sex. He authored The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published with his ex-agent and current wife. His novella Confessions of a Sex Maniac, was a finalist for the Henry Miller Award. He has written books about working at Chippendales Male Strip Club, the teenaged brain, how to throw a great pajama party if you’re a tween girl, a patriciding mama’s boy, and World Cup soccer. He has appeared on, acted with, written for, worked and/or presented at: Will Smith, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Stanford University, National Public Radio, Penthouse, Huffington Post, the Strand in NYC, Books & Books in Miami, City Lights in SF, Powell’s in Portland; Brooklyn, LA & Texas Book Festivals, Michael Caine, 92nd St. Y, Smith College, the London Times, Reed College, Playboy and Zippy the Chimp. He loves any sport with balls, and his girls. www.davidhenrysterry.
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

Paying For It




Canada Writes interviews Chester Brown

Updated June 5, 2013


"Don't get married: An interview with Chester Brown"

Canada Writes, May 28, 2013

Canada Writes is talking to some of Canada's best known cartoonists and graphic novelists on the different techniques, challenges, and advantages of working with both text and drawings.

Author Chester Brown talks about his creative process, and why he thinks Byron Katie and Colin Wilson are the two wisest people on the planet.

CW: What’s your usual creative process?

CB: I've worked different ways, but for my last two books I started by writing a long-hand script that consisted of dialogue. I then wrote a second draft of the script that divided the dialogue into separate panels. When that second draft was done, I started drawing. There was a certain amount of rewriting at the drawing stage. For my last book I did all of the drawings for the book in pencil, then traced them all in black ink. I still draw on paper; I don't do any creative work on the computer. Or perhaps I should say, I don't do any creative work intended for publication on the computer. I've played around with drawing programs and apps for fun.

CW: What are some of the advantages of working with text and drawings vs. just text? What do you think that this genre can do that text-only genres can’t?

CB: I think that comics can draw readers into a narrative more quickly than prose can, but that's a pretty superficial advantage. It may take a good prose writer a little bit longer to grab a reader's attention, but once that attention has been gained, prose can be as involving as comics. I'm not sure that there are significant advantages. Perhaps comics have a bit of an advantage with historical or foreign settings. Drawings can help situate the reader in an alien environment in a way that might be more difficult to do with prose.

CW: Are there any disadvantages?

CB: Prose can tell the same story in fewer pages.

CW: What would you tell an aspiring comics artist who is starting out today?

CB: Don't get married. Oh, you wanted a "writing/drawing/creating tip". Don't rely too heavily on narrative captions. Dialogue is more involving for readers.

But really, don't get married.

CW: What is a question that you would like to be asked that no one has ever asked you? And what is your answer to that question?

CB: Who is the wisest person on the planet?

Byron Katie: everyone should read her book Loving What Is. That's the one to start with, although you should read her other books too. They would be found in the self-help section of your book store, but don't let that put you off; she has a radical approach to life that's far more extreme than anything else you'll find in the self-help section.

The second wisest person on the planet is Colin Wilson, whose curiosity and relentlessly positive attitude are bracing. He's written something like a hundred books, non-fiction (on a wide variety of subjects) as well as fiction. I don't even know which one to recommend starting with; perhaps The Occult because it's easy to find in second-hand book shops.
 
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

Paying For It




  Literary luminaries call out Clowes, Brown and Modan for notice.

Updated June 5, 2013


"A roundup of graphic novels worth reading"

The Chicago Tribune, May 25, 2013

....Daniel Handler, the author aka Lemony Snicket

Where to start: Kyle Baker's "Why I Hate Saturn" is great for beginners. It has a twisty-but-linear story that feels like a smart, weird HBO series — the kind you rewatch just to catch all the surprises.

An essential: Dan Clowes' "The Death-Ray" is everything a graphic novel should be: The story is colored like an old comic but sinks in like a book, and its fragmentary technique moves the story so speedily so that you might not notice that its structural inventiveness would have bagged a Pulitzer had it been entirely textual. It's often overlooked, although that might be because Clowes has given us at least four other essential graphic novels....

....Anders Nilsen, author of "The End" and "Big Questions"

An essential: Aside from the stuff I read as a kid — particularly Tintin — the comics that were most influential to me were Chester Brown's work in the '90s. His autobiographical work is the best in comics, but his otherworldly "Ed the Happy Clown," for me, is a real masterpiece of the medium. It's some of the most inventive, exuberant, funny, strange and disturbing storytelling on the planet. True brilliance. It's been out of print for years, but was finally reissued last year.

Where to start: A great starting point for someone new to the medium might be the work of Rutu Modan. Her book "Exit Wounds" of a few years back was really wonderful, touching on large world events, but on a very human scale, with very real characters navigating human foibles. Her drawing and color are both straightforward and beautiful....
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Rutu Modan
Daniel Clowes

           Featured products

Exit Wounds
The Death-Ray




The Comics Journal reviews Paying For It

Updated June 4, 2013


"The Comics Journal #302: Wages of Love: Chester Brown’s True Romance Comix Excerpt"

By Tim Kreider
The Comics Journal, February 21, 2013

Quite a lot of the critical reaction to Paying for It has concerned itself with expressing approval or disapproval of its author — either condemning Chester Brown as a creepy exploiter of women or (less frequently) celebrating his sex-positive candor. Some reviewers have engaged with Brown’s polemic against romantic love, or his argument for the decriminalization of prostitution. Everyone’s so het up over the subject of the book that almost no commentators have been able to bring themselves to evaluate it as a work of art (in sort of the same way that it’s just about impossible to get anyone to come out and admit that any book or film about the Holocaust is bad). They’re so distracted arguing about what the book claims to be about that no one seems to have noticed what it’s actually about.

It’s some sort of testament to Brown’s fearless honesty in addressing such a taboo subject, about which there is apparently only one publicly acceptable opinion, that so many reviewers have gone out of their ways to make known their moral — and, in some cases, physical — revulsion. New York Times critic Dwight Garner, in describing a scene where Brown admits to being excited by the possibility that he’s hurting a prostitute he’s fucking, adds: “I cringe even to type that sentence.” Brown has said in an interview that he was disturbed by this incident, too, but he didn’t cringe at portraying it. And although I’m frankly made a little queasy by that scene too, I also admire Brown, as an artist, for showing it to us without the cover of some preemptive self-castigation. The unattractive truth is that men (and women) are sometimes aroused by things that are, in the light of day, creepy, disturbing, degrading or cruel. (Though I should also draw a distinction here between enjoying such things in fantasy or consensual play and actually doing them.) One of my female friends said the book “confirmed some of [her] suspicions about the male psyche.” The part of Paying for It that most resonates with me is (annoyingly) not in the book itself but elaborated in an endnote; Brown explains how, every time he used to see an attractive woman on the street, he’d imagine that there was some theoretical sequence of events that would result in her having sex with him and immediately condemn himself as a coward and a loser for failing to ask her out.

Just to get this out of the way, I’m not wholly unsympathetic to Brown’s views on the subject of prostitution. No doubt about it: relationships and dating are a mess, and you do have to wonder, at moments of low morale, whether there isn’t some other option. As far as I’m concerned, he makes a reasonable and persuasive case for patronizing prostitutes. However, Brown is a lot less interested in making a case for being a prostitute, and seems a little naive or oblivious to the realities that might compel someone to go into sex work. I’ve never patronized a prostitute, but I am friends with one, and she’s not a junkie or an indentured immigrant, she doesn’t get slapped around by a pimp, she wasn’t abused as a girl, and she isn’t in the business against her will; she enjoys her work and considers it a vocation and describes some of her relationships with clients as truly intimate. Her experience is probably not typical, but she would argue that it should be, and it deserves to be heard in the debate over prostitution. I also don’t understand why the state involves itself in consensual sexual conduct of any kind, although since prostitution is a business as well as sex, the issue is a little trickier than Brown supposes. But it’s also pretty obvious to me that, although these are all legitimate issues, none of them are the real issues with Chester Brown.

What I find much more interesting than Brown’s ostensible thesis in Paying For It is the personal story here, a love story, one that the reader has to piece together for herself from inadvertent hints and clues because the author seems either oblivious to it or determined to suppress it. As with the faces of the prostitutes he draws, which are always turned away from us, covered by hair, or occluded by word balloons, there is something in this book so consistently omitted it becomes disquietingly conspicuous, haunting by its absence. I don’t know whether reviewers of Paying For It have been too obtuse or too polite to mention this elephant sitting on the divan with its feet up, but to me it seems that there’s no way to talk honestly about the book without bringing up this central deficit: It seems never to have occurred to Chester Brown to connect the fact that he’s structured his adult life to preclude any possibility of a romantic relationship with the fact that his mother was a schizophrenic.

Brown’s default position on every issue is contrarian: he sees romantic love as a cultural delusion; he believes all government intervention (except the protection of property rights) is an outrageous intrusion; he sides with controversial figures like Thomas Sasz who debunk mental illness and drug addiction as legitimate medical diagnoses. This is all consistent with the worldview of Ed the Happy Clown, in which all authority figures are corrupt and suspect: the police are masked, porcine thugs with truncheons, machine-gunning convicts and disposing of inconvenient bodies; doctors smoke cigarettes over their open patients in surgery and bludgeon whimpering prisoners with pipes; President Reagan is a cranky baldheaded dwarf who’s controlled by his sultry pus-sucking wife; and divine justice proves to be just as arbitrary, cruel and beyond appeal as the kind doled out on earth. (The one exception, interestingly, is a minister, who first seems as if he’ll be a fire-and-brimstone caricature but instead preaches a sermon about love.) Reflexive mistrust of authority is probably healthier and less dangerous than blind deference to it, but it ends up being another kind of conformity; blanket skepticism is as automatic and uncritical, in its way, as blanket credulity.
 
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

Paying For It




  Spanish-language review of Paying For It

Updated April 4, 2013


"Memorias de un putañero"

Javier González Tapia
Periódico de Libros, June 2012

Una dedicatoria a Joe Matt y un prólogo escrito por Robert Crumb son claras señales de que Paying For It (2010), el último libro del caricaturista canadiense Chester Brown, vuelve por los terrenos del cómic autobiográfico. Al igual que en otros de sus libros anteriores, como The Playboy (1992) o I Never Liked You (1994), Paying For It tiene como protagonista al mismo Chester Brown contando sus experiencias más íntimas y personales.

El cómic autobiográfico, tal como lo empezaron a desarrollar Robert Crumb y Harvey Pekar en la década de los setentas y ochentas, para luego ser continuado por autores como Julie Doucet, David B o Joe Matt, se caracteriza porque no se limita a hacer un recuento superficial de la propia vida sino que también expone todas aquellas cosas que a cualquier persona le producirían vergüenza o que trataría de ocultar. En las historias de estos autores se cuentan hechos como haber tenido fantasías sexuales con la novia de Bugs Bunny, Honey Bunny, tener problemas gástricos que hacen que el sanitario se tape seguido, tener la manía de masturbarse alrededor de doce veces al día o, como es el caso en Paying For It, la costumbre de frecuentar prostitutas. Hay un impulso en estos autores que los lleva a revelar aspectos bastante íntimos de sus vidas por lo que, sumando el hecho de que todos ellos tienen como trasfondo una educación religiosa bastante estricta, se podría decir que más que de historias autobiográficas se tratan de historias confesionales.

La historia comienza con el final de la última relación que Chester Brown tuvo y que duró más de siete años. Si bien esta ruptura se dio en términos amistosos, Chester Brown pasaría los siguientes tres años en celibato, enfrentando una paradoja: no quería volver a tener otra relación sentimental ya que quería evitar las peleas y complicaciones de éstas, además, le parecía que era mejor ser amigo de las mujeres que quería que ser novio de ellas, pero no por ello quería dejar de tener sexo. Igualmente, consciente de sus escasas habilidades sociales, descartó la idea de tener sexo casual o one-night stands, de ahí que frecuentar prostitutas resultara siendo su mejor opción.

Las primeras incursiones en el mundo de la prostitución, sin embargo, no se dan con facilidad. Nunca habiendo contratado una prostituta, Chester Brown desconoce cuál es la mejor forma de contactar una, si es llamándola, yendo a un burdel o recogiéndola en la calle; igualmente, existe el temor de que sea arrestado por llevar a cabo esta actividad. Finalmente decide llamar a un anuncio y así se da la primera de tantas experiencias que Brown describe con honestidad y crudeza, despojado de todo sentimentalismo, pero también con precisión, llevando un inventario con fecha exacta de cada uno de los encuentros que sostiene con prostitutas.


Una característica de los dibujos en este libro es que las caras de las prostitutas son ocultadas por los globos de diálogo o por otros objetos; esto, como lo revela Brown, con el fin de proteger la identidad verdadera de estas mujeres, a quienes igualmente se les ha cambiado su nombre en la historia y se les han borrado rasgos corporales que las puedan hacer identificables. Por otra parte, la cara de Chester Brown a lo largo de toda la historia permanece igual, inexpresiva, sin revelar sentimiento alguno. Una influencia artística sería el cine de Robert Bresson, un cine despojado de todo sentimentalismo, de una gran economía expresiva. Las emociones, por lo tanto, no serían puestas por los actores o los personajes sino por los espectadores, a quienes se les presentan los hechos de forma cruda.

En su libro Brown no pretende producir lástima en el lector, no busca justificar sus acciones generando simpatía en los demás. Él expone los hechos para que el lector los juzgue por sí mismo. Sin embargo, también defiende sus puntos de vista cuando tiene que hacerlo y para ello emplea la razón, de ahí que en este libro se den varios monólogos, notas a pie de página y un largo epílogo, respondiendo a algunas preguntas y cuestionamientos que le hacen sus amigos acerca de su decisión sobre frecuentar prostitutas. ¿Es correcto acostarse con una mujer a cambio de dinero?, ¿es la prostitución una forma de explotar a las mujeres?, ¿son los puteros psicópatas o enfermos mentales?

Los argumentos con los cuales Brown responde a estas preguntas, basándose también en sus experiencias personales, resultan sólidos y alejados de todo moralismo ingenuo. En cuanto a si es correcto acostarse con alguien a cambio de dinero, la respuesta de Brown es que el amor no es la única razón por la que dos personas tienen sexo. Algunas personas se acuestan con otras por interés o por poder o simplemente por aburrimiento. Las razones por las que alguien tiene sexo con otras personas son razones personales, que no deben ser juzgadas ni penalizadas por los demás ya que cada quien tiene derecho a decidir sobre su propia vida y su propio cuerpo. De ahí que la prostitución no sea una forma de explotación, las mujeres que trabajan en esto lo hacen por elección propia. En las historias que Brown relata se puede ver que si bien él paga por sexo, esto no significa que como cliente tenga dominio total del cuerpo de estas mujeres; en esta transacción comercial hay también cierto coqueteo, las mujeres pueden proponer posiciones, pero igualmente pueden poner restricciones, pueden decirle al cliente ciertas cosas que no están dispuestas a hacer (como dar besos, hacer sexo oral o anal, etc.) y éste tiene que aceptar estas condiciones.

¿Es la persona que frecuenta prostitutas un enfermo sexual? Eso es lo que pretenden hacer creer grupos feministas y ciertos moralistas, pero la verdad es otra. Aquel que frecuenta prostitutas busca sexo, pero también compañía, alguien con quien hablar y pasar un rato. No se le puede considerar un enfermo sexual en cuanto satisface un deseo natural y en cuanto su relación con las prostitutas es una relación de consenso mutuo, que no se da por medio de la fuerza o la violencia. De ahí que sean lamentables actos como la trata de blancas, un problema que parece estar bastante presente en Canadá y que Brown, aún consciente de que esta sí es una relación que se ejerce mediante la fuerza y en contra de la propia voluntad, discute con pocos argumentos y un alto grado de ignorancia e ingenuidad.

Sin duda la discusión no puede terminar aquí, habrán otros argumentos a favor y en contra de esta práctica, sin embargo el relato de Chester Brown es un buen comienzo para tratar estos temas más allá de los prejuicios y tapujos hipócritas con los que suelen ser tratados. Es una historia cruda y sincera, en la que se muestra el punto de vista del cliente pero también se defienden los derechos de las trabajadoras sexuales. Pero, al final, esta también es una historia de amor, el cual Brown lo encuentra después de varios años y diferentes experiencias en Denise, una escort que cobra por sus servicios aún cuando entre ambos se empieza a dar una relación monógama. No será éste el amor ideal y puro del cual hablaban poetas como Dante o Petrarca, pero después de todo sí es amor.
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CBC Books profiles Drawn and Quarterly

Updated January 15, 2013


Why Drawn & Quarterly is thriving despite tough times for publishers
Thursday, December 6, 2012
First aired on The Sunday Edition (11/25/12)

At the Montreal corner of St. Urbain and Bernard in the early 1990s, the rent was cheap and the neighbours were cool. From his flat on the second floor, Chris Oliveros started a small hand-made magazine. He wanted the comic strips that he and his friends drew to find a larger audience. At his kitchen table, he put together the first issues of Drawn & Quarterly. That was 23 years ago. Now, Drawn & Quarterly is the hottest publisher of graphic novels in the English-speaking world.

At a time when the future of the book itself is in question, and many independent publishers struggle to stay afloat, Drawn & Quarterly is thriving. David Gutnick produced this lovely documentary about Drawn & Quarterly's, ahem, colourful history and its current success for The Sunday Edition.

It all started in 1989, in Oliveros's cheap second-floor flat in Mile End. By day, Oliveros worked as a bike courier. By night, he read comics and hung out with his cartoonist friends, sharing work and filling notebooks with illustrated anecdotes from their lives. They were prolific, but they had no audience except each other. The comics being published were about Archie or Marvel superheroes, and there seemed to be no place for comics about the day-to-day lives of humans outside Riverdale (the setting of Archie comics). Then Oliveros had an epiphany: why not become a publisher himself?

"I wanted to start a comics anthology that would come out quarterly — hence the title Drawn & Quarterly — and I got a loan from my father to print this first issue," Oliveros said. "In the early days it was on the kitchen table because that was before computers...you would send everything to the printer and they would have these giant cameras to photograph artwork. So a lot has changed in the ensuing 23 years."

Chris kept his day job, but spent more and more time figuring out how the comic-book industry worked. He had never thought of himself as a businessman, but he started nosing around comic-book fairs, learning about distribution and markets. His instinct told him that his little quarterly magazine could become something much bigger.

His instinct was right. French-speaking Quebeckers have a long tradition of spending plenty of money on comics like Asterix and Tintin, and talking about beautifully published comics as if they're art. With Drawn & Quarterly, Oliveros has brought that respect for the medium to English Canada as well.

But Drawn & Quarterly's growth from quarterly comics zine to full-fledged publishing house and bookstore didn't happen overnight. "While I was searching for material for this magazine I ended up meeting other cartoonists, like Seth, and it turned out that many of them actually were just starting to do longer works that wouldn't fit into a magazine," said Oliveros. Seth had a comic book he was just starting called Palookaville and he was looking for a publisher. "So it was sort of a story of one thing leading to another."

According to Oliveros, "you can really do comics about anything." Drawn & Quarterly has been experimenting with material that isn't strictly comics-related, too — one of its major releases this fall has been the Rookie Yearbook, a collection of work from blogging wunderkind Tavi Gevinson's smart online teen magazine Rookie.

These days, Oliveros publishes some of the biggest names in graphic art and comics in North America, including longtime American heavyweights like Linda Barry and Art Spiegelman alongside Canadians including Seth, Chester Brown, and Kate Beaton. And now the team works out of a spacious loft.

Below, check out a few of the artists that Drawn & Quarterly is publishing now.
 
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Seth
Tavi Gevinson

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  Le Monde calls Paying For It "remarquable par ses audaces et sa franchise"

Updated January 15, 2013


Chester Brown : "L'honnêteté de Crumb m'a marqué"
Le Monde.fr | 03.11.2012
Aureliano Tonet

Après une déception sentimentale, le dessinateur Chester Brown renonce à l'amour – sans, pour autant, renoncer au sexe. Cinq ans durant, il fréquente des prostituées. Expérience, pour lui, doublement bénéfique : non content d'y retrouver l'amour, le Canadien en a tiré 23 Prostituées, une bande dessinée remarquable par ses audaces et sa franchise. En près de 300 pages d'une élégante simplicité graphique, Brown couche ses péripéties péripatéticiennes avec candeur et autodérision, jusqu'à remettre en question les préjugés les plus tenaces sur la prostitution. Face à ce livre empli d'un charme et d'une sagesse élémentaires – au meilleur sens du mot –, nous avons eu envie d'échanger avec son auteur. Entretien.

Quand avez-vous eu l'idée de 23 Prostituées ?
Lorsque l'on s'est déjà frotté à l'autobiographie, ce qui est mon cas depuis Le Playboy (1992), on sait que tout ce qui nous arrive peut devenir la matière d'un prochain livre. J'ai commencé à voir des prostituées en 1999, après une rupture amoureuse. Quand j'ai fini mon précédent ouvrage, Louis Riel, en 2002, la trame de 23 Prostituées m'est venue à l'esprit. Mais je ne me suis mis au travail qu'en 2006. J'ai travaillé un an sur le script, puis un autre sur les dessins.

Quelles ont été vos sources d'inspiration ?
D'un point de vue graphique, la simplicité des comics de Fletcher Hanks m'a nourri. C'est un auteur méconnu, qui a dessiné ses propres super-héros dans les années 1940. Art Spiegelman a rassemblé certaines de ses planches dans sa revue Raw. L'honnêteté autobiographique de Robert Crumb m'a grandement marqué, de même. A la demande de mon éditeur, il a même eu la gentillesse d'écrire quelques mots en introduction de 23 Prostituées. Comme Crumb, je me suis avant tout basé sur mon expérience propre.

Dans quelle mesure ce que vous racontez est-il véridique ?
Je tenais à rester aussi près que possible des faits – ou du moins de mes souvenirs de ces faits. J'ai relu les commentaires que je laissais sur les sites répertoriant les prostituées. Je me suis plongé, de même, dans le journal intime que je tenais à l'époque. Parfois, lorsque mes rapports sexuels avec certaines prostituées se finissaient plus tôt que prévu et qu'il me restait du temps jusqu'à la fin du rendez-vous, je les dessinais sur mon carnet. Mais je n'ai pas utilisé ces dessins, ou très peu.

Pourquoi les avez-vous écartés ?
Ces croquis étaient trop précis, ils laissaient deviner les singularités physiques et ethniques des prostituées. Or, je voulais à tout prix ne pas révéler l'identité de ces femmes, pour ne pas les mettre en danger. D'où mon choix de ne jamais montrer leur visage, tout au long du livre.

Vers la fin du récit, vous dites éprouver une "sensation de vide" au sortir d'un rendez-vous avec l'une des prostituées. Est-ce quelque chose que ressentez encore, de temps à autre ?
Comme je le raconte dans le livre, je suis redevenu monogame en 2004. Depuis, je n'éprouve plus de désir pour d'autres femmes que celle avec laquelle je suis resté. Elle a arrêté, de son côté, de se prostituer. Après chaque moment ou presque que nous passons ensemble, je ressens un bonheur intense – différent, cependant, du picotement qui nous assaille lorsque l'on tombe amoureux. C'est une expérience très forte et positive, qui se rapproche de l'amour. Le vide dont vous parlez, non, je ne le ressens quasiment plus.

Quelles réactions a suscité votre livre à sa sortie en Amérique ?
Je suis quelqu'un d'habitué aux louanges ; or, les critiques ont été plus mitigées que lors de mes précédents livres – certaines très positives, d'autres carrément hargneuses. Je m'y attendais, étant donné l'aspect polémique du sujet. Quant à mes proches, ils n'ont pas changé de comportement à mon égard. Certains ne veulent simplement pas parler de prostitution avec moi, mais la plupart entendent mes arguments, à défaut de les partager.

Le titre français du livre, 23 Prostituées, vous convient-il ?
Oh oui, il me plaît bien davantage que le titre original, Paying For It ["payer pour ça"]. A mon grand regret, mon éditeur américain a refusé d'utiliser le mot "prostituée" dans le titre, de peur d'effrayer les libraires. Même si je connais mal votre pays, les Français sont réputés pour leur ouverture d'esprit en matière de sexe ; c'est peut-être lié, allez savoir...

Le gouvernement français, de gauche, envisage d'abolir la prostitution. Qu'en est-il en Amérique du Nord ?
Ici, la gauche et la droite sont très majoritairement contre la prostitution, même si la gauche est plus divisée que la droite. Cependant, je pense qu'on s'oriente, à long voire très long terme, vers une légalisation. D'un point de vue historique, les sociétés occidentales offrent de plus en plus de libertés aux individus – et je ne vois pas pourquoi cela ne finirait pas par concerner la prostitution.

Sur quoi travaillez-vous actuellement ?
Le livre qui précédait 23 Prostituées était historique. Celui qui lui succédera le sera probablement, de même. Je n'ai pas encore commencé. Quand j'ai fini Louis Riel, j'en avais marre de dessiner le XIXe siècle, j'avais envie de voitures, de modernité. Aujourd'hui, ce serait plutôt l'inverse.
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Chester Brown

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El Tiempo interviews Chester Brown on his estudio sociológico of prostitution

Updated January 14, 2013


'Pagando por ello', diario de campo de un adicto a las prostitutas
Brown ha aspirado al Parlamento en Canadá para buscar la despenalización de la prostitución.
Jimmy Arias

Es una inmersión a la prostitución en Toronto (Canadá), a través de viñetas muy explícitas.

Todo fue por culpa del despecho. Bueno, y también de la cabeza fría con la que el dibujante canadiense Chester Brown ve las relaciones interpersonales. Luego de terminar con su última novia, y de darle muchas vueltas al problema de la soledad, al protocolo y gasto de tiempo y dinero en conseguirse otra, decidió adentrarse en el submundo del sexo por dinero.

Fueron cerca de dos años reuniendo todo tipo de experiencias y testimonios, en contacto con el circuito de la prostitución en Toronto, donde reside. El resultado fue Paying For It (Pagando por ello), una novela gráfica o, mejor, reportaje dibujado al estilo cómic, que relata sus encuentros sexuales, en algunos casos, de forma explícita.
¿Qué lo motivó a hacer el libro?
Siempre he sido de los que piensan que la prostitución en Canadá debería despenalizarse. Por eso, una obra como esta me pareció de vital importancia para conocer de cerca ese mundo. También quería humanizar la imagen de las prostitutas, satanizadas o como simples mercaderes de sus cuerpos o como mujeres perversas y sin vergüenza. (...) Ha sido un tema clave: dejar la hipocresía frente a un oficio que es mirado de soslayo por la sociedad y espero que este libro ayude a desmitificarlo.
¿...Y el despecho?
Fue más bien la decepción del idealizado concepto del amor, del matrimonio y del romance en general. Soy escéptico frente a la noción de estar toda la vida buscando la pareja perfecta, porque siempre lo va a llevar a uno a la insatisfacción total. De igual forma, no comparto ese sentimiento de posesión del otro que conlleva toda relación. Por otro lado, no soy un antirromántico, tampoco.
De hecho, tiene una relación con una de sus compañeras sexuales en el libro...

Sí, soy 'monógamo' desde hace algunos años. Tenemos algo así como un convenio de exclusividad. Ella era trabajadora sexual y yo estaba dispuesto a pagar por su exclusividad. Además, claro, nos gustábamos y la pasábamos muy bien juntos, así que ¿por qué no intentarlo?
Pero entonces no es amor, sino un intercambio comercial...
No, claro que la amo, pero soy consciente de que no es mi propiedad ni nada por el estilo.
¿Frecuentaba prostitutas antes de hacer este libro?
No. De hecho, mi vida sexual nunca fue muy activa, solo he tenido un puñado de novias.
¿Tuvo problemas de seguridad visitando los prostíbulos?
Nunca me pasó nada, ni siquiera con la Policía (en Canadá, la prostitución es delito). Solo una vez dudé sobre la edad de una jovencita que decía tener 18 años, pero parecía menor.
¿Cómo han reaccionado las prostitutas o sus clientes?
El único contacto directo fue durante la lectura de apartes del libro, como parte de la recaudación de fondos para una institución que ayuda a las trabajadoras sexuales. La respuesta fue maravillosa.
¿Cómo fue la experiencia de dibujarse desnudo?
Un poco rara, pero igual se trata de un ser humano común y corriente. Además, mi obra no es pornografía ni nada por el estilo. Me dibujé tal y como soy.
'Pagando por ello': se compra en Amazon.com desde US$ 7
Ha vendido 50 mil copias en Canadá y va por su segunda edición. Pronto será traducido al español, francés e italiano. En 'The New York Times' y 'El País', de España, el libro fue reseñado como un verdadero estudio sociológico y político sobre el tema.

 
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Chester Brown

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  PopMatters calls "Ed The Happy Clown" "demented, hilarious, disturbing."

Updated August 27, 2012


Demented, Hilarious, Disturbing: 'Ed the Happy Clown'

By Jeremy Estes
21 August 2012

When looking for words to describe Chester Brown’s Ed the Happy Clown, a few come easily: demented, hilarious, disturbing. There’s no question it’s a great work, a masterpiece of perversion, even, but that’s like saying the Beatles were a good band from the ‘60s. It may be true, but it barely scratches the surface.
On its surface, Ed the Happy Clown showcases Brown’s development as a cartoonist both in visual and thematic terms. The typical Brown themes of religious fervor and a preoccupation with sex are featured throughout, but the evolution of Brown’s art is the bigger draw here. The story was published over the course of six years, a time when Brown went from being a talented amateur to a professional cartoonist, and in that time his style evened out, became more deliberate. In recent years his work has become more static, almost careful, as in 2011’s Paying for It, an account of Brown’s encounters with prostitutes and an argument for the legalization and regulation of the world’s oldest profession. That the book was confessional is nothing new for Brown, but its subject drew as much ogling as the art did. Paying For It’s panels are claustrophobic and rigid, a further development of Brown’s work in 2004’s Louis Riel.In Ed the Happy Clown there’s room to breathe, that’s the feeling of a cartoonist not only honing his craft, but digging deep to find something worth writing about. It’s fun to watch him work.
The revolving cast of characters features Chet Doodley, a Brown-surrogate who kills his girlfriend; Josie, the girlfriend turned ghost turned vampire; alternate dimension versions of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, and a man who can’t stop defecating and, it turns out, whose anus is a portal to another dimension.
This “definitive” version of Ed the Happy Clown, the third time the story’s been collected since first appearing in Brown’s Yummy Fur, contains a number of notes explaining artistic choices, edits, and motivation. Brown writes that he was initially influenced by surrealist ideas of writing and drawing the first thing that comes to mind. When he found he wasn’t producing ideas, he took this approach to his cartooning and found it a good prompt to create more strips. The “Introductory Pieces” featuring Ed’s earliest adventures are filled with stream of consciousness story beats and a heavy dose of toilet humor. Ed isn’t a character so much as he is a punching bag, an amusing looking character upon whom Brown can dump as much horror and feces as he—or the audience—can stand.
Also included in this edition is a ten-page “cover” of an early ‘50s horror story called “The Door”. Brown recreates the story with most of the original text intact, changing only the art and editing the story for the sake of brevity. In the story, a young couple enters a fun house which turns out to be an endless labyrinth. When they reach their destination, shriveled, old, and naked, they find the devil waiting for them, pitchfork in hand.
Brown writes he originally intended to use this kind of setup for Ed the Happy Clown before the story began to take off in its own direction. Musicians perform others’ songs all time, either as an homage or to try and capture a song’s feeling. The inclusion of Brown’s version of the “The Door” works in much the same way. Horror comics of the ‘50s almost universally end with a twist in which something innocent (like a fun house) becomes deadly, or someone evil is punished in an ironic way (a greedy man is crushed by his fortune). With its wandering characters and twist ending, “The Door” is certainly a precursor to Ed the Happy Clown.

More than that, though, it’s a metaphor for the creative process—an innocent undertaking in which a person can be trapped. As in the story, hell isn’t just feeling lost or hopeless as one wanders, it’s finally reaching the end.
In his notes Brown says all of the story’s strangeness, like Reagan’s head becoming attached to Ed’s penis, comes from having no grand plan for the story, but his choices never feel arbitrary or random for the sake of weirdness. Almost nothing is wasted here, as ideas and characters from the earliest strips find their way into Ed’s tangled world. The point of view shifts constantly from character to character, but it always comes back to him.

The peculiarities and disturbing elements of the story don’t feel like they’re designed only to shock. The mountains of shit, the severed limbs, the sewer-dwelling dwarves: these are ink blots to examine and ponder. Where did these ideas come from, and what do they mean? Brown may reject the idea of these images reflecting anything about him because they were the first thoughts which came to him, but if they’re not a reflection of Brown, then they can only serve as a reflection of the reader. Perhaps that’s the most disturbing element in the entire book.
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Chester Brown

          



Paste Magazine calls Ed the Happy Clown "nightmarish," in a good way

Updated July 30, 2012


Comic Book & Graphic Novel Round-Up: Ed the Happy Clown

July 4, 2012
BY HILLARY BROWN, SEAN EDGAR AND GARRETT MARTIN

Repackaged for the first time in 20 years, this time by Drawn + Quarterly, with extensive notes by the artist, Chester Brown’s Ed the Happy Clown may be the strangest thing he’s ever done, and if you know his work, you know that’s saying something. Born from an experiment with surrealism, it almost reads like a game of exquisite corpse, if you can imagine one in which every panel was created by the same person. At first its elements are disjointed, bubbling up from Brown’s subconscious to illustrate different anxieties, but as the book goes on, he forges a plot from them, making you almost forget your initial confusion. If you take a step back, it’s like watching Michael Kupperman turn into Alison Bechdel. The notes, as ever with Brown, are hilariously straightforward, stoically hand-lettered explanations of the decisions he made and what influenced them (for example, the reason an alternate dimension’s Ronald Reagan, whose head ends up on the tip of the title character’s penis, doesn’t resemble our own is simply that Brown wasn’t very familiar with him as more than a concept). Depicting a world of nightmarish chaos in which the social contract seems to have evaporated and even our own bodies betray us in the most mortifying fashion, Ed the Happy Clown is a unique window into fears both utterly individual and strangely universal. (HB)
 
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  Chester Brown's Ed the Happy Clown in Macleans

Updated July 25, 2012


Welcome back, Ed the Happy Clown

Chester Brown’s influential graphic novel has been reissued and, rest-assured, is just as rewarding 20 years later

by Stephen Carlick
Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Last year, Toronto cartoonist Chester Brown raised eyebrows—and his profile—when he released his fourth graphic novel, Paying For It, a memoir of his life as a john that proffered a conscientious and (mostly) well-argued rationale for why prostitution should be decriminalized in Canada.

It was a small sensation: the book received mostly positive reviews, and sparked heated debate in the wake of Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel’s controversial decision to strike down the provincial laws criminalizing prostitution. The graphic novel also provided a punctual reminder of Brown’s uncanny ability to create thought-provoking comics that transcend the medium seven years after his best-selling Louis Riel biography brought him national attention from non-comics readers.

With the iron still hot, literary Montreal comics house Drawn & Quarterly decided to strike again, reissuing Ed the Happy Clown, the book that defined Brown’s early career—and won the Harvey award for Best Graphic Album in 1990—in a hardcover, note-appended edition. Since 1989, when the graphic novel was first published by now-defunct Toronto comics publisher Vortex, it’s been a cited influence for countless giants in the comics industry, including Seth, Chris Ware, Craig Thompson, Dan Clowes, Bryan Lee O’Malley and Anders Nilsen.

Over 20 years later, reading Ed the Happy Clown is just as rewarding. The story, which revolves around the exploits of Ed, the eternally white-faced, red-nosed titular character, plus a female vampire, a penis with the head of an American president, a man whose bowels move indefinitely, a hot-headed anarchist, some scientists, government workers and hordes of an alien race called Pygmies (whose depiction a now-mature Brown regrets), is the sum of those parts — always manic, often offensive, and at times jumbled — and yet it remains a fascinating read, both by itself and in the context of Brown’s now-illustrious career.

Ed’s turbulent plot is characterized by unpredictable twists and turns symptomatic of Brown’s early, improvisatory writing methods. From 1981 to 1985, he was drawing the short, non-linear beginnings of Ed in Yummy Fur, his self-published mini-comic. At the time, Brown had no intention of tying together these crude, and seemingly disparate strips, but by 1986, Vortex had picked up YF as a monthly, 24-page comic series, and Ed was the main reason. That the character’s storyline would become his first graphic novel was still unbeknownst to Brown, so while he continued to serialize the story—fleshing out the plot and characters—he finished each comic without a plan for where he’d go next.

Though this narrative turbulence makes summarizing Ed near impossible — and would, after all, ruin the fun of reading it — it hardly matters; the novel’s pleasures lie as much in its subtle details as they do in its roller-coaster plot. By 1986, (page 40 and onward in this edition), Brown is able to communicate, in wry little one-liners peppered throughout the comic panels, the social and political commentary that characterize the book. Despite the fact that Brown deprecates his younger self through his notes for his immaturity and ignorance, his little jabs at Toronto police, religion, science, sexism, and homophobia remain hilarious and incisive. Indeed, even the silliest aspects of Ed — the excessive violence, the scatology, an argument between two vampire-killing twins over whether they’ve chosen the right career path — reveal a winking Brown’s acute understanding of human avarice, exploitation, and uncertainty, respectively.

Brown’s extensive notes at the end of the book are an added bonus to this edition. They’re less intensive than those in Louis Riel and Paying For It, but just as interesting, and they offer authorial insight into the novel itself while simultaneously providing an autobiography of the years Brown spent writing Ed. Fans of Brown’s work will enjoy the way these notes illuminate this period of his life, but all readers will enjoy the way they illuminate this period in Canadian comics history. One particularly fascinating passage finds Brown discovering, in 1992, “a new model … developing for narrative-print-cartoonists — the graphic-novelist model.”

In the early ‘90s, the graphic novel was still emerging as a literary phenomenon, and Brown, now an iconic figure in Canada’s literary landscape, was at the forefront — and still is.
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Critical Mob reviews Ed the Happy Clown

Updated July 25, 2012


Ed the Happy Clown

BY PHIL GUIE
A nightmare to behold

During the early 1980s, Chester Brown created the alternative comic Yummy Fur, which helped establish his reputation as a gifted and intriguing cartoonist. One of the book's serialized stories was Ed the Happy Clown, an epic that mixed science fiction, horror, and crime noir elements, albeit in dreamlike fashion. Newly reprinted by Drawn & Quarterly, the plot of Brown's bizarre opus remains difficult to describe, starting off with a man whose hand is missing, which leads to the title character being tossed in prison. From there it gets even stranger: Ed escapes thanks to the endless defecating of a fellow inmate, whose anus, it turns out, is the portal to a parallel universe inhabited by significantly smaller humans. That doorway is discovered when President Ronald Reagan of the alternate dimension accidentally crosses the gulf, resulting in his head becoming merged with Ed's penis.

The surreal narrative also features cannibalistic pygmies, a vengeful young woman named Josie who dies and returns as a vampire, and lots of moments that satirize politics, religion, even America itself. For example, at one point Reagan's head must make a public address, resulting in backstage shenanigans so that he can appear both presidential and human. Meanwhile, it turns out that all the excrement flowing through the portal is due to out-of-control consumerism; that is, the tiny America consumes so much that its citizens literally cannot stop using the bathroom. Given how the story was originally published over the course of seven years, Brown's artwork evolves and becomes more dynamic over time, though the early chapters already show confident line work and a strong sense of pacing. While the ending seems unnecessarily downbeat, Ed the Happy Clown is nevertheless a unique and powerful reading experience worthy of its reputation as one of Brown's seminal comics.
 
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  Ed the Happy Clown reviewed in The Montreal Gazette

Updated July 19, 2012


Ed The Happy Clown: welcome to Chester Brown’s subconscious, and please proceed with caution

July 6, 2012
Ian McGillis

The Montreal Gazette


Chester Brown’s Ed is a clown, yes. Happy? Well, uh…

I’ve taken the zig-zag path into Montreal-born cartoonist Brown’s work, having gotten caught up in the general acclaim for Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, then worked my way back into the autobiographical I Never Liked You before finally getting current with Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John (my interview with Brown around that book can be seen here). All those books were enormously impressive, and all in different ways; it was almost as if Brown had set himself the challenge of never remotely repeating himself. That was what I thought before I had set eyes on Ed The Happy Clown, a work long spoken of in hushed tones but heretofore available only in impossibly rare early numbers (and occasional reissues) of Yummy Fur and an increasingly scarce book from the now-defunct Vortex Comics. Now, with their customary curatorial diligence and immaculate production values, Drawn & Quarterly have brought out a definitive hardcover edition with a new foreword and extensive end notes from the author. And the depth and range of Brown’s oeuvre is even more undeniable.

Ed The Happy Clown’s general premise and plot pretty much defy describing in a family-friendly publication, and that’s probably just as well. A state of unfolding surprise and increasing amazement (disbelief? incredulity?) is by far the best state in which to attempt to absorb it. It’s also the closest we newcomers can come to replicating the way the work’s original readers came to Ed when it began appearing in installments back at the dawn of Canadian underground comics culture. So if I say that the story centers on a man’s discovery that the head of a major head of state has appeared on his, ahem, reproductive organ, and that a portal has been discovered into a parallel dimension whose accessing involves passing through another man’s, ahem, digestive tract, and that pygmies and vampire hunters and avenging medieval housewives are involved…you might well throw up your hands and say something like “Sorry, just too weird.” And that would be a shame. So I won’t.

It would be a shame because we know by now that Brown tends to work on several levels simultaneously. Paying For It was an exercise in frank personal sexual memoir, yes. But it was also a soundly presented case for the reform of Canada’s prostitution laws. Similar with Ed The Happy Clown. Yes, it’s a wild, joyously transgressive, sometimes gratuitously revolting roughshod ride over any and every taboo you can think of. (If my teenage self, just awakening to notions of rebellion and subversion, had discovered a book like this, it would have well and truly rocked my world.) But it also serves as a Trojan horse for some serious–and, in the end, highly ethical–disquisitions into religion, politics, history, sexuality, identity, and the ever-popular “more.”

In his notes, easily worth the price of the book on their own, Brown describes an epiphany when, inspired by the scatological element in Japanese manga, he was moved to cast aside conventional Western notions of taste and give full rein to a scatological motif in Ed. He also describes how a reading of Wallace Fowlie’s Age Of Surrealism inspired him to follow the example of French surrealist writers like Breton and Lautreamont by giving free rein to his subconscious, political incorrectness be damned. Here’s a funny thing, though. The first of those epiphanies turned out to be based on a mistake (Brown was acting on a friend’s comment, and never did find evidence of the supposed “fondness” for scatology when he later looked for it) and the second was, at best, half-informed, since Brown never did read the actual work of those surrealists. All of which goes to show that inspiration is where you find it. If it works, it works.

Brown also goes into some detail about his personal circumstances at the time of Ed‘s conception and slow rise to comics-world popularity in the mid- to late 1980s. While this makes for fascinating reading, and functions as a history-in-miniature of the dawn of graphic-lit culture in Canada, it’s a bit odd thinking about this work in historical terms, simply because it still feels so current. Sure, there are period-specific elements like the appearance as characters of Ronald Reagan and Brian Mulroney*, but on the whole this work feels like it could have been made last week; its uncompromising vision gives it an otherness but also a timelessness. What our descendants might think of it, Lord only knows, but they aren’t likely to find it old-fashioned.

* * *

A few weeks back in this blog I wrote about Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles From The Holy City, the latest and probably best in a sui generis series of personal memoir/travelogues from some of the world’s least visited (Shenzhen) most secretive (Pyongyang) and most misunderstood (Jerusalem) cities. The books have garnered worldwide acclaim and given Delisle a niche all his own on the international graphic-lit scene. In what promises to be one of the highlights of the local literary summer, Delisle will be appearing at Librairie Drawn & Quarterly at 7pm on Friday, July 20.

Ian McGillis

*Though no attempt is made to have Reagan and Mulroney resemble their real-life counterparts, and Nancy Reagan, for her part, is a temptress who looks young enough to be her husband’s granddaughter.
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In-depth review of Ed the Happy Clown in The Comics Journal

Updated July 19, 2012


To Hell and Back


BY BOB LEVIN
JUL 9, 2012
The Comics Journal

Having to write a story twice means you couldn’t write it once. So pronounced the first novelist to teach me, inveighing against those who sought careers in the safety of the formulaic. But that was 1963, when High Art was the only Art; Low Art went out in the trash; comic books were below contemplation, and graphic novels not in the most heated imaginings of Isaac Asimov or Timothy Leary.

Chester Brown has tested my teacher’s maxim more than most. His character, Ed the Happy Clown, first appeared in a series of stories in Brown’s comic Yummy Fur (1983 et seq.). They were collected into Ed the Happy Clown: A Yummy Fur Book (1989), which eliminated several episodes which Brown said he drew after the story’s “‘natural’ end,” before he decided to take his cartooning in a different direction, but added an introduction written by Harvey Pekar and drawn by Brown. Three years later, The Definitive Ed Book: Ed the Happy Clown: A Comic Book appeared. It added 17 pages to the story, primarily providing a new ending for one of the principal characters, and substituted an introduction by Steve Solomos for Pekar’s. This proved not so “definitive” after all. Once Drawn & Quarterly replaced Vortex as Brown’s publisher, Ed reappeared, re-segmented, into another series of comics. Now they have coalesced again in Ed the Happy Clown: A Graphic Novel.[i]

Ed 2012 reproduces Ed 1992, save 12 blank pages which had permitted each chapter to comfortably begin on the right hand side of the spine, rather than clang together like box cars. Brown had footnoted D&Q’s comics, and these notes, slightly modified, occupy 38 pages of the volume’s 243. The quality of the paper has improved, sharpening the contrast between blacks and whites; but the size of both pages and panels has diminished, making details more difficult to discern and sliding the text’s size down the eye chart. Each reader’s vision can assess this trade-off.

I loved Ed. In October 1993, profiling Brown for The Comics Journal,[ii] I marveled at the imagination capable of populating it with “sewer-dwelling, rat-eating pygmies & masturbating giant squids & cow-hunting flying saucers & sky-diving Frankenstein monsters & underemployed vampire hunters & a man who can’t stop shitting & monks having sex with statues of the Virgin Mary & Ronald Reagan’s head transplanted onto the tip of a penis” and had no compunction about flipping back in forth in time, or to and fro between dimensions, or looping plot twists to the seemingly passed over and forgotten. Ed dazzled me with its freewheeling style, uninhibited drive, mad logic, absence of shame, tricky intelligence, quirky uniqueness, and bubbly good humor. But Brown had followed a number of cartoonists into the autobiographical and, not being a fan of memoirs (though I write them), I’d wondered how this choice would work for him.

Brown published three autobiographical books: The Playboy. (1992), which dealt with his masturbation history (It shamed him); I Never Liked You (1994), which recounted teenage crushes and the death of his mother (His behavior embarrassed him); and Paying for It (2011) which covered his relations with and feelings about prostitutes (He is all for them); as well as Louis Riel (2003), a biography of a 19th century Canadian political leader – and possible madman. They were critically acclaimed; I enjoyed them all; but none jazzled me like Ed.[iii]

So when I was asked to review Brown’s re-re-re-re-revisitation of his clown, I was excited. What changes, I wondered, had 20 years wrought? How would my teacher’s admonition stand up to them? But finding this Ed identical to the one to which I’d reacted previously, it was I who seemed about to run afoul of Mr. Harris. I scratched my head. I plucked my goatee. When I had finished, it struck me, Cushlamochree! Review the footnotes. They’re new.

II

Drowse-inducing scholarship aside, footnotes can be fun. They can provide hilarious counterpoint to the text (Will Cuppy), an entire alternative narrative (Vladimir Nabokov), the ruminations and reflections of an over-flowing intelligence (David Foster Wallace), or the opportunity to shoehorn in anecdotes one can’t find space for otherwise (Not infrequently, me). In Louis Riel, Brown’s footnotes amplified his text, explained his choices between competing “facts,” afforded voice to others’ differing views, and revealed what he had made-up, overlooked, exaggerated, got wrong, guessed at, can’t explain, and flat-out falsified, wonderfully illustrating the unreliability of historical “truth.” I hoped Ed’s footnotes would provide insight into Brown’s magic. I wanted his thoughts on from where those pygmies and perversions, plot loops and dimension jumps had come. I hoped to have his genius, wars-and-all, self-investigated.

I was disappointed. The footnotes credit Brown’s friends and publishers for their contributions; they point out his misspellings and note his indebtedness to manga and Marvel; they discuss his religious beliefs and housing accommodations, his preferences regarding panels-per-page and words-per-panel, his worry about offending third world people and anarchists, his opposition to censorship, his wish for commercial success. We learn about his fear about losing his drawing hand and “near-suicidal depression.” But what we learn about Ed’s gestation (“Most… was made up as I went along”) hardly satisfied my craving.

So I decided to speculate.In the footnote to interest me most, Brown recounts a horror comic story which has haunted him since he was 10 or 11. “The Door” concerns a happily married couple lost in an underground maze, where they wander, subsisting on slime and water seepage, until, mentally and physically broken, they reach a door which opens into… HELL! While Brown says the story is in the public domain and, thus, reproduceable, he devotes 10 pages to, charmingly if peculiarly, redrawing it. (He explains this allowed him to trim over-wordy captions; he does not explain why he also had the couple’s clothes disintegrate to the point of exposing their withered sexual organs.) I suspect Brown redrew the story as a way to “master” its power over him. And I suspect that he added to the couple’s humiliation out of his own feelings toward “romantic” love, about which I will say more later.

Brown posits that “The Door” unnerved him because, unlike other horror comic stories, the couple had done nothing that deserved punishment, which implied “bad things could happen to you for no good reason.” Well, punishment of the undeserving was not unknown in other comics (See: Any number of EC stories). Nor was it absent from nursery rhymes (See: Jack and Jill), fairy tales (See: The Little Mermaid), or the Bible (See: Job), all of which Brown could have been exposed to before he was 10. And since Brown says his plan for a “Door”-like labyrinth in Ed was abandoned once another idea led him elsewhere, I wondered why he spent so much effort reconstructing it. Then I recalled the significant change between Ed 1989 and Ed 1992.To recap, Chet, a married janitor, is having an affair with Josie. After his right hand mysteriously falls off, Chet, recalling St. Justin who, his mother had told him, had cut offhis right hand to avoid sinning with it, decides God has punished him for sinning with Josie. He kills her; she returns as a ghost/vampire and kills him. There things stood – eye-for-eye resolved – until Brown decided, “The impulse for revenge is a negative one and I… (made Josie’s) fate reflect that belief.” In his revision, Chet’s severed hand – a nifty stand-in for the artist’s all-powerful one – rolls up Josie’s window shade while she sleeps, exposing her to lethal daylight, and sentencing her to… HELL!

That connection to “The Door” is unaddressed.

Brown, who footnoted that Freud’s belief “that each human mind has a ‘thing’ or ‘area’ called The Unconscious… (was) a fallacious psychoanalytic theory,” won’t like where I am going, but, it seems to me, things occur in his work, as in all creators, certainly in mine, that aren’t the result of conscious planning or luck or the largesse of the gods. Sometimes you sit down to put pen to paper and, when you walk away, what you have left behind astounds you. How, you wonder, did I do that? Sometimes, too, in meditation or the shower or falling asleep, an explanation for this astonishment-maker springs to mind, explaining where it had been residing in your inner ‘thing’ or ‘area’ all along. This may not be Freud’s Unconscious reminding you it’s there, but that seems as good a label for this repository as any. Certainly, something seems to be churning somewhere out of sight which a discerning curiosity might have illuminated. Instead, Brown pronounced his judgment and walked away.[iv]

Remember, everything in Ed came out of Brown. He alone sentenced Josie to death. He alone motivated the crime for which he condemned her. He removed Chet’s hand and appointed it her executioner. He even created the saint from whom he derived the message that hands had the potential to become such sinful instruments as to warrant pre-emptive removal. These decisions came to Brown while he was working in fiction, free of the harnesses and safety nets that autobiography and history provide. He could not simply limit himself to the recollections his memory supplied. Nor could he merely express what library research yielded. Fiction required that he open himself further and probe his inner ‘thing’ more deeply.[v]

I think Brown found it more comfortable to deny having an unconscious than to explore it. Entering the unconscious is, in a way, entering an underground maze. One can become trapped there; one can expose one’s self to Hell. And it could be that Brown feared this investigation would lead him to acts (or thoughts of acts, which often earn one equal amounts of self-condemnation) that would require his punishment. After all, it was he who posited earlier in Ed the character with so much shit inside that, once released, it could not be stopped until it had destroyed him.One other thing. When last seen, Ed is riding off with Betty Backman, who has allowed the size of his penis to convince her that, despite other obvious differences, he is her husband Bick, resulting in that poor fellow’s being hauled off by the Royal Canadian Mountain Police. How I wondered, did this treacherous denouement tie in with Brown’s view of male-female relationships, in which, his autobiographical work makes clear, he has little faith.[vii] Fortunately, Ruth Delhi was willing to palaver.

Delhi, long time Journal readers may recall, is a psychoanalytic social critic (and, among other things, holder of a 10th degree black belt from the Melanie Klein Martial Arts Academy/member emeritus of the Fairies, Wood Sprites, Sea Nymphs and Wee Ladies Tea and Knitting Association/ and cum laude graduate of the David Dubinsky Yeshiva and Culinary Academy) has been in semi-retirement since pundits claimed a personal relationship between us compromised her objectivity.[viii] But her abiding interest in Brown drew her forth.

We met in a North Berkeley café, next-tabled by a grey-pony-tailed gentleman declaiming about his having excavated from a neighborhood garbage can a treasure trove of Roumanian pottery shards, broken Kochina dolls, and empty boxes from Afghanistan. Delhi wore black sweat pants, a periwinkle blue velour top, and brown leather zipper jacket. She had no make-up or jewelry, except a wedding ring.[ix] Unfortunately, her views on Brown’s work, while as virtuosic as Ed itself, centered on his having had a schizophrenic mother. I say “unfortunately” because Brown deplores this diagnosis. Indeed, if “My Mom Was a Schizophrenic” (Underwater 4) is indicative, Brown regards what others might consider a psychotic break to be an exquisite “psychedelic state” turned bummer by an unappreciative culture or, alternatively, as valuable as the gift possessed by any shaman. And while I Never Liked You seems to depict how uncomfortable his mother’s off-kilter behavior made him feel and to punitively portray her grotesque and mute in the mental hospital where she will die, Brown has also said, “I couldn’t’ve wished for a more perfect mother.”

The thought of applying to him Delhi’s insight that children whose mothers’ erratic behavior, whether due to mental illness or shamanic gift, might lack the faith in female constancy to believe in the possibility of supportive relationships between men and women made me recall a dinner my wife and I had with a couple in the early 1970s. He was an economics professor and she an aspiring jazz singer. In the few years we had known them, they had swung through Esalen, encounter groups, and EST, so I was not surprised that, following his mother’s recent death, he had contacted a medium to put them in touch. At this time, people were finding gurus, joining cults, and moving into communes led by one charismatic figure or another as frequently as planes took off for Kathmandu – or Burbank; while my wife and I, more traditional, more fearful, were searching for our destiny in our apartment and its few block surround; and I figured that anyone who knew me had heard my skepticism about these more picturesque choices and would be counting on me to greet their news of conversations with the departed with my customary, refreshing rationality.

I was mistaken. Before we had finished our tostadas, he had blasted my uptight intolerance, and they had stormed from Casa de Eva. My wife said, “Let that be a lesson. Never get between a boy and his mom.[x]

So I said to Delhi, “Fuck it. Anyone who wants to know more can e-mail me. Who do you like at Wimbledon?”



[i]. In Ed’s most recent incarnation Brown explains that he does not consider himself a surrealist. Since Solomos’s introduction dwelt on Ed’s surreal aspects, this may account for its not meriting inclusion. Pekar’s introduction, while delightfully cranky, was more about Pekar than Ed and expressed his distaste at working “with anyone who wasn’t politically correct.” Brown, who now considers Ronald Reagan “the best president the US has had since Calvin Coolidge,” may have honored the old lefty’s wishes by not resurrecting his effort and associating him with this fringe opinion. [As one who finds memories of Reagan inevitably gag-inducing, I feel compelled to point out that the vast majority of polls rate him behind Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson as a president during the decades in question; and a slim majority prefer even Hoover to Coolidge.]

[ii]. See “Good Ol’ Chester Brown,” in Levin. Outlaw, Rebels, Freethinkers & Pirates. Fantagraphics. 2005.

[iii]. Brown’s memoirs, while confronting unpleasant personal material, present in the manner of Raymond Carver’s stories, with details observed and dialogue overheard, meticulously culled and ordered, rather than as, say, a Norman Mailer-esque plunge into the depths of his soul.

[iv]. Freud’s model for the unconscious may have been wrong, but his writings have provided others a goldmine of material for investigating the mind. Neuro-thisandthatists now recognize its capacity to register and process, in mysterious ways, much more information than can be consciously acquired and accounted for. “This stuff has to be stored somewhere,” my wife said one evening, when we were kicking this around. “Consciousness is a vast and moveable feast. Sometimes some things are easily recoverable; sometimes other things are. When they are not, dreams, as Freud said, – or showers, like you noticed – may forge the necessary connections to bring them – facts or fantasies – to awareness.”

[v]. I just happened to be reading Henning Mankel’s Before the Frost in which a character recognizes “If one only dared to get lost, one could find the unexpected.” That seems a good rule for creative writers, though, in this instance, it did lead to her getting bumped off by a lunatic.

[vi]. On the other hand, Brown’s views on the possibilities of human feces as a fertilizer, recognizing its potential for nurturing creation and enhancing growth, may suggest that he has not washed his hands (so to speak) of the possibility of working with its inner analogue entirely.

[vii]. Now may be a good time for Janet Malcolm’s warning in Reading Chekhov “…one must be wary of memoirs, factoring in the memoirist’s motives, and accepting little in them as fact.”

[viii]. As sure as her name is Ruth Delhi, not a word of this is true.

[ix]. Delhi has been married for over 40 years, as coincidentally have I. Our views may, therefore, be as skewed as Brown’s – though in the opposite direction. See Malcolm, supra.

[x]. The fellow, I should add, went on to make a fantasta-bazillion dollars as an investment strategist and retired to an estate on Maui, where he and his wife host visiting spiritual leaders to this day.
 
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  Comic Book Resources reviews 3 Drawn and Quarterly releases

Updated July 19, 2012


One of these things is not like the others: Three new Drawn and Quarterly books


July 10, 2012
by J. Caleb Mozzocco

Here are three June releases from Drawn and Quarterly: Kevin Huizenga’s Gloriana, Chester Brown’s Ed The Happy Clown and Dan Zettwoch’s Birdseye Bristoe.

They have several things in common, aside from the fact that they are all hardcover releases from the same publisher. They are all handsomely designed, for example, they all make lovely coffee table and bookshelf-filling objects, and they are all more or less important comics releases.

One of them is different in several significant ways, however.

The Brown book, which collects a series of strips that quickly evolved into a complete graphic novel from the pages of Brown’s 1980s cult classic Yummy Fur, lacks any fold-out pages.

Gloriana, which features several Glenn Ganges stories, has a four-page, horizontal fold-out of a key sequence in a story that deconstructs a moment in a time down to a molecular, cubist-like level, practically atomizing the comics page into a sort of Guernica of a comic book.

Birdseye Bristoe, the debut graphic novel of a promising new talent about the construction of a gigantic, Tower of Babel-sized cellphone tower in a small rural community, features a vertical, two-page fold-out diagram of the tower.

The Brown book, which does feature plenty of fairly fantastic-to-the-point-of-insane visual subject matter (ghosts, vampires, cannibal pygmies, Frankenstein, mad scientists, a severed self-ambulatory hand, naked ladies, a man who can’t stop defecating, a talking penis with the head of President Reagan who Brown draws to look nothing like Ronald Reagan, etc.), contains absolutely no drawings of Gamera, the giant turtle monster who starred in the 1960s cycle of Japanese giant-monster films.

This fact, on its own, isn’t too terribly remarkable, as a lot of comic books do not feature drawings of Gamera. However, Gloriana and Birdseye Bristoe both do.

In Gloriana, Huizenga uses Gamera as an example of an extremely large object when discussing how the human eye and perception work during a story in which his protagonist Glenn Ganges explains why the moon looks huge and red to some neighbors one night:



In Birdseye Bristoe, Gamera appears in a panel illustrating part of character Clint Murgatroyd’s report on geodesic domes:



Brown’s Ed The Happy Clown differs from the other two books in another, perhaps more relevant to our purposes here, way: I didn’t care for it at all, while I really loved the other two.

Gloriana is another example of Huizenga doing what he does best, extrapolating epic events and consequences out of the most mundane subjects one can imagine: Carrying groceries in from the car, talking to your spouse while unpacking the groceries, having a phone conversation with a friend, noticing the moon one night. The aforementioned sequence, the one that’s so expansive it includes a fold-out, is summarized in a single line of dialogue: “Earlier I was at the library and the sun was setting.”

Birdseye Bristoe is probably the most tremendously exciting of the books, as it is from a relatively new creator, and is big, bright and colorful — the artwork, as well as the characters and storytelling. A cellphone company wants to put a tower into the titular area, and the old guy who owns the land they want to put it on agrees, so long as they meet a few conditions. Meanwhile, his great-niece and great-nephew arrive to spend the summer with him. Zettowoch tells the story by repeatedly breaking it into sections and running gags, usually presented as something appearing in the journals of one of the two teenagers. Krystal draws maps and illustrated lists, offers a tour of her uncle’s bungee cord and two-liter pop bottle inventions and interviews various characters. Clint makes little reports on various subjects. Zettowoch includes recipes and quizzes. The narrative is fast, funny and propulsive, but the experience of reading it is even better — it’s fun.

Ed The Happy Clown, however, is an awful bummer. After a few stop-and-start strips involving the title character, some scientists, some masked policemen and a Chester Brown avatar, a bigger, more ambitious narrative gradually begins to take shape, but it’s pretty tough reading. I made it through Brown’s graphic novel about having sex with prostitutes just fine, despite some misgivings here and there (especially at the resolution and throughout the prose end-section), but a lot of the content here is violent and scatalogical in the extreme.

Brown may draw, say, a room full of feces, or a semen-soaked hand or the head of a bald, jowly man attached to the end of a clowns penis vomiting very well, but that doesn’t really make them things I enjoy looking at. I don’t want to condemn the book purely on content, of course; do note that a cartoonist like Johnny Ryan could draw the same things, or grosser things, and the pictures will come out funny, or at least amusing, because of Ryan’s slick, classic cartoonist style. At this early point in Brown’s career, his style couldn’t really transcend and transform the subject matter, and most of the time, he doesn’t seem to be going for laughs or anything anyway.

I felt kind of defeated by the book, to be honest; I didn’t like it, it was hard for me to read, and I have trouble finding redeeming qualities to it. Aside from the obvious one: It provides a collection of the work of a great and important cartoonist. Certainly its far from his best work, but here it all is, easily accessible, and discussed at great (even tedious) length by the cartoonist himself in copious end notes. Brown’s a cartoonist whose work should all be easily available, to provide context for the rest of it, so I’m glad this book exists, even if I don’t like it.

But more importantly? It could have used a Gamera cameo.
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The Comics Reporter reviews Chester Brown's "Ed The Happy Clown"

Updated June 21, 2012


June 19, 2012

CR Review: Ed The Happy Clown

This is a new edition of the important first major work from the cartoonist Chester Brown, assembled from the main serial that ran the first several issues of his long-running comic book series Yummy Fur. Ed The Happy Clown follows the title hero through a series of misadventures in a satirical version of the real world, a world that seems to turn on horror moments. There are creatures living in the sewers, doctors are callous savages disdainful of anything approaching human dignity, there is another reality next door to this one distinguished by its confusion over what to do with human waste and its matter-of-fact acceptance of gays, being killed while in a sinful act turns you into a vampire: one of Brown's accomplishments is that this seems like a lived-in world but still seems to turn on moments design to emphasize the absurd. Ed wanders through this landscape before, during and after having experienced a unique dosing of this world's madness: a miniature, working version of Ronald Reagan's head has attached itself to the end of his penis.

Re-reading Ed, the reader may not be able to decide how much of this was Brown showing off just how strange he could be and how much of the story is driven by primal, fearful concerns about one's body and the basic untrustworthiness of authority. I'd say it's both, with a slight edge going to the content of the nightmare rather than the flourishes of its existence, perhaps because chapters no longer appear alongside Bible adaptations as was the case when it was serialized. What stands out now is how quickly Brown went from precocious amateur to cartoonist aligned with the primal forces of great, offhand, compelling art: these are good comics almost from the start, but there's just enough rough stuff there to see the cartoonist lock into place, like one's vision through the machine at an eye exam. Brown's sense of humor in terms of tweaking awful incidents in a way that underlines their lunacy and then playing that against the resignation of the more positive character, that's a goldmine throughout.

From what I can tell, this new edition simply collects the very good serial re-publication from several years back, including those (just-about-patented) Chester Brown footnotes. The lovely series of cover images that graced those comics are worked into end papers and various covers here, all to fine effect. I think those comics are just about perfect, both the originals and the re-release, so to have these adhere so closely to the look and feel of that presentation feels smart and necessary. While it's difficult for me to imagine readers looking at this handsome volume in the same way folks did when these comics seemed to fall out of some Evil Comic Book Heaven decades ago, ratty and luminous, the work holds power out of its original cultural context: the joy of a smart, young, talented cartoonist firing in whatever direction his talent is able to take him.
 
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  Hugh Hefner reached out to Chester Brown: Interview

Updated February 28, 2012


Playboy's "The Smoking Jacket" talks to Chester Brown

By Mark Frauenfelder
Jan. 20, 2012

Playboy's website The Smoking Jacket interviewed cartoonist Chester Brown about his autobiographical novel, The Playboy. Jessica Campbell of Drawn & Quarterly (publisher of The Playboy) says, "OK, am I the only one who didn't know that Hugh Hefner wrote to Chester after the publication of The Playboy to express concern about his guilt? This interview is full of little gems like that! Love it."

TSJ: The Playboy was published in 1992, and it’s an autobiographical comic about your teenage experiences with Playboy magazine—buying it, hiding it, whacking off to it, burying it, burning it… When did you first see a Playboy mag? And how do you go from being embarrassed to buy the publication to writing a book about it?

CHESTER BROWN: I’m sure I would have seen it on the stands and would have been curious, you know, when I was a kid. I remember in elementary school we were putting on a play—we were supposed to be pretending to be adults—and one of the kids had a Playboy. I guess he had gotten it from his father, to pretend like he was an older fellow reading a Playboy. And I remember sneaking a look at the centerfold. But it wasn’t until several years later that I actually got up the nerve to go out and buy my own.

…
TSJ: Did you ever get any feedback from the people at Playboy about your comic?

CB: After we released The Playboy I got a letter with Playboy [header] on it and it turned it out to be from Hugh Hefner. He wrote me a very nice letter about how much he enjoyed the book but that he was kind of concerned about all the guilt and suffering I had gone through as a teenager, buying the magazine, and how this had kind of surprised him because he had thought the sexual revolution in the 60s had changed things and that teenage boys buying Playboy in the 70s wouldn’t be feeling guilt about it anymore.
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Chester Brown

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The Playboy




VICE names PAYING FOR IT to list of top 10 comics of 2011; BIG QUESTIONS "also good"

Updated February 28, 2012


Nick Gazin's Comic Book Love-In #45: VICE's Top Ten Comics of 2011

By Nick Gazin
VICE.com
Jan. 2012

Dear Everyone,

I didn't make a best of list for 2011 because I don't believe in lists. But if you care about lists, here's a list of ten good comics that came out in 2011. Feel free to say that VICE said that you made their top ten comics list of 2011 if you're on this list. Actually, you can say that you were on VICE's top ten comics list even if you didn't make the cut.
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Anders Nilsen

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Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It




  ED THE HAPPY CLOWN named one of 2012's most anticipated books by Comic Book Resources

Updated February 28, 2012


Six by 12 | 12 comics to look forward to in 2012

By Chris Mautner
Comic Book Resources
Jan. 13, 2012


Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown (Drawn and Quarterly). How long has it been since a collected version of Ed has been available? It’s been a long time. Long enough for me to note that it’s one of the few books by Brown that I haven’t read (other than pieces here and there — it’s shameful, I know). This is definitely going to be one of the big reprint projects of the year.













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Chester Brown

          



PAYING FOR IT and HARK! A VAGRANT get Austin Chronicle talking

Updated February 28, 2012


The Year in Books
Thirty-one titles that got us talking this year

By Wayne Alan Brenner
The Austin Chronicle
Jan. 6, 2012

Chester Brown's Paying for It (Drawn and Quarterly), the acclaimed cartoonist's unswerving account of his regular, ah, use of prostitutes over the past several years, doubles (or at least exhaustively tries to double) as an argument for the rights of sex workers.

Webcomics get a welcome incarnation in the offline world as Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant (Drawn and Quarterly) brings the cartoonist's sharp wit and delightful send-ups of historical characters (real and/or literary) into paper and ink.
 
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Chester Brown
Kate Beaton

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Paying For It
Hark! A Vagrant




  The Dispatch reviews PAYING FOR IT

Updated January 12, 2012


October 24, 2011
Rob Hardy

Canadian Chester Brown is a well known artist of comic strips, most famous for his comic-style biography of Canadian resistance leader Louis Riel, and some autobiographical work. When his relationship with his last girlfriend foundered in 1996, he realized he was no longer interested in romantic love or monogamy. He still wanted sex, and he still wanted the love of his friends, but he didn't mind if the two wants stayed separate. Skinny, not handsome, and ill-at-ease around new people, he came upon the solution. He'd start going to prostitutes. That's what he has unapologetically done ever since, because the arrangement has worked out well for him, and he'd like people to know about it. Nothing to be done, then, but to draw an autobiographical comic about his adventures in the world of commercial sex. He includes the interactions this brings him with prostitutes and with his friends and former girlfriends who don't know anyone else who has done this sort of thing, and some of whom think he is more nuts than they previously realized. The book is Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir about Being a John (Drawn and Quarterly), and shows once again, if anyone needed further evidence, that comic strips aren't just the Sunday funnies and they aren't just the playground for muscle-bound guys in tights and capes. Funny, self-deprecating, iconoclastic, and thought-provoking, Brown's chronicle will allow those who have never visited a prostitute to learn a little bit about what it is like, and how it is that commercial sex might turn out to be satisfactory for both parties involved. (It should be noted that Brown lives in Toronto, and Canadian laws about prostitution are relatively liberal compared to our own.)

Paying For It is an elegantly produced book. The bulk of its 280 pages is comics, of course, but before those is an admiring introduction from R. Crumb, and afterwards are appendices and copious notes on what has been illustrated. Brown explains, for instance, that he has taken pains to keep the identities of the prostitutes secret, and although his little drawings would not do for visual identification, the speech bubbles of the prostitutes often cover their faces or they are turned away from the viewer. He explains that he submitted the work to the friends who are shown in it, to make sure that they didn't object to how they had been drawn or quoted (in this and in plenty of other episodes, Brown just seems a really nice guy). He gives annotations that explain some of the action or dialogue in the comics. In his first encounter, he and the prostitute are sitting, clothed, on a bed, and she says, "Okay, what would you like to do?" and he says, "Uh, I'd... like to have vaginal intercourse with you." The note at the back of the book explains: "Yes, that's what I really said." There are eight tiny, minimalist, black-and-white panels on each of the comics pages. Some of them show Brown and his hire in action in bed, but they are far too small and undetailed to be even close to lurid. Most of the panels, on the other hand, show him talking with the prostitute, or talking with his buddies or former girlfriends about his new way of life. Through it all is a bald, bespectacled, cadaverous figure whose facial expression does not change. That's Brown, and I was not at all surprised that a photograph of him at the back of the book shows that he really does look like that (although he doesn't have glasses, now that he uses contacts).

By the end of the book Brown knows something about how best to arrange hires to his liking (though he might disagree with R. Crumb's description of his belonging to a group of men who are connoisseurs in the world of paid sex), but in the beginning it was anxiety all around. He worried that he would look like a loser to other people, and then he worried that he is worrying about what other people think. He is such a newbie that his initial worries seem especially ridiculous once one has gotten to the end of the book: "How would it even work? Most guys who pick up streetwalkers have a car. Since I don't have a car, how would I go about it?" But he takes heart from a book of advice from the ever-useful Dan Savage: phone an escort, make an appointment to meet in a safe location, be respectful, use condoms, and tip the lady. The first nervous encounter (on March 26th 1999, to be exact - Brown kept a journal) ends with satisfaction on both sides, and Brown thinks on his bike ride home, "It was so honest... upfront. It felt... natural."


It has felt natural to him ever since. Many of the encounters are funny. "Wendy" doesn't meet him at the donut shop on time, so he phones, and she says, "Chester, I'm sorry. Something came up. I'll be there soon. Give me ten minutes." (It turns out she was having problems with her landlord.) And then she is disorganized about getting a room, and when they are settling in, it turns out she forgot condoms and invites him to come with her to buy them. He loses interest, but she gets her pay. With "Gwendolyn" as with many of the women, the conversation turns to how she got into the business. She explains, "I was working at a massage parlour, but I hate giving massages, so I figured I'd give this type of work a try." Brown asks, "A legit massage parlour or a rub-and-tug?" and she replies, "A rub-and-tug, but even at rub-and-tugs you're expected to give massages, and it was hard on my hands and fingers. It's less work to just have sex with the guys instead of massaging them. And you make more money, too." Gwendolyn also replies to his question that no, she's never taken a client who turned out to be someone she knew, but there was a close call. "A guy phoned and I recognized his voice - he was an ex-boyfriend of mine." The solution: she disguised her voice and said she charged 600 for a half hour. "Beatrice" has the television on the whole time at her place and watches a soap opera throughout. Afterwards, in the penultimate panel, she asks "Why are you giving me a tip?" and in the final panel, Brown is walking home and thinks, "Why did I give her a tip?" Once Brown gets his own apartment, he is ready to invite prostitutes in, but runs into the classic bachelor's problem: his rooms are a mess. "If I'm going to have a prostitute come up here," he thinks, "I'd better clean up this place." One woman, having found out that Brown is a cartoonist, remarks, "I used to like Archie comics." Brown replies, "My stuff's quite different from Archie." (Bingo!) And there are decisions, decisions: "Should I see Millie or Denise next?" he thinks. "Millie's younger and more beautiful. On the other hand, Denise is better in bed and she is pretty. But she's not as stunning as Millie. And Millie doesn't charge as much as Denise does. And Millie's very bubbly and friendly." Eventually (surprise!) a decision gets made.

The encounters seem friendly, and many of the women have agreeable personalities and intelligence. One woman asks, after seeing Brown bring in a book on American history, "Does Johnson think the Civil War was started by tariffs or slavery?" Mutual satisfaction is the general rule. Of course, part of the reason for this is that Brown is a thoughtful gentleman; it is not at all surprising that the women like him and would be glad for return visits. In one of the book's many appendices, Brown's friend Seth writes, "The funny thing about Chester is that out of all the men I know he's quite possibly the one I think would make the most considerate boyfriend or husband for a woman... and yet he is the one who picked the whoring. It's a funny world." Many of the panels here show Brown and his friends in Socratic dialogues about marriage and dating and the place of prostitution. Brown's friends are relentlessly interested. "This is disgusting," says one, "but it's also good gossip."

The conversations with friends bring up ideas about prostitution that Brown covers more at length in his appendices. By the time a reader has gone through Brown's many encounters, it will be plain that for at least some women, prostitution is a financial choice, and like any other choice it can be more-or-less freely made. Brown's takes on disease, sex-slaves, violence, self-respect, and other aspects of prostitution are stated with good sense, although he knows his friends have disagreed with parts of them as will any reader of this book. His stringent views against romantic love and that "marriage is an evil institution" will be especially hard to take. Paying For It might have its manifesto moments, but like any good memoir, it introduces the reader to a likeable, interesting character in the process of change and growth; and besides, it is a realistic introduction into a world many readers will not have encountered except in legal cases and celebrity scandals.

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Chester Brown

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Paying For It




LOUIS RIEL on CBC's Canada Reads Top 10

Updated January 12, 2012


November 1, 2011


We held a public campaign to find out which memoirs, biographies and literary non-fiction titles Canadians want to see on Canada Reads: True Stories. Throughout the past few weeks, Canadians took up this challenge and nominated books for the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 40.

Then, we asked you to vote for your favourites on that terrific Top 40, to narrow the list down to the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 10. More than 20,000 votes were cast...and we now have our Top 10!


Louis Riel by Chester Brown

Chester Brown's 2004 comic biography of Louis Riel, the crusader for Métis rights and leader of the Red River Rebellion, isn't comic in the humorous sense (although it has its moments), but in its format: Chester Brown is a comic-book artist who has turned his inimitable style to a compelling moment in Canadian history. Not a graphic novel so much as a graphic history book, and one that transforms history into legend.

 
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Chester Brown

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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




  CBC Books talks with Chester Brown

Updated January 12, 2012


November 7, 2011


The panelists are in the process of deciding which book they want to bring into the ring for the February debates. We'll reveal who they are — and the titles they choose — on November 23 on CBC Radio's Q and right here on CBC Books.


In the meantime, we want to introduce you to the 10 authors you voted onto the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 10 list.
Today, it's Chester Brown, author of Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography.


Award-winning comics artist Chester Brown had his first cartoon published when he was just 12. He has gone on to create a highly acclaimed body of work, and is a member of the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame. His other books include the comics series Yummy Fur and the autobiographical graphic novels The Playboy and I Never Liked You. His latest publication is the graphic novel/memoir Paying for It.

Q: In three lines or less, describe your book to Canada.

CB: The book depicts the life of Métis leader Louis Riel from age 25 to his death, focusing particularly on his antagonistic relationship with the Canadian government.

Q: What inspired your book?

CB: I wanted to tell an anti-government story.

Q: What do you most enjoy about writing non-fiction?

CB: Reading a historical book is more fun when I'm imagining how I could turn the events it describes into comic-strip scenes.

Q: What are the biggest challenges?

CB: As a cartoonist, when I'm dealing with a historical subject, the thing I dislike the most is doing the research for the surface details for my drawings — research about what people wore, what the buildings looked like, that sort of thing. And when I'm drawing a story that involves people who are alive and who might actually read what I'm creating, I worry about what they'll think of my book.

Q: What makes you fall in love with a non-fiction book?

CB: The books I love the most are the ones that change what I think about a particular issue. The more a book transforms me, the more I love it.

Q: Describe where you write and draw.

CB: I write and draw at home in my tiny apartment. My desk is by a window that overlooks a courtyard with a large lawn and several trees. Gazing down at this courtyard, I'm sometimes tempted to walk downstairs and work surrounded by its greenery. I only did that once, and after about five minutes the sprinkler system started spraying me with water, and I had to run back inside.

Q: Where are your favourite places to read?

CB: Doesn't everyone like reading in bed most?

Q: Is there a non-fiction book that had a great influence on your writing?

CB: I didn't realize how much fun non-fiction books could be until I read Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson when I was 18.

Q: What did you want to be growing up? Why?

CB: I loved drawing and thought I was good at it, so I wanted to be an artist of some sort. In my teenage years I decided that the sort of artist I wanted to become was a cartoonist.

Q: What's your guilty pleasure when you take a break from writing?

CB: I'm having trouble with this question — there are lots of things that give me pleasure, but I don't feel guilty about any of them. I usually only interrupt work if a friends calls up wanting to do something like see a movie, or play tennis or have lunch.

Q: If you could pick any Canadian personality to defend your book, who would it be and why?

CB: I don't know if he counts as a "personality," but I'm going to say David Cayley of CBC Radio's Ideas. I have enormous respect for what he does on that show. I have no idea what he would think of any of my books.
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Chester Brown

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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




CBR advises comic newbies where to start, with SHORTCOMINGS and PAYING FOR IT

Updated January 12, 2012


November 9, 2011
Sonia Harris

How to get new readers addicted to comic books… People who have never read a comic book often ask me where to start. Sometimes the question is only half serious, more of a sort of bewildered curiosity about what I could possibly get out of it. Maybe because of this column or because my house is filled with comic book ephemera, but people come to me when they want to start and I’m starting to see some patterns about where they like to start, and it isn’t with superheroes.

Across the board, people who’ve never read comic books before are (at least initially) completely turned off by superheroes. From what I can gather, the way they’re reading comic books is already challenging enough, asking them to also buy into the idea of spending time reading about people in tight costumes asking too much. Even the comic books that I’ve come to think of as crowd pleasers because they appeal to such a huge variety of readers, like Batwoman or All-Star Superman are just met with a casual brush off.

Despite the plethora of superhero movies, I’ve found that there is still a certain amount of surprise that a grown woman like myself would actually read about them. The stigma of reading superhero comic books is alive, albeit in a slightly less aggressive form.

It is one thing to ask a new reader to buy into taking reading words and imagery, it is another to ask them to also get into a (supposedly) juvenile area like superheroes. It doesn’t matter if they like so-called escapist movies with action and science fiction elements, they’re still going to have some hang ups about the superhero genre. That’s fine, they’re be plenty of time to feed them the greats. Initially we just want to take their interest past the amused curiosity and into genuine personal involvement. At most, they might read a crime, fairy tale or horror book, but initially at least, the fastest way to get them to take comic books seriously is to show them books which are as close to real life as possible.

Here is a short list of books which have been my entry point for a number of new readers. These are books which have been happily bought by the people I recommended them to, although I would also recommend these as gifts too, as they are so well made.


Shortcomings
Adrian Tomine’s slice of relationship moratorium is a great place for people to start. First of all, they literally always can follow the rule of reading from left to right and top to bottom. He doesn’t break this rule and so new readers actually have a chance to get comfortable reading a comic book for the first time. For men or women, at best they recognize the path not taken or at worst, they feel a kinship with these misguided but lovingly depicted people. Most importantly the book is stylish and understated, never asking the reader to make any weird steps out of their own perception of reality. This is relatable and funny and pretty enough to draw people to it. Tomine really ought to design more covers; books, fashion magazines, whatever. Overall, he has a lovely way of creating very normal looking characters and making their lives seem special. It is a feeling which he managed to impart to the mundane life of the reader, allowing us to see the rhythms and beats of the art in our everyday lives.

Paying For It
Chester Brown’s diary of being a “john”, wherein he writes of his own experiences with prostitutes, not in a lascivious way, but in a rather detached way, as a complete alternative from the messy and challenging business of romantic relationships. A controversial book, in many ways I think that this book was written by Chester Brown simply so that he’d have an excuse to disseminate his long essay in the back (documenting his own feelings about the legality of prostitution.) That aside, I still think it is fascinating. A bit dismal and bizarre, but still fascinating. I would hate to be this man or have his life, or even have to interact with him for any sustained amount of time, but still… there is no other way I can imagine getting this much information revealed to me. He is totally vulnerable and open about his depressing life and it makes for great reading.
 
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Chester Brown
Adrian Tomine

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Shortcomings (PB)
Paying For It




  Vancouver Sun talks with Daniel Clowes about THE DEATH-RAY and more

Updated January 12, 2012


October 15, 2011
Ian McGillis

"It's a really difficult thing to do." Daniel Clowes is trying to describe the hard-to-name form - we'll call it the graphic novel for the sake of convenience - of which he is one of the undisputed masters.

"You have to be able to do so many different things well, and yet the actual storytelling of cartoons is something that you can't get from being good at any of the other fields, like drawing and writing and graphic design. It's got to be a specific cartooning gene that you have."

The 50-year-old Chicago native, now living in Oakland, is probably best known beyond the comics subculture for the much-loved screen adaptation of his graphic novel Ghost World. Visually, his work is on the rarely attained plain where cartooning meets fine art; thematically, his stories and characters pinpoint a certain Gen-X anomie with delicacy and dry, dark humour.

His newest book, the realist fantasy The Death-Ray, features a middle-aged man looking back on his adolescence, when he discovered smoking gave him the kind of supernatural powers that many a disaffected teen has dreamed of having. The book marks the first widely available release of a story Clowes first published in 2004 in his limited-edition Eightball comic.

"It was an obscure way to release something," he says. "So I thought, 'I've got to redo this in book form and try to get it out to people who don't go to a comics store every week.'"

Revisiting a seven-year-old work brought back a lot of memories for Clowes, personal and otherwise: "You actually remember things like what music you were listening to, what was going on in your life. I was reminded that I worked on that story during the buildup to the Iraq war. The story is not overtly political in any way, but you can see that the character, and the sort of hollow American jingoism that the character espouses, is informed by my frustration at watching that inevitable slide toward militarism."

Like two of Clowes's more recent protagonists - the socially hapless Marshall of Mister Wonderful and the misanthropic but somehow lovable title character of Wilson - The Death-Ray's hero, Andy, bears a certain resemblance to his creator, and marks a gradual drift toward more sympathetic figures in Clowes's work.

"I decided at a certain point that one of my goals is to find a way to connect with the characters no matter how awful they may seem or how hard they are to be around, to try to look at their humanity and find a way to love them by the end," he says.

"In The Death-Ray I mostly focused on the teenage version of Andy, but I wound up liking the older version, too. I liked the idea of this frustrated middle-aged man who had this terrible power. That led me to do Mister Wonderful and Wilson, who were versions of that, of myself facing middle age. Now I feel like I don't need to do that character any more. I can move on to other things."

For Clowes, who once felt part of a community of like-minded artists but finds that the old gang is breaking up, the tour that takes him to Montreal next week with fellow comics luminary Seth - whose new The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists is being launched along with The Death-Ray - is especially welcome.

"One of the main reasons I agreed to do this tour was to get to hang out with Seth for a couple of weeks. It's the only way we get to see each other. It's funny, I was just thinking of how The Death-Ray is a very American work, and how I really respond more to American artists than to international ones, and then it occurred to me how two of my five favourite cartoonists, Seth and Chester Brown, are Canadian."

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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Daniel Clowes

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The Death-Ray




PW Comics World Critic's Poll 2011: ONWARDS, PAYING FOR IT, THE DEATH-RAY

Updated January 11, 2012


January 10, 2012

TWO VOTES
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, Shigeru Mizuki (Drawn & Quarterly)
Set in World War II on a pacific island, this fictionalized memoir offers a detailed and comic record of life in the Japanese Imperial army as a prelude to a horrific and tragic account of the awful fate of its soldiers. An unforgettable account of the nightmare of war.—CR

Paying For It, Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)
The foreword by Crumb is great, and Brown's matter-of-factness in telling the kind of story he's telling is something to behold.—GD

The Death-Ray, Daniel Clowes (Drawn and Quarterly)
The superhero myth is taken to a it’s logical, bleak conclusion in a tale of emotionally stunted white-trash kids who encounter a force beyond their moral abilities. Although Clowes is aware of how small-minded his protagonists are, he never entirely loses sympathy for their plight.—HM
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Daniel Clowes
Shigeru Mizuki

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The Death-Ray
Paying For It
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths




  The AV Club talks autobiographical comics: the Chester, Joe, and Seth trio

Updated January 10, 2012


December 15, 2011
Sam Adams

The ’90s saw a boom in autobiographical comics, spearheaded by the Torontonian triumvirate of Chester Brown, Joe Matt, and Seth. Brown and Matt quickly became notorious for their willingness to portray their most unflattering characteristics, from penny-pinching to pornography addiction. Their recent books, Paying For It and Spent, bring that tendency to a boil, the former dealing with Brown’s extensive history of using prostitutes for sex, the latter with Matt’s compulsive masturbation. But a less forbidding route to their respective bodies of work can be found in I Never Liked You and Fair Weather, childhood reminiscences that are just as soul-baring and substantially less off-putting than their tales of adulthood.


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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Joe Matt

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Fair Weather (PB)
Spent
Paying For It




Autobio comics on AV Club: ONWARDS, MY NEW YORK DIARY, I NEVER LIKED YOU

Updated January 10, 2012


December 15, 2011
Sam Adams

Shigeru Mizuki’s Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is a stunning account of life as a Japanese soldier during World War II that could only have come from the pen of a veteran, but he also avails himself of the fiction author’s ability to reorganize and compress as needed.

Julie Doucet’s My New York Diary is the closest the former Dirty Plotte cartoonist has gotten to memoir, but it’s still deliberately unreliable, chronicling her six-month attempt to live in New York City with the lucid strangeness of a fever dream.

The Essentials:

4. I Never Liked You by Chester Brown
A slim but painful volume, told in Brown’s characteristically deadpan style, recounting his adolescence with melancholy wit. The tiny panels adrift in a sea of blank space are like flashes of memory torn from the past; they fit together, but not without gaps.
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Julie Doucet
Shigeru Mizuki

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I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition
My New York Diary
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths




  Seth wins Toronto International Festival of Authors' Harbourfront Festival Prize!

Updated January 9, 2012


November 17, 2011
Nathan Watson


On October 29, the Toronto International Festival of Authors awarded its $10,000 Harbourfront Festival Prize to Canadian cartoonist Seth for having “substantially contributed to the state of literature and books in Canada.” After starting his comic series Palookaville in the early ’90s, many of Seth’s stories have since been collected and published as novels. He also illustrates for various magazines (such as The New Yorker and The Walrus) and is in the process of designing the packaging of a 25-book collection of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strips.

In his acceptance speech, the Guelph-based artist argued that comics are a form of art just as much as other media. Seth and the many other artists who write “alternative comics” for adults (R. Crumb, Chris Ware and Daniel Clowes are among the most popular) aim to show the versatility of the medium. They communicate more nebulous narratives when compared to the fantastic elements in cartoons and superhero comics.

Seth’s winning the festival prize is a step toward general recognition that comics are as capable of describing the human condition and what experiences feel like as other art forms are.
Reading Seth’s comics can be a heavy experience. Time plays an important role in Seth’s work, so it’s not surprising that he is often described as a nostalgist. In his novel, It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken, Seth returns to the town where he was born to meet family members of a deceased New Yorker cartoonist. He dresses in 1940s fashion, decorates his home with antique knickknacks, and rants to Chester Brown’s character that he believes our culture hit its high-water mark decades ago.

Seth’s early work explores his own identity, such as his decision to change his name from Gregory Gallant in an effort to reinvent his personality. As narrators, Seth’s characters look back on the past, but it is always through selective memory, making an accordingly unreliable narration. Since recollection is often distorted, Seth feels that “nostalgia” doesn’t suit the use of memory. He views “nostalgia” as a pejorative term. In an interview with The Walrus, Seth suggested that though his characters at times dwell on the past, isolation plays a greater role in producing the melancholy of his characters.

Seth argues that the creative skills required to create comics are particularly similar to those employed in other media. For example, comics are easily compared to film because they can visually show you something instead of having to describe it. However, in an interview with Carousel Magazine, Seth mentioned that despite this clear link, he prefers to compare comics to poetry. The carefully thought-out process of arranging panels and writing dialogue is equivalent to choosing line lengths, style, and form. Comics are animated when the reader imagines what happens in the space between panels; the rhythm of the panel’s action and its dialogue convey a weight that amounts to more than merely being a “storyboard.”

It’s exciting to see more cartoonists being invited to participate in literary festivals like the International Festival of Authors. Their inclusion not only shows that the medium is growing in popularity, but that the definition of “author” is also changing. At the ceremony, Seth explained what it was like to witness the transformation. “I recall back in the early ‘90s talking to fellow cartoonist Chester Brown about the future of our medium, and our hopes of its literary acceptance. We weren’t optimistic. Frankly, the idea of winning something like this was not within the realm of possibilities at that time, so it goes without saying that I am deeply honoured.”

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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth

          



Comics Reporter interviews Chester Brown!

Updated January 9, 2012


January 8, 2012
Tom Spurgeon

i think Chester Brown is one of the world's great cartoonists, someone whose every panel seems to hold something for a reader's interest. There are a lot of cartoonists whose body of work I'll read as completely and thoroughly as I'm able, but very few whose work has an immediate power over my attention the way that Brown's does. That's always been the case. His seminal alt-comc series Yummy Fur was the last comic of my youth, in that I hurtled myself around my home state with a friend or two tracking them down when I finally discovered them due to the acclaim of other cartoonists, and the first comic of my adult comics readeing, in that I was forced to grapple with the art Brown created more on his terms than my own. I also think Brown's books are just about perfectly designed -- both the comics and the stand-alone trade format works -- something we get into a bit below.

In 2011, Brown released Paying For It, about his experiences paying for sex. While he intended it and hopes it is read as a graphic novel of ideas with which one may argue or find agreement, it's hard for me to separate the book's message from the general, consistent and sometimes astonishing power of Brown's cartooning. We spoke earlier this week by phone. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: You're probably out of the cycle of talking about this work.

CHESTER BROWN: Oh, no. It's fine. I suppose it's out of the cycle of talking about the English-language market for it, but it's also being published in Europe. I've been doing European interviews about it lately. I'm still used to talking about it.

SPURGEON: Do you tend to work with one or two publishers over there?

BROWN: I don't have much contact with European publishers. Drawn And Quarterly handles on the foreign stuff. They advise me as to who they think I should go with.

SPURGEON: Do you have a sense of your readership over there at all?

BROWN: Hmm... nope. Not really. [Spurgeon laughs] I don't got to the European comics festivals that much. I've only been to Angouleme once, and that was back in the early '90s. I'm sure it's not that different from my readership over here. I don't have that much contact with my European readership, I guess.

SPURGEON: There was a news item over the holiday that Drawn And Quarterly was going to be doing digital books, and your work is going to be the first featured in their digital program. I was told you were kind of enthusiastic, or at least happy to see your work in this format. Is that true?

BROWN: I'm not that crazy about the whole... I mean, I love print. I'm not really a computer person at all. I've never read an e-book. But I can see that's where things are going, and it doesn't bother me the idea of people looking at my work on screens rather than on paper. Personally, if I'm reading something, certainly a comic, I would much rather look at a print version than an e-book version. People are different. If someone wants to read an e-book version, I don't see why we shouldn't provide it.

SPURGEON: It seems that your work would be suited to that experience, as much as your cartooning values a certain kind of clarity. You're not a widescreen guy or a double-page guy, and it seems like it would be a comfortable reading experience.

BROWN: I hope so. [Spurgeon laughs]

SPURGEON: Do you have to do anything specific for that promotion-wise?

BROWN: Not so far. I didn't even think that that might be something I'd have to do promotion for. Peggy [Burns, D+Q Associate Publisher] hasn't set up any interviews about it.

SPURGEON: Talk to me about publicity experiences more generally. Do you enjoy that on any level, engaging with the press and meeting readers at conventions? Would you say you tolerate it? I saw you out there quite a bit, and there was a lot a press generally on Paying For It. You're still in the midst of it. Have you become accustomed to that? Are there things you like about it?

BROWN: This last time around, with this book, I did enjoy going out to the conventions. I haven't always felt that way. Maybe it was because with this book, it was about subject I felt very passionately about, where something like Ed The Happy Clown was just a stupid story. [laughs] Maybe that was the difference this time. And maybe it's just a matter of maturing and being less self-obsessed and enjoying meeting people. Getting out of the house. It does feel a bit different now.

SPURGEON: Speaking of differences, you've been with Drawn And Quarterly. It seems like from a comics-publishing nerd standpoint that they publish somewhat differently now. They seem to have more of a strategy concerned with taking some of their bigger books, like yours, and focusing press and attention on them for an entire publishing season. Not to the detriment of other books, but it just seems like they have books that sort of lead their seasons now. Do you get a sense of how the D+Q publishing enterprise is different?

BROWN: They're certainly doing a better job from a publicity point of view. There was no publicity planned back in the early days. [laughter] My first book with Drawn And Quarterly was The Playboy. I don't think I did a single interview for that. Maybe I did one or two, I can't remember. It wasn't anything like what we did with Paying For It. So yeah, things are way different now, in large part because Peggy Burns has joined the company. She has a very different way of approaching things. That's just added to what [D+Q Publisher] Chris [Oliveros] was able to do.

I'm certainly not saying anything against Chris. Chris is an amazing publisher. I'm so happy that two of them are working together now.

SPURGEON: Do you have any input into what you want to do, and what you don't want to do? How much is a campaign like that shaped around you? Or do you mostly trust them to present you in a way that shows you off in a good light?

BROWN: Peggy certainly makes sure I'm comfortable with what's going on. She asks are you okay with doing this or that. It's not like I'm ordered to do anything. [Spurgeon laughs] In fact, I guess there's been some level of miscommunication. She had the impression that I didn't want to do US conventions, and was surprised when I said I'd be fine with doing them. So I think she was trying to be sensitive to what I wanted to do, and she was maybe being over-sensitive based on not fully understanding what I was willing to do.

SPURGEON: Is there a reason to believe you wouldn't be willing to do US conventions? How different are they for you from doing like a TCAF beyond the specific strengths of each show?

BROWN: TCAF is very different from San Diego. [laughs] And most conventions in general. I'm not sure how she got that impression. I must have said something, or maybe I made a joke or something. I don't know. She does try to be sensitive to what I want to do.

SPURGEON: You said just now you feel very passionately about the issues involved in this book. You're at mostly the tail end of this cycle, even with some European material to do. Are you happy with the way people engaged with issues you wanted to discuss? Or were you disappointed at all in what people chose to pick up on?

BROWN: The disappointment was more in my ability to express myself in interviews. Really I said what I wanted to say in the book. And then you get a question in an interview and you're like, "Wow... how did I express myself in the book again? What is the best way to answer this question?" This happens a lot with interviews. You finish the interview and you think, "Now I know how I should have answered that question." A half-hour later, you're going over the question in your mind, re-answering it. When it's an issue you really care about, well, I tend to really beat myself up about it. I wasn't disappointed with the interviews approached it. It seemed like I was getting the questions one would want on a subject like that. They weren't trying to pussyfoot around the subject or anything.

SPURGEON: Is there anything you had a particular problem articulating? And was there a modification in your views due to the back and forth, now that book is on its feet and a done thing? Do you feel differently now about anything presented in the book?

BROWN: [slight pause] Only on minor points. There's that scene -- and this is a very minor thing, as I said -- there's that scene where Seth says something about me going through a mid-life crisis. And I dispute that. Now I would tend to more agree with him, that it probably was something like a mid-life crisis. That doesn't go to the heart of the real issues of the book?

SPURGEON: I'm surprised you would see that as a minor issue; at least I can see an interpretation of the book where that wouldn't be a minor issue. Do you think the core of the book exists apart from the experiences you portray? Or do you feel that the experience you were having might have been not directly engaged with the issues? Wasn't your personal experience crucial to the book?

BROWN: Well...

SPURGEON: Do you see your book that strongly as a book of ideas over this thing you went through?

BROWN: Yeah. I'm more concerned with the rights issue and less concerned with -- even though I call it a comic-strip memoir, I was less interested in the memoir-ish aspects of the book.

SPURGEON: I feel you're a natural-born cartoonist and that there's no range of effect outside of what you can do with your cartooning. Given what you just said, why was it a personal memoir? Why did you go that route rather than a straight-up essay, or a direct presentation of the ideas? Were you interested at all in working through what happened to yourself? Was it that you felt that bringing yourself into the work was more engaging to a readership?

BROWN: I tend to think that comics work well when there's some sort of a storyline, some sort of a narrative. I did consider fictionalizing my experiences, having a stand-in character. But because this was something important to me, I felt I should be straight-up, admitting that these events really happened, and that this is an important issue to me. If you fictionalize things, they might go, "That's just the character saying that. That's not Chester's real opinion." Or whatever, you know? It's easier to make it clear that you really believe something if it's you as a character in the work actually saying the words.

SPURGEON: Something that people have asked me: was there any discussion about not having the essay section that makes up the latter part of the book? It sounds like that it's vital to how you see the book, and for it being a book of ideas, but I wonder if it was ever debated, maybe even through an editorial suggestion, that you might just stick with the comics portion of Paying For It?

BROWN: [laughs] Yes, it definitely was. Neither Peggy nor Chris liked that part of the book. They both put pressure on me to take it out. Again, that speaks to their willingness to let the artist do what he or she wants to do. When I firmly said it was staying in, they backed off. But yeah, they thought the book would work better without that material.

SPURGEON: Was this because of the nature of the material, or was it that it was an illustrated essay rather than comics? Do you remember the nature of the objections?

BROWN: They thought that I'd made my points well enough in the comic strips portion of the book, and that all the essay stuff, all the appendices, kind of repeated what I'd already said. At least on the key points. So they thought it was unnecessary to have that stuff and that it would detract from the power of the comic strip portion.

SPURGEON: And your disagreement was that it didn't detract, or you felt it was necessary even if it did, or that you needed to re-emphasize some things... ?

BROWN: I did think there were some key additional points that should be made, and I expected that this would be my one and only book about prostitution. [Spurgeon laughs] I should be as clear as possible about all this stuff. Having those appendices tended to emphasize everything. I don't regret putting them in. I've heard both sides: people who didn't think they were necessary, and people who really enjoyed them. A lot of people have said they liked that part of the book than the front material.

SPURGEON: Do you think you're a good essayist?

BROWN: No, no, I'm not. I'm more comfortable drawing than writing stuff out as prose. [laughs] I don't know. It seems... hmm. For whatever reason, I like doing these appendices now, these note sections. I did the big one for Riel. Ed's being reprinted this year with a big notes section at the back. I guess it's my version of the director's commentary.

SPURGEON: With Paying For It, how does that section develop? Do you keep notes as you go along? Do you look at the completed comics work and go, "Okay, I'm going to write appendices now." How does that section develop in the context of the entire creative process?

BROWN: Huh. [pause] I'm trying to remember. I think I wrote some of the appendices at the same time I was writing the script, if I remember correctly. At the same time I was drawing the book -- if I remember -- I think was writing material for the appendices. The real serious writing then started once I finished drawing the book, the writing and rewriting. Yeah. I had written a lot of stuff prior to finishing the drawing portion of the book, but a lot of that got thrown out once I really started writing the appendices, so to speak.

SPURGEON: When you say you write a script, how tight is that script. Is it a full, exacting script for that portion of the book?

BROWN: It was pretty close to what's actually in the book. The only thing I left open is the ending, because when I wrote the script it was 2006, I guess. I didn't know how things were going to go with me and Denise. At that point I figured she was going to move on, or I might move on. I didn't know we were going to continue and that she would stop seeing her other clients and all that stuff. I left the ending open, because I didn't know how it was going to end. But all the scenes prior to that I knew, so all of that was tightly scripted.

SPURGEON: Was it a relief when an ending presented itself to you? It's not like your relationship to the issues involved would end in a significant way. When you realized what the ending might be... were you relieved? And are you happy with the ending?

BROWN: [laughs] I'm happy with ending. Ending anything is difficult, especially when it's autobiographical, because life does go on. But no, for this type of work, I think that ending works as well as any sort of ending you could come up with. It certainly worked better than if things hadn't continued with Denise and I. If I had gone onto some other woman, and then a woman after that, if that cycle just kept repeating... this ending I think works better. It was nice that real life provided me with that material. [laughs]

SPURGEON: The eight panel grid, the basic structure of the page. Did your arrive at that very early? It's a very dense book because of that, I think.

BROWN: I drew maybe 20 or 30 pages of square panels, like the panels in Louis Riel. And then... why did I switch... ? Switching to the more horizontal panels is definitely because that's what Joe had used in Spent. And I loved the look of Spent. I don't know. I don't think there was a real reason beyonod that, just liking the look of Spent, and let's go for a different look this time.

SPURGEON: How open are you to bringing in new influences? A lot was made with the last book about your processing through Harold Gray, but are you consciously open to tweaking things or changing things according to what you're seeing? Do you look at others' work in the same way you might have as a younger cartoonist? Or is this the mature style, is this totally you at this point?

BROWN: [pause] It feels like I'm always changing. I can't stay still in one set way of working. The main reason is I'm looking for an easier way to work. But also the way I want to present the material keeps changing, I guess. Paying For It is a smaller book in size. Its pages are smaller. I wanted to work in a way that I thought would make sense for a smaller page. That was part of it. I don't know. There are always various things, considerations to keep in mind, that are going to change how you approach things. I don't feel like I've settled into a style that's going to work for me the rest of my life.

SPURGEON: I think a real underrated part of your career is generally how forward and influential the look of your material has been. I remember standing in a bookstore with Jim Woodring in the late '90s and him picking up one of your books and saying that's what all of the books are going to look like from now on. A pronouncement from Jim Woodring. [Brown laughs] Certainly the last two comic book series you did were fairly immaculate looking. I wonder how important those kind of presentation issues are to you.

BROWN: Yeah, I didn't used to think about these issues at all.

SPURGEON: And that is part of your reputation, too. You don't come across in your early autobiographical work as a cartoonist with an interest in these things.

BROWN: At least for me, and for Seth, too, because he's talked about this in interviews and we've talked about this with each other, it was Chris Ware that made us think differently about design and how a book should look and what a cartoonist could do as a designer. I'm not trying to make my stuff look like Chris Ware's work, but that showed us what was possible and that we should re-evaluate our work based on what Chris was doing. He was a huge influence for so many people. That's what really got me thinking about design with book and with comic books, too.

SPURGEON: I'm going to ask you a couple more nerdy cartooning questions, because I can. [Brown laughs] I wondered about some of the effects you use in Paying For It. One is the blackout panels. You drop the imagery and just use the text. You use that as a specific panel. I wondered how considered an effect that was for you, and what you wanted to emphasize. How does that work in the rhythm of a page?

BROWN: Are you talking about the opening scene, or the scenes where I just have narrative captions?

SPURGEON: I actually meant the latter, although you do use blacked out panels to striking effecting that opening scene.

BROWN: Yeah. I see those as two different things. As for narrative captions, again I think that's something I got from Chris Ware. No, wait. I'm wrong. I think I saw it before I saw it in Chris Ware, although Chris Ware does use narrative caption panels where it's just the words. I seem to remember a Peanuts parody mini-comic many years ago where one of the cartoonists used narrative captions and thinking it worked well and thinking I should use it.

SPURGEON: What works about that for you? Is it in terms of a break or in terms of the emphasis on the words?

BROWN: I guess it's the way it emphasizes the words. Yeah. That must be it. For whatever reason I thought it would work better if the narrative captions weren't in the same panel as the images. It probably is a matter of just emphasis.

SPURGEON: For me it was also a constant reminder that there was a narrative force behind the story, that the story itself wasn't just unfolding. It was a reminder of your authorial presence. Now that first chapter, that was a remarkable sequence. What led you to do that with that sequence?

BROWN: I just couldn't draw that scene, for whatever reason. A lot has been made that I've dropped emotion out of my drawings, that I'm putting as little emotion as possible into the facial expressions.

SPURGEON: I must know a lot of grim people, because that didn't occur to me until I read others making that observations. Maybe everyone I know looks like you guys.

BROWN: [laughs] Drawing that scene, I couldn't get the emotional tone right. Whatever expression I put on our faces, it didn't seem right. I tried drawing us so that only the backs of our heads were showing... I must have drawn that scene at least five times. It wasn't working no matter how I tried to draw it. I moved on. The second scene with Seth, Joe and I walking was fine. I was like, "Well, there's no problem here." So at a certain point I decided I'm just going to black out that scene. I can't draw it. I had the same problem with the Riel book. I didn't like how the first scene worked in the comic book version and I redrew that scene for the graphic novel. I don't like how it works there. I have trouble with opening scenes. Blacking it out seemed... even there I'm worried that it might convey my mood is black, or that this is a big, devastating blow. It might put a peculiar emphasis on it I didn't intend. But it's the only way I could come close to making it work.

SPURGEON: Re-reading the book, one thing that stood out for me that didn't the first time was how engaging and actually fun the scenes were where you led the reader through how you started having these relationships. I'd love to know why you wanted to emphasize the step-by-step process of that? I wonder if it plays into your desire to de-mystify that whole world?

BROWN: Well, it's a book of advocacy. I wouldn't mind if there were readers out there that maybe considered the idea of paying for sex and decided not to the same way I was at the beginning of the book, and seeing me going through those steps thinking it isn't so daunting. It's a simple thing to do. I don't know, because I was approaching the book as a memoir, that's what happened to me. You go for the emotional... the points that seemed emotionally significant. All the worries I had, the process, those were the emotionally significant things when I began paying for sex.

SPURGEON: I went to the Doug Wright Awards this year, and there was a bit of humor about Paying For It. Did you worry about that reaction? Did you worry that the contrast between this work and your last one was so strong, or that there might even be tittering, jokes at your expense?

BROWN: I don't mind the jokes at my expense. I'm used to it. Seth and Joe have teased me about paying for sex for years. I'm used to it.

SPURGEON: Were you worried at all that it might have an effect on the way the work was received?

BROWN: [slight pause] No, I was confident enough in what I'd done in the work itself. I didn't worry about that at all. As far as the contrast to the previous book, I wanted [laughs] to deflate the image the public had of me as Mr. Canada or something because I'd done this book about a significant Canadian figure. A lot of people I meet saw me as Mr. Canadian History. So getting away from that was something I wanted to do that.

SPURGEON: Well, you've certainly gotten away from that. [Brown laughs] That's a clean break. I know that you are interested in history, or at least I assume so: Canadian history and in the previous practitioners of your craft. Did you really find being seen that way a major impediment? Or was it more of a minor annoyance?

BROWN: Oh, yeah. More of a minor annoyance. Minor.

SPURGEON: And no one's gone back and indicted your work generally because of this specific book?

BROWN: Not that I've seen yet. Even the on-line reviewers that reviewed Paying For It very harshly, they seemed to hold my earlier work in high regard. There didn't seem to be a reevaluation going on. Although maybe there will be in the future. We'll see.

SPURGEON: How do you see this book in the overall context of your work? You probably don't think like that, because no one does [Brown laughs], but do you feel very strongly about being seen as an issues-oriented cartoonist, for example? Is that something you'd like to be known for? Or do you even have that considered a self-conception?

BROWN: I'm not totally sure what my next project will be, but if it's what I think it will be... it's not going to be an issues-oriented work. It won't be a work of advocacy in the same way this one was?

SPURGEON: Have you felt comfortable with that kind of focus to your work? Is that something you'd like to return to?

BROWN: [pause]

SPURGEON: I'm just trying to scope out the next issue, Chester, so I can start reading.

BROWN: [laughs] Well, actually, even though I thought this would be my one and only book about prostitution, the next one might be a prostitution-related book. A film director approached me about doing an adaptation of Paying For It. The way he saw the film working was that we would have to beef up the relationship between Denise and I, make that more of a central focus of the story. He said "I understand she has certain sensitivities and she wouldn't her real life depicted. We can fictionalize stuff."

After we talked, I thought that would be interesting. How would that work? It got me thinking not from a film script point of view, but a graphic novel point of view, what I might do. I started thinking about it seriously as a graphic novel. Then I thought if I did this I'd have to talk to Denise about it and see if it's okay, and then I thought why don't I collaborate it on with Denise. Maybe if she were working on it, maybe she would want to do something more on it from her point of view, about how she got into the business and everything. This is all unraveling in my mind. So I talked to her about it. She's thinking about it. If she wants to do a book about her experiences as a prostitute, then that will probably be my next book. If she doesn't want to do that, then my next book probably won't be about this. It'll be about something completely different.

SPURGEON: Two of the criticisms of Paying For It were particularly intriguing to me, and I'm not sure I saw your full response. Do you have any sympathy at all for the criticism -- or any response to the criticism -- that obscuring the faces of the workers created a kind of dehumanizing aspect within the book? I thought that criticism spoke to the heart of some of your creative choices.

BROWN: Yeah. I can see why people would feel that way. Obviously I hoped it wouldn't be taken that way. That wasn't my intention.

SPURGEON: Was it something you thought of while doing that, that it might be seen that way?

BROWN: I don't remember worrying about that. I probably didn't think that would be an issue. From my point of view, I thought I was being sensitive to not depicting things, giving any indication of who they might be in real life. But I can see where people are coming from. But why is the face particularly associated with humanness whereas the rest of the body isn't? I'm not sure I completely understand that. But you know. [laughs] Whatever. If people want to ignore the rest of the work and see this as the significant way of reading the work and this is proof I see them as less than human, who know? Obviously, I disagree.

SPURGEON: When you talk about maybe doing from Denise's point of view, I wonder how you react to the criticism that the way you've focused the narrative in Paying For It means that in a fundamental sense the reader is only getting the one side of the story, that those interactions so specifically from your point of view don't get to the whole truth. Did you ever think of telling the story from different viewpoints?

BROWN: When I started the book, I did intend -- as I said in the introduction, the women told me such interesting stories about their lives, I was initially thinking that that material was all going to go in the book. It was only when I started writing the script that I realized this stuff could be revealing and I can't include it. So I wished I had been able to. But even if I had permission to include some of that stuff -- if I'd known I was going to be doing a graphic novel and I'd gotten permission when I saw the women to include it, or whatever, it still would have been all from my point of view. Anyone that's really interested in this subject should read other books or talk to women in the business. Obviously you shouldn't rely on one source of information. And there are a lot of books out there that are written from the perspective of sex workers.

SPURGEON: Do you see your work as part of a bunch of works that advocate from the same position?

BROWN: Definitely. [laughs] Yeah. Although there aren't a lot of books written by clients. It's a bit unique from that point of view. Quite a few prostitutes have written books that are basically arguing the same sort of things I'm arguing.

SPURGEON: Are you involved with the issues in Paying For It outside of having written the book? Has having written the book made you a source for opinions on these issues? Are there specific things you want to see happen, do you track specific permutations of these issues as they develop, or is the book your summary statement on the matter?

BROWN: [laughs] I probably should be tracking it more closely than I am. I've done one event so far. There was a fundraising event for a prostitute outreach organization here in Toronto called Maggie's. I was asked to do a reading for this. Many people were doing presentations and performances for this thing; it wasn't just me. I wasn't sure that my doing a reading would work in this forum, but it worked actually really well. I was happy I was asked.

As far as doing presentations of the material in front of an audience, it was the most positive experience I've had so far. It was an audience made up in large part of sex workers, and they were very enthusiastic. [laughs] They were applauding wildly when I hit the stage. They were laughing in all the right places. It was a very positive experience doing the presentation for that audience.

SPURGEON: What do you think they were reacting to? Was it the familiar milieu, the ideas... ?

BROWN: I only read two scenes: my first experience paying for it, and then the follow-up scene where I'm talking about it afterwards with Seth and Joe. [laughs] I think my paranoia and stuff, a lot of it would be familiar to them. I think it was so true to life for them. They knew where I was coming from. They found it hilarious. And they found the reactions of Seth and Joe, particularly Joe's reaction, to be funny, too.

SPURGEON: I have a couple of last questions about your cartooning, more about comic book things. Paying For It is the first book you've done that wasn't serialized, am I right?

BROWN: That's right, yes.

SPURGEON: Was that a different experience at all? I consider you one of the great comic book makers, and I wondered if this was a different experience, if you liked working this way.

BROWN: When I started, it was because I loved comic books, and comic books are what I wanted to do. So obviously I didn't see it as an annoyance, even if I was telling a longer story, to serialize it in comic book form. At a certain point, my focuse changed and I became more interested in the book. When I proposed doing Louis Riel to Chris, I didn't want to serialize it. He was the once that convinced me to serialize it. By that point I found serialization to be just an annoyance. I would finish a chunk of the book, and then I'd have to stop working on it and do a cover and some sort of letters page or whatever -- do whatever packaging stuff was necessary to put it out as a comic book. That kind of stop and start, plus having to chop the work up into 24-page installments... I had written the script to be a graphic novel. I knew the book would consist of those four parts, and I didn't want it to be subdivided into ten installments. Whatever. Chris thought it made sense at the time. When we decided not to serialize Paying For It, I was happy.

SPURGEON: Finally, it struck me while re-reading Paying For It that you evince a certain confidence in portraying reality, or portraying a specific circumstance. That's not always easy in comics. Do you have confidence in your ability to portray something accurately?

BROWN: It's almost impossible to really capture what happened if you're doing autobiographical material. Even if all the dialogue is remembered exactly and you do a good job of capturing likenesses, you're still going to be missing things. My main concern is does it work well as a scenes -- does it work dramatically, or is it funny? Is it saying what I want it to say? I'm not going to go out of my way to misrepresent things, but you can't worry too much about being totally accurate. It's impossible. If you're drawing a restaurant scene, who was sitting in the booth beside you or whatever, you just can't worry about that sort of stuff.

SPURGEON: If it works dramatically, it tends to work for your purposes; it's not the documentation but the truth of the matter. That's glib, I know.

BROWN: If I'm including a specific scene, it's because what I said to a certain person, or what they said to me, makes a particular point. I hope I'm remembering the dialogue more or less accurately, but I'm focusing on how it works in the book overall, how that scene works in making the point I'm trying to work.

SPURGEON: Is there a danger in loading your arguments?

BROWN: There probably is that danger. You have to be sensitive to that possibility, keep it in mind. Maybe I did stack the deck. I don't know.

 
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Chester Brown

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Paying For It




  PAYING FOR IT part of the Globe and Mail's online book club!

Updated January 9, 2012


January 6, 2012
Sandra Martin

Paying for It by Chester Brown (D&Q). A controversial, funny comic-book memoir of sexual obsession; argues that romantic love is over-hyped compared with other forms of gratification from friendship to prostitution.
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

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Paying For It




Austin Chronicle talks about HARK!, PAYING FOR IT

Updated January 9, 2012


January 6, 2012

Luminarium (Soho Press), Alex Shakar's second novel, is a rewarding literary tribute to brotherly love, existentialism, and the possibilities of modern technology, with emotional and philosophical depths entangling you no less than the dark mystery of a dead brother who seems to be communicating with his still-living twin via the (corporately stolen) video game the two of them created. Chester Brown's Paying for It (Drawn and Quarterly), the acclaimed cartoonist's unswerving account of his regular, ah, use of prostitutes over the past several years, doubles (or at least exhaustively tries to double) as an argument for the rights of sex workers. Dave McKean's Celluloid (Fantagraphics), on the other hand, is an unfettered erotic fantasy told, wordlessly, with the sort of glorious imagery – a stunning mix of hand-drawn illustration and Photoshop wizardry – that made all those old Sandman covers such a mind-blowing delight. Kenk, the first graphic novel from new company Pop Sandbox, is sequential-art nonfiction about "the world's most prolific bicycle thief," as vividly documented by Richard Poplak, Alex Jansen, Jason Gilmore, and Nick Marinkovich. Webcomics get a welcome incarnation in the offline world as Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant (Drawn and Quarterly) brings the cartoonist's sharp wit and delightful send-ups of historical characters (real and/or literary) into paper and ink. Alison Bechdel, as editor of The Best American Comics 2011 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), offers just that in a hardcover volume of remarkable works conjured by artists from sea to shining sea. And The Godfather of Kathmandu (Knopf) is John Burdett's Royal Thai Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, struggling with murderous dope smugglers, his corrupt police chief, and his own half-breed and shakily Buddhist identity in the fourth of this thrilling Bangkok series. – Wayne Alan Brenner
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Paying For It
Hark! A Vagrant




  ONWARDS, HARK!, PAYING FOR IT, on read/RANT's 10 Best Graphic Novels of 2011

Updated January 9, 2012


Cal C.

10: Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths, by Shigeru Mizuki

Originally published almost 40 years ago, Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths only very recently got its first official publication in English. History buffs, particularly those interested in World War II, will find a lot to love in this semi-autobiographical story of a Japanese soldier fighting in the war. Shigeru himself was a soldier, and this book is based on his experiences fighting under Japanese commanders in a losing battle against American forces. From the non-stop hunger and disease to the sometimes-abusive, sometimes-incompetent commanding officers, Shigeru’s manga Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is dark, weird and realistic, but most of all, it’s unique. From the blend of cartoony character design and ultra-realistic scenery to the point of view that most Americans will never get about World War II, it’s a must-read book. Though flawed and occasionally unfocused, it’s fascinating and, frankly, a blast to read.


7: Hark! A Vagrant, by Kate Beaton

Perhaps the most light-hearted work on my list, Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant has been building on online fanbase for years, but her strips popularity has gone to the next level with the release of its first paperback collection. Having a knowledge of history (or at least an interest) helps, as Beaton’s jokes are often far cleverer for those familiar with the characters and times she’s riffing on, but anyone with a sense of humor will find an awful lot to love here. Beaton’s cartoony art could be seen as simplistic, but it’s a fantastic fit for her witty jokes, often giving her characters ridiculous, exaggerated appearances that only highlight the features she’s lampooning. Anyone in the mood to laugh should grab this book as soon as possible.


2: Paying For It, Chester Brown

Brutally honest, emotionally distant, and at times darkly hilarious, Chester Brown’s autiobiographical Paying For It is an undeniable success. The book is an utterly non-sensual look at the life of a man who, deciding to forego the hassle of romantic love, starts frequenting a variety – a huge variety – of escorts. Brown’s simplistic art and paneling and totally deadpan storytelling take a couple chapters to adjust to, but end up paying off hugely as Brown’s life gets weirder and weirder. Though it periodically devolves into a slightly irritating didacticism, particularly in Brown’s arguments with friends about the morality of prostitution, it is an endlessly readable book with some fascinating ideas and pitch-perfect execution.

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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Shigeru Mizuki
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Paying For It
Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths
Hark! A Vagrant




PAYING FOR IT reviewed by Rolling Stone España!

Updated January 3, 2012


For all you Spanish speakers out there.

December 11, 2011
Marcos Rebollo

Putero, valiente y asesino del amor
Chester Brown, mito del cómic ‘underground’, nos cuenta por qué decidió publicar ‘Pagando por ello’, su experiencia al desengañarse con su pareja y optar por buscar sexo en los bajos fondos de la prostitución. Por Marcos Rebollo

Así de explícitas son las viñetas de 'Pagando por ello', de Chester Brown.
Una anécdota para entrever a esta leyenda del cómic independiente de 51 años. Ya siendo conocido autoeditó su cómic autobiográfico Mi madre era esquizofrénica (había muerto cuando él tenía 17). En seis páginas aseguraba que esta enfermedad mental no es más que una herramienta de control social. Hizo 200 copias y las dejó en cabinas y estaciones de Toronto. La historieta la publicaría después una prestigiosa revista de psiquiatría. Así es Chester Brown: raro.
O, según Robert Crumb, fundador estadounidense del cómic underground: “Chester no es de este planeta”. Lo asegura Crumb en el prólogo de la novela gráfica que (ver imágenes), Pagando por ello, donde también dice: “La teoría marxista de que el matrimonio es sólo prostitución legalizada ha encontrado otro entusiasta defensor”.
Lo que ha hecho Chester Brown es publicar una obra larga (300 páginas, 50 de apéndices) sobre sus experiencias con 23 prostitutas durante cinco años. Y la llamó “una historia de amor”. ¿Cómo? Además, recientemente ha volcado su pasado anarquistoide presentándose al Parlamento (no salió) por el Partido Libertario de Canadá. “Les pregunté si había algún problema y me dijeron que, si el sexo era consentido, ninguno, que para eso eran libertarios”, comenta Brown a ROLLING STONE. No sería el primer político putero, cierto. Pero tampoco él parece un putero clásico. Lo hizo porque deseaba sexo, no ligaba con su pinta friky a lo Boris Karloff y, además, no quería otra novia.
¿Desengaño? Sí, su novia, en 1996, metió a su ligue en casa y él se pasó tres años célibe, compartiendo techo con los amantes. Así empieza la obra, pero no se dibuja hecho polvo. El autor sale en el cómic unas 2.000 veces, y siempre con la misma cara impasible. “Cuando me dejó no estaba triste ni celoso. Me cuesta expresar emociones, soy como un personaje de una película de Bresson”, desvela.
Entonces, tras mucha cavilación y cháchara con sus colegas Seth y Joe Matt (para la crítica, los tres mosqueteros del cómic canadiense), salió a los bajos fondos y le cogió el gusto a la prostitución. Contactaba a las chicas por teléfono o en un cibercafé (“no tengo ordenador ni tele, soy un tipo antiguo aunque odie la nostalgia”). Cada dos o tres semanas buscaba una nueva o repetía con las que intimaba. Las eligió variadas: asiáticas, negras, blancas… pero a ninguna se le ve la cara en las viñetas. “Lo hice así para proteger su identidad. Hablé mucho con algunas, pero no pude meter sus historias en detalle porque no quería que nadie las reconociera”. Además de desfogarse, ¿aprendió de ellas algo que no sabía? “Sí, me sorprendió sentirme extrañado al darme cuenta de que eran gente normal. ¡Y eso que pensaba que no tenía una visión estereotipada del asunto!”.
Se gastó, de media, unos 2.200 euros al año. Y le pasó lo típico: encuentros amistosos o gélidos, orgasmos o gatillazos, charlas largas o fugaces… Pero va más allá: neurótico y sincero hasta la médula, lo suyo es un striptease valiente, una radiografía extrema sobre qué significa el amor. Él, dice, lo acabó encontrando, pero nada de romanticismo convencional. “Al final sólo vi a Denise, hasta hoy. Tenemos una relación maravillosa, es genial. Tampoco somos novios. Pero ni ella es ya puta ni yo putero. Puta es quien se acuesta por dinero con varios hombres, no con uno solo”.
Tampoco es la primera vez que Chester se dibuja en cómic. Pese a que su cumbre es la biografía en viñetas de Louis Riel, un héroe mestizo en lucha por defender a su pueblo del gobierno, su dilatada obra (cinco libros en España) es, sobre todo, autobiográfica (Playboy, Ed el payaso, Nunca me has gustado y ésta última). De forma lacónica (poco texto), austera (blanco y negro) y surrealista (una tira la protagoniza su pito con cara de Reagan), todas le sirven para dinamitar convenciones y romper tabúes: escatología, castración, porno, racismo, religión y hasta pigmeos caníbales. Y, ahora, prostitución. Un tema por el que le han caído críticas de sectores feministas. Él se defiende. “Sé que trafican con mujeres, pero no habría mafias si fuera una actividad legal. No veo la inmoralidad y me molestan las prohibiciones. Si alguien quiere follar por dinero y otro está dispuesto a pagar, ¿qué problema hay? Creo en la igualdad entre sexos. Degradante es currar 50 horas semanales en algo que odias por una miseria. Me pasa lo mismo con las drogas. La gente es responsable de su cuerpo, ¿no?”.
 
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

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Paying For It




  PAYING FOR IT, BIG QUESTIONS, GNBCC among best of 2011 according to Straight

Updated January 3, 2012


December 15, 2011
John Lucas

Paying For It (By Chester Brown. Drawn & Quarterly)
Even if you don’t agree with Chester Brown’s sometimes inflammatory rhetoric about the futility of romantic relationships and the practicality of viewing sex as a commodity, you have to admire his audacity for exposing one particular component of his personal life—his visits to prostitutes—in such a blunt and honest way.

Big Questions (By Anders Nilsen. Drawn & Quarterly)
When a military pilot crash-lands his airplane in a meadow, it has profound consequences for the local bird population. Some of the finches develop a vague theology around the pilot and the strange objects that he has brought into their world, forming a sort of avian cargo cult. The finches are indistinguishable from one another, but each has a sharply delineated personality. In this beautifully drawn parable, Anders Nilsen uses subtle gestures and glances to convey worlds of meaning.

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists (By Seth. Drawn & Quarterly)
A great Canadian cartoonist in his own right, Seth imagines a time when those who toiled with pen and ink were central figures in this country’s public life. In this plotless but charming volume, he waxes nostalgic for a few of them, some real (such as Nipper creator Doug Wright) and some not (like Bartley Munn, who drew the Inuit astronaut Kao-Kuk).
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




Toronto Star names GNBCC and PAYING FOR IT among Top 10 graphic novels of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


December 20, 2011
Jonathan Kuehlein

The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists

By Seth

Drawn & Quarterly, 136 pages

One of Canada’s most renowned cartoonists paints a lovingly detailed portrait of a world where he and his brethren are revered as the highest of artists. At times sweet and heartfelt, other times melancholy and moody, but always engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable.

Paying For It: A Comic-strip Memoir About Being a John

By Chester Brown

Drawn and Quarterly, 272 pages

The idea of trading cash for sex is still a shocking subject in any medium and leave it to Toronto cartooning icon Chester Brown to take the notion to the next level in graphic form. Brown’s astonishingly frank account of using the services of prostitutes in Toronto is a thoroughly engrossing look at a world most people would otherwise never know existed.

 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth

           Featured products

Paying For It
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  LOUIS RIEL, GEORGE SPROTT among recommendations for the comic book novice

Updated January 3, 2012


December 8, 2011
Kenton Smith

George Sprott, by Seth

As celebrated comics writer Alan Moore pointed out, comics allow the planting of recurring motifs that acquire significance only later on, and whose meaning can be unpacked at the reader’s own pace.

Renowned Canadian cartoonist Seth makes adroit use of that approach here. His fragmented narrative asks: what life episodes make us who we are? That’s the underlying question as the artist examines his foolish, sad and possibly tragic titular figure, whose disappointments embody life itself. From story content to art to design, this is an affecting masterwork.

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, by Chester Brown

Named by Time magazine as one of its best comics in 2003, and now one of the Top 10 titles in CBC’s 2012 Canada Reads competition, this narrative of the Metis leader’s life is one of the most compulsively readable comics.

Canadian cartoonist Brown deliberately eschews pat explanations for what drove Riel. We’re left to decide whether he was a hero, madman or prophet. What’s fascinating is how anti-literary that approach is. Whereas prose fiction can take us inside characters’ minds, Brown uses visual devices — such as framing his figures from afar — to create distance. The book is a splendid illustration of what comics can do.
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth

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George Sprott: (1894-1975)




Politics and Prose likes PAYING FOR IT, HARK!, ADVENTURES OF HERGE for 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


Chosen by Adam, Frans, Hannah and Andras

Chester Brown’s Paying For It is shocking, exhibitionist and gratuitous, which makes this book a strangely thoughtful and well developed genesis of a man who not only justifies his use of prostitutes but also argues for the rights and privileges of prostitutes. As R. Crumb explains in his introduction, Chester Brown is a strange man. He seems almost devoid of normal human emotion, but has somehow found a whole new way at looking at love and sexual desire. This volume has a lengthy appendices and notes section, where Brown goes on at length about certain arguments for and against prostitution. His drawing style is simple, but attractive, and leaves the reader with a feeling of witnessing something clinical in a strange, uncolored and unbiased way.

Part rollicking history lesson, part fan-fiction, Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant takes the hilarious comics from her popular website and puts them into print with her own witty annotations. This book is like if Sunday morning comics from the 1980’s and school house rock had a love child, which in turn had a love child with the offspring of the Don’t Know Much About History and A Bit of Fry and Laurie series. Often, Beaton’s book is just silly and
that’s the way she likes it. Other times, the comics are surprisingly enlightening. Beaton has the answers to all your questions: Does Canadian history actually matter? Sort of. How many Watsons has Sherlock fandom created? Well, there’s Gay Watson, Stupid Watson, and Lady-Killer Watson...Vagrant’s art is as playful as its wit and the
book itself has an appealing layout, with series compiled together in theme. Whether you’re a lit nerd, history buff, comic fan, or just plain nerd, you’ll get a thrill out of Vagrant and leave feeling like the author is your new best, better educated friend.

Georges Prosper Remi, otherwise known as Herge, creator of Tintin, gets his very own adventure! Sure
it’s not as exciting as one of his Tintin adventures...but still, the famous cartoonist led a life worth reading about, especially if you’ve ever
enjoyed one of his many comics. This perfectly succinct biography, done in the clear line style by three of France’s lead cartoonists, is carefully researched, and fully indexed with a list of mini-bios of all the characters that made up Herge’s life. Reading this will make you want to re-read all those Tintin albums you haven’t touched since you were young!

 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Kate Beaton
Jose-Louis Bocquet, Jean-Luc Fromental & Stanislas Barthelemy

           Featured products

Paying For It
Hark! A Vagrant
The Adventures of Herge




  More on D&Q going digital on Publisher's Weekly

Updated January 3, 2012


December 20, 2011
Calvin Reid

Capping off a big year at the house, noted indie Canadian graphic novel publisher Drawn & Quarterly announced an agreement with Canadian e-book retailer Kobo to release two acclaimed graphic works by cartoonist Chester Brown as e-books on the Kobo Vox tablet. The deal marks D&Q’s first digital venture. It is a nonexclusive deal and the books will be available for the holiday shopping season.

Long hailed as one of the best literary graphic novel publishers today, Drawn & Quarterly has not rushed into announcing a digital strategy for its list of highly regarded graphic titles. Now the publisher has teamed with Kobo to make its entry into digital delivery. D&Q/Kobo will release Chester Brown’s 2006 Harvey award-winning work of graphic nonfiction, Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography, a fictionalized biography of the 19th Century champion of French Canadian aboriginal people; and the controversial 2011, Paying For It: A Comic Strip Memoir About Being a John, a nonfiction account of his experiences with prostitutes. D&Q print titles are distributed by Farrar Straus Giroux.

D&Q publisher and editor-in-chief Chris Oliveros said that e-book proceeds will be split 50/50 between its authors and the publisher, citing rights recommendations from the Writers Union of Canada. “D+Q has always been an author-centric company, it is this ethos that has shaped us into who we are today,” Oliveros said, “it only seemed natural to offer the fairest proposition to our authors.”

While the first two titles will be released initially only on the Kobo Vox tablet device, D&Q associate publisher Peggy Burns said more devices will be added as well as more authors and titles in the coming year.

Like other literary graphic novel publishers such as Pantheon and Fantagraphics, D&Q is known for high production values and meticulous craftsmanship—not to mention equally picky authors—and many observers speculated about how long it would take D&Q to venture into digital releases. Burns said that they were impressed by Kobo and encouraged by Brown to move into digital.

“Many people assumed we would never do e-books,” Burns said, “we were open to the idea, but wanted to approach it cautiously.” Burns cited Brown for moving the digital effort forward. “This past fall, we had a fortuitous series of events that brought the project to the foreground. Chester voiced his desire for e-books, CBC Canada Reads shortlisted Louis Riel in its top-ten for its annual contest, and most importantly, fellow Canadian company Kobo inquired if we would consider e-books.”

Burns also noted the impact of the tablet devices which are much better at displaying comics than e-ink devices. Brown's comics are also black & white and “easier to translate to the digital readers,” she said. Kobo’s pitch was “very friendly and nonexclusive,” in addition, Kobo promotes the CBC Canada Reads titles. “They understood who we are and what is important to us. It all happened very organically which is how we prefer to do business,” she said.

This caps off a big year for D&Q. The indie house had five New York Times bestselling graphic novels, including Paying for It and Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant; two Publishers Weekly Best Books (Hark! A Vagrant! and Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions); and a New York Times magazine profile of cartoonist Lynda Barry. Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant! is the fastest selling book in D&Q’s history with 55,000 copies in print after three printings and the house has inked more than 30 foreign rights deals for D&Q titles. And to top the whole year off, Dan Clowes’ Wilson was awarded the Eisner Award for the best graphic novel of 2011 (in an unusual tie with Archaia’s Return of the Dapper Men).
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

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Paying For It




The Beat talks about D&Q going digital with Chester Brown

Updated January 3, 2012


December 20, 2011

Publisher of the Year candidate Drawn & Quarterly has finally broken the seal on literary comics going digital with a two-book deal with the Kobo Vox which will see Chester Brown’s LOUIS RIEL and PAYING FOR IT released. According to associate publisher Peggy Burns, the deal is non-exclusive, and next year will see more titles and platforms for D&Q.
Literary comics publishers Fantagraphics and D&Q are along the last holdouts among publishers going digital — partially due to their authors’ ambivalence (or complete dislike) of the platform — so even this tiny toe-dipping into the digital world represents a big step forward. In this case, Chester Brown actually encouraged the move — and it doesn’t hurt that Kobo is, like D&Q, a Canadian company.

“Many people assumed we would never do e-books,” Burns said, “we were open to the idea, but wanted to approach it cautiously.” Burns cited Brown for moving the digital effort forward. “This past fall, we had a fortuitous series of events that brought the project to the foreground. Chester voiced his desire for e-books, CBC Canada Reads shortlisted Louis Riel in its top-ten for its annual contest, and most importantly, fellow Canadian company Kobo inquired if we would consider e-books.”
Burns also noted the impact of the tablet devices which are much better at displaying comics than e-ink devices. Brown’s comics are also black & white and “easier to translate to the digital readers,” she said. Kobo’s pitch was “very friendly and nonexclusive,” in addition, Kobo promotes the CBC Canada Reads titles. “They understood who we are and what is important to us. It all happened very organically which is how we prefer to do business,” she said.


According to publisher Chris Oliveros, proceeds will be split 50/50 between author and publisher.
Fantagraphics has long been said to be looking into a digital partner; with digital readers better than ever, it seems only a matter of time until they decide to venture out of the locker and get down to the shore of Tablet Ocean.
 
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

Paying For It




  Graphic Novel Reporter calls PAYING FOR IT "bracingly honest", DAYBREAK "disarming and memorable"

Updated January 3, 2012


Peter Gutiérrez

Paying for It
by Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly

Bracingly honest, this is page-turning graphic nonfiction at its finest. Quite simply, a new landmark in the genre.

Daybreak
by Brian Ralph
(Drawn & Quarterly)

Think the zombie craze has run its course? Think again: This collection of funny yet chilling second-person tales (the reader is a character) revives the dead–and our dread—in ways that are never less than disarming and memorable.
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Brian Ralph

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Paying For It
Daybreak




Graphic Novel Reporter lists HARK!, PAYING FOR IT, GNBCC among best of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


John Hogan

Hark! A Vagrant
by Kate Beaton
Drawn & Quarterly

You’ve never learned history like this. Kate Beaton is a wildly imaginative and hysterically funny chronicler of literature, history, and more in Hark! A Vagrant, which will make you laugh out loud at her wry observations and unique artwork.

Paying for It
by Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly

Once again, Chester Brown exposes his unique views on life and love—this time by chronicling his sexual history with prostitutes. Because of his honesty, his take on love and sex—whether you agree with it or not—is profound. You can argue, you can disagree, but what Brown presents is his truth, and because of it, it’s captivating.

Honorable Mentions
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists
by Seth
Drawn & Quarterly
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Paying For It
Hark! A Vagrant
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  Time Out New York lists BIG QUESTIONS and PAYING FOR IT among the best of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


December 14, 2011
Matthew Love and Drew Toal

4 Big Questions by Anders Nilsen (Drawn and Quarterly)
The accumulation of writer and illustrator Nilsen’s comics adds up to one airy, heady modern fable, complete with cynical sparrows, mistaken gods and humans clueless to the complexities of the world unfolding before them. Its elegant lines make pondering the natural order of things feel like a necessity. Also, it’s quite funny.

3 Paying for It by Chester Brown (Drawn and Quarterly)
Brown’s unconventional graphic memoir recounts his sex life from the moment he stopped participating in normal relationships and started consorting with prostitutes. As the author debates the nature of love with his friends and coworkers, the reader is forced to admit that the whoremongering cartoonist makes some solid points.
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It




THE DEATH-RAY and PAYING FOR IT also make Readings' Best of 2011

Updated January 3, 2012


November 28, 2011
Fiona Hardy and Andrew McDonald

The Death-Ray
Daniel Clowes
First published in 2004 as a one-shot issue of Clowes’s serial Eightball, the film adaptation of The Death-Ray is already in development and it’s easy to see why. It’s a strange and brilliant story; as anti-superhero as you can get (our ‘hero’ Andy gets his superpowers after smoking a cigarette!). Like his classic Ghost World, this one will stay in your graphic memory for quite some time. – Andrew McDonald, Readings Online Manager.

Paying For It
Chester Brown
A graphic memoir about Chester Brown’s life as a john, Paying For It jumps headlong into the political, ethical, legal and other issues that surround prostitution. It’s a fascinating perspective of, and an argument for, the world’s oldest profession. We learn just as much about the inner workings of the author’s mind as we do his 'life as a john’ and whether you agree or disagree with him, it’s one of the most honest memoirs you're likely to find. – Andrew McDonald, Readings Online Manager.
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Daniel Clowes

           Featured products

The Death-Ray
Paying For It




  A bit belated, but HARK!, PAYING FOR IT, SCENES FROM AN IMPENDING MARRIAGE make holiday gift guide!

Updated January 3, 2012


December 6, 2011
Josh Christie

For the friend with a double-major in History and English:

Have a friend that would rather read about the crew of the Nautilus battling a squid than Batman* fighting the Joker? Give them Kate Beaton’s new collection, Hark! A Vagrant (Drawn and Quarterly, 19.95). The book collects the best of Beaton’s web comic, along with previously unpublished content and additional commentary. Beaton draws heavily on historical figures and classic literature, marrying them with filthy language, absurdity and non-sequiturs. Some of the strips may fall a bit flat if you aren’t well-versed in the historical bits, but there’s something here for everyone to love.
* If your friend does need at least a little Batman, the book contains the awesome Sexy Batman strips.

For the friend who doesn’t mind incredibly challenging content:

Want a book that will make someone question their moral code? Give them Paying for It (Drawn and Quarterly, 24.95) by Chester Brown. Brown’s memoir is an unflinching and honest look at the years he spent frequently employing prostitutes in his home city in Canada. Or, at least, the first 200 pages are. Brown, a former Libertarian political candidate, devotes the back half of the book to a polemic on why prostitution should be decriminalized. It’s a tough read, especially if you don’t share Brown’s views, but it’s an important book that takes an unblinking look at both the subject of prostitution and the memoirist himself.

For the friend tying the knot in 2012:

For those of you planning on popping the question, keep in mind that choosing to get married is the easy part. The planning of the wedding? That’s where coupledom really gets tested. In his slim hardcover Scenes from an Impending Marriage (Drawn and Quarterly, 9.95), Adrian Tomine looks at his nuptials in a series of short vignettes. This isn’t as draining as Optic Nerve, or as dark as most of Tomine’s other work. Instead, it’s a book that just oozes charm and sweetness. The topics of the comics don’t sound engaging (registering, designing invitations, choosing a DJ), but they provide a window into the personalities of Sarah and Adrian, and you pick up enough bit about their personalities that they feel like old friends by the time you hit the wedding day. At under $10, a great stocking for the recently engaged or for the married comic fan, who will surely find echoes of their own wedding in the pages.
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Adrian Tomine
Kate Beaton

           Featured products

Scenes from an Impending Marriage
Paying For It
Hark! A Vagrant




Sook-Yin Lee calls PAYING FOR IT her favourite book of 2011

Updated January 2, 2012


December 31, 2011

Okay, so this might sound weird because my fave book of 2011 is by my pal and ex-boyfriend, plus I'm a character in it. Still, fact is, it's my favourite. Paying for It – a graphic novel by Chester Brown – is a daring, courageous and gorgeous account of his adventures in the sex industry, paying for sex. It's an awkward modern man's search for love and connection. It makes some cringe, it angers puritans and the politically correct. It challenges preconceptions and offers a new perspective on romance. An honest and revealing work, heartbreaking and hilarious, entertaining and useful.

Sook-Yin Lee is a musician, filmmaker and actress.
 
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

Paying For It




  Montreal Gazette praises "genius" of BIG QUESTIONS and PAYING FOR IT

Updated January 2, 2012


December 31, 2011
Ian McGillis

In a bumper year for graphic lit the two books that stand out most for me are Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions and Chester Brown’s Paying For It. The former shows how well the graphic form can accommodate large-scale visions of personal genius (yes, I’m prepared to call Big Questions a work of genius); as for the latter, it would feel a bit odd to say that I “enjoyed” Brown’s raw and frank account of his experience with prostitutes, but it sure has stayed with me, and Brown is to be heartily applauded for his sheer contrariness in following up his bestselling Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography with a book whose appeal overlaps with its predecessor’s in no obvious way at all.
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
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PAYING FOR IT on CBR's Top 100 Comics of 2011

Updated December 29, 2011


December 26, 2011

100. Paying For It
Written & Illustrated by Chester Brown
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

"Controversial and not for everyone, Chester Brown's detailed and fascinating look at prostitutes and being a john in Canada feels anything but titillating. Executed as a memoir of Brown's own experience soliciting prostitutes manages through his sometimes painful honesty about himself and his surroundings to be an insightful and fascinating look at love and sex that painstakingly examines philosophy and the very nature of romantic love itself. Great autobiographical and memoir work manages to transcend the narcissistic and mundane, finding ways to become intimate and relatable. Brown manages both of those things and leaves a reader pondering his questions intently, their own answers likely surprising them. It's only in the best work that we are inspired to turn important questions back onto ourselves to truly examine and learn from them, and 'Paying For It' is exactly that kind of work."

-- CBR Reviewer & Comics Should Be Good Columnist Kelly Thompson
 
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  PAYING FOR IT ranks on Comics Bulletin Top Ten Graphic Novels of 2011!

Updated December 29, 2011


Danny Djeljosevic
Nick Hanover
Jason Sacks

4. Paying for It
by Chester Brown

Nick Hanover: Sex was everywhere in the comic world of 2011. But for the most part, it was sex as a cartoon act, a desperate effort to appeal to the lowest common denominator that reduced one of the most complicated aspects of human nature to inhuman postures and mindsets. Chester Brown's Paying for It would be impressive regardless of the year of its release, but that it was published in a year like this -- where sex was perhaps more visible than ever in comics -- was all too perfect.

An insightful, deeply human work, Paying for It is proof incarnate that comics as a medium are uniquely situated to dig into subjects that are often ignored in other mediums. In the case of Paying for It, that subject goes beyond sex and into the realm of sex work; specifically, the perspective of those who utilize the service of sex workers. Paying for It essentially functions as a graphic novel memoir of being a john and how that lifestyle has improved rather than harmed Brown's life.

As flawed as portions of Brown's arguments are -- particularly in regards to his generalizations about monogamy and the encroachment of his personal politics in his sexual politic -- it's the bravery he shows in putting himself out there as evidence that johns aren't perverted monsters that elevates the work even further. Like Stuck Rubber Baby before it, Paying for It is devoted to humanization and its politics are secondary to those efforts. There may have been many works this year that pushed sexual progression in comics backwards, but it's not too optimistic to imagine that Paying for It was a big enough step forward that it at least cancelled those works out.
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Chester Brown

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Paying For It




The SNIPE lists Kate Beaton, BIG QUESTIONS, PAYING FOR IT, among best of 2011

Updated December 29, 2011


December 28, 2011

- Best Collected Edition or Reprint: Kate Beaton‘s Hark! A Vagrant. Do comics get funnier than this? Do comics with Louis Riel and Nancy Drew get funnier than this? Definitely not!

- Comics Creator of 2011: Chester Brown has been producing amazing work for years, and I think that Paying For It continues that trend with really fascinating and personal autobiography. This is a return of sorts to his works like The Playboy.

-Comic of 2011 – Big Questions by Anders Nilsen. Over ten years in the making, Nilsen’s magnum opus is beautifully drawn and is a surreal, captivating, and subtle exploration of humanity through the eyes of animals (mostly birds). Makes the case for “comics as serious literature” as few comics have.

- Creator of the Year – Kate Beaton. Beaton bridges the world of web and print comics with unprecedented success. Her Hark! A Vagrant book hit the top of the New York Times graphic novel bestseller list this year – who knew gags about Canadian history and English literature would be such a hit? Beaton knew! Her keen understanding of and relationship with her online fan base made the print version of her work a sure-fire winner.
 
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Chester Brown
Anders Nilsen
Kate Beaton

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Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It
Hark! A Vagrant




  NATIONAL POST names PAYING FOR IT, HARK!, BIG QUESTIONS Best of 2011!

Updated December 29, 2011


December 28, 2011
David Berry

5. Big Questions
By Anders Nilsen
(Drawn & Quarterly)
Anders Nilsen puts his big questions in the mouths of some very small characters: mostly, a gaggle of surprisingly philosophical, or at least contemplative, birds. Dark without being dour, funny without being glib, and willing to parry and thrust with its titular questions without ever going in for the kill, Nilsen’s work is something like an engrossing conversation with a good friend, never properly sating, leaving you eager to come back and find out where it will go next.

4. Hark! A Vagrant
By Kate Beaton
(Drawn & Quarterly)
Kate Beaton’s webcomics, anthologized here, are more or less the perfect marriage of cynicism and silliness: if there’s a running theme to her humour through the historical gags, literary piss-takes and sweet absurdity, it’s that deep down we’re all fairly petty and small-minded, and that’s maybe our funniest trait. Her wit is a kind of needle to pop the pretensions we ascribe to the world around us, though if you only appreciated her for the way she can draw greedy cheeks and wild, jealous eyes, that would probably be just fine, too.

1. Paying For It: A Comic Strip Memoir About Being a John
By Chester Brown
(Drawn & Quarterly)
Paying For It would be notable if only for the bare, matter-of-fact honesty Chester Brown brings to a subject we tend to prefer to ignore, or at least couch in all kinds of distancing irony, hyperbole and obfuscation (i.e. sex). At times a philosophical treatise on romantic love, at times a dryly funny look at Brown’s own neuroses and personal tics, Paying For It is as much about the subculture it’s exploring as it is about the things we do to be able to make it through the world. The starkest proof there yet is that Brown is a very singular kind of person, much less artist, it’s also the rare book that isn’t just going to make you question your opinions, but earn the conclusions you come to.
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Chester Brown
Anders Nilsen
Kate Beaton

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Big Questions (paperback)
Paying For It
Hark! A Vagrant




GNBCC leads AV Club's Best Comics of 2011 along side PAYING FOR IT and MID-LIFE!

Updated December 29, 2011


December 29, 2011
Noel Murray

Top 10 Original Graphic Novels

1. Seth, The Great Northern Brotherhood Of Canadian Cartoonists (D&Q)
Seth’s latest “sketchbook novella” explores the 75-year history of a prestigious (fictional) professional cartoonists club by way of a tour through its headquarters, with Seth himself as the guide. Some of the work Seth describes is real, but most of it comes straight from his own head, and it reads like a wish list of comics he wishes he could read—or that he wishes he had time to draw. Where is that long-running series about the Eskimo astronaut? Or that impressionistic proto-graphic-novel about a building full of mysterious machines? In The G.N.B. Double C., Seth pays homage to the nostalgic appeal and seemingly limitless potential of old comics, while trying to create his own testament to how much wonder can be contained within a nine-panel grid.

3. Chester Brown, Paying For It (D&Q)
Chester Brown takes a detached approach to his recent history as a patron of prostitutes, telling his story in tiny panels populated by even tinier characters, positioned like figurines in a museum case. Brown attempts to argue that “possessive monogamy” is socially regressive, and that it makes more sense to separate companionship and sex, and whenever he crosses over from “this is an arrangement that works for me” to “this is the way everyone should live,” Paying For It becomes a little strange. But Brown finds the humor and the drama in his “dates,” and a late twist in the book calls into question a lot of what Brown’s trying to say about whether the traditional romantic order is corrupt. The advantage of Brown’s “watching from a distance” style is that it’s open to interpretation, allowing readers to re-raise the questions that Brown may think he’s answered.

7. Joe Ollmann, Mid-Life (D&Q)
John, the hero of Joe Ollmann’s Mid-Life, is a 40-year-old art director with two snippy grown daughters from his failed first marriage, plus an exhausted new wife and a toddler. When John becomes obsessed with a Laurie Berkner-like kiddie-music star named Sherry Smalls, he risks his family, his career, and his self-image to meet with her while on a business trip to New York. Ollmann works here with cramped nine-panel pages, conveying both the drudgery and the clutter of John’s life. But Mid-Life is remarkably nuanced within its own rigid parameters. The book approximates what it’s like to be at the halfway point of life, with memories and past regrets bleeding into daily interactions, even as middle-aged folks retain enough optimism about the future to keep pushing ahead.
 
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Chester Brown
Seth
Joe Ollmann

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Mid-Life
Paying For It
The Great Northern Brotherhood of Canadian Cartoonists




  Chester Brown's PAYING FOR IT ranks high on the American Booksellers Association Bestsellers List!!

Updated September 8, 2011


The Indie Comics & Graphic Works Bestseller List


Based on sales at independent bookstores nationwide for the eight-week period ending August 21, 2011.

1. The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media
Brooke Gladstone, Josh Neufeld (Illus.), Norton, $23.95, 9780393077797

2. Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life
Bryan Lee O’Malley, Oni Press, $11.99, 9781932664089

3. Watchmen
Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, DC Comics, $19.99, 9780930289232

4. Cowboys & Aliens
Fred Van Lente, Andrew Foley, It Books, $15.99, 9780062079077

5. Simpsons Comics Meltdown
Matt Groening, Harper, $15.99, 9780062036537

6. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God From Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human
Grant Morrison, Spiegel & Grau, $28, 9781400069125

7. Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John
Chester Brown, Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95, 9781770460485

8. DC Comics: The Ultimate Character Guide
Brandon T. Snider, DK Publishing, $16.99, 9780756682613

9. The Griff: A Graphic Novel
Christopher Moore, Ian Corson, Morrow, $22.99, 9780061977527

10. Pearls Blows Up: A Pearls Before Swine Treasury
Stephan Pastis, Andrews McMeel, $16.99, 9781449401061
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Chester Brown

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Paying For It




Heroesonline's postive review of the 2011 SPX lineup

Updated September 8, 2011


This Saturday and Sunday Heroes’ own Rico Renzi and Seth Peagler will be in Bethesda, Maryland for this year’s Small Press Expo. We’ll be there promoting HeroesCon’s 30th Anniversary, and will have plenty of fliers and info about the show. If you’re interested in talking with us about reserving a small press table of your own, we’ll also be happy to assist you with that. So if you happen to be at SPX, make sure to find us and say ‘hi.’ This year’s lineup includes talent like Jim Woodring, Johnny Ryan, Jim Rugg, Chester Brown, and Craig Thompson will be on hand to debut his long awaited followup to Blankets called Habibi. Also on hand will be our friends from AdHouse Books, Heroes alumi/cartoonist Dustin Harbin, and more. We’re glad to be attending, and hope to see some of you there!

Dig that Jim Rugg program cover!
 
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Las Vegas Weekly reviews PAYING FOR IT by CHESTER BROWN

Updated August 25, 2011


Chester Brown has no problem paying for sex. Over a period of four years he visited more than 20 prostitutes and shelled out thousands of dollars for sex, some of which was great, some of which was just okay and much of which involved women he genuinely cared for. He never contracted a sexually transmitted infection, was never arrested and his close friends and family, who knew he was seeing prostitutes, never rejected him.

In Paying for It: A Comic Strip Memoir About Being a John, Brown, an award-winning cartoonist from Toronto, puts a human face on the often maligned and caricatured figure of the john. He writes with a degree of honesty and thoughtfulness one rarely finds when it comes to the subject of men who pay for sex, detailing both the mundane and more profound aspects of his experience, from searching classified ads and reading online reviews to discussing romantic love, which he personally rejects. He presents these ideas-ones that undoubtedly challenge many people's beliefs about the sanctity of sex, love and monogamy-in an easy-to-read comic-strip format that invites readers to think differently about prostitution.

Brown's story is an interesting one. Following the end of a serious relationship over a decade ago, he decides he never wants to have a girlfriend again. He soon realizes he has two competing wishes: the desire to have sex and the desire to not to have a girlfriend. "Maybe I should pay for sex," he eventually concludes.

For Brown, this is a pragmatic decision and one that carries no shame. He's not lonely or desperate. He's not self-loathing, nor does he have contempt for women. He's just a regular guy who wants a fulfilling sex life, but without all of the expectations and insecurities that often accompany romantic involvements.

The first prostitute he sees is Carla, whom he found through an escort ad. He's relieved to find she's beautiful-and not a cop. "This is too good to be true," Brown thinks to himself. He gives her money, they talk, she takes out a condom and they have sex. Could she tell he was nervous? Did she know it was his first time paying for sex? In the end none of those insecurities matter. "As I walked out of the brothel," he writes, "I felt exhilarated and transformed."

Chester Brown the john was born.

Brown, 51, describes himself as a typical john. He's somewhat introverted, a little shy and not likely to be mistaken for a chest-thumping alpha male. The image he paints of the average john, and the reasons why someone such as himself might choose to pay for sex, couldn't be more different than the stereotype of johns as callous and deeply flawed men with little regard for women and nothing better to do than assert their dominance.

"There's so much about sex in conventional relationships that's so complicated, particularly heterosexual relationships," Brown told me by phone last week. "I remember having this weird feeling with my first girlfriend, before we even had sex. Should I buy condoms just in case? If I bring them out will it look like I am over-planning?

"In prostitution there is no subtext. Everything is out there on the surface. We know what's going to happen. There isn't a mysterious part of the relationship, and there isn't the same degree of shame around sex."

Early in the book, Brown takes out his calculator and determines he can afford to see a prostitute once every three weeks, or 17 times a year, for the equivalent of $2,720 annually. Once Brown crosses over into the "paying for sex line"-as opposed to the "free sex line"-he, in many ways, becomes the epitome of a rational consumer who spends his money wisely in accordance with his needs. Much like people who shop for other kinds of experiences, he reads online reviews, writes his own and returns to see women whose company, and services, he enjoys.

"There is very little research on johns," says Barb Brents, a sociologist at UNLV who has studied the history of prostitution and legal brothels in Nevada. "While this book is a memoir, it goes a long way toward demystifying johns. There's no sneaking off. There's no shame. We get to see his thought process, his choices and his interactions."

Paying for It also shows that there's more to the economic exchange between a john and a prostitute than just sexual gratification. According to Brents: "A lot of what Brown writes about echoes what prostitutes have said about the men who see them, that it's not just about sex. They negotiate feelings and deal with each other as human beings."

The importance of the emotional intimacy between a prostitute and john is not lost on Brown. "As robotics advance," he tells me, "it's hard to imagine a sex robot being really appealing in the way that having sex with a human being is. And that's because of the emotional component. You are dealing with another person who has feelings and is willing to express them."

In 2004, Brown started seeing a prostitute named Denise on a regular basis. He's been seeing her monogamously for more than seven years now, and, although she no longer works as a prostitute, he still pays her for sex. "There's a level of genuine emotional engagement, and a willingness on her part to spend time with me that she isn't getting paid for," says Brown.

He tells me he prefers prostitution to getting married, summing it up best in the last panel on the last page of Paying for It: "Paying for sex isn't an empty experience, if you're paying the right person for sex."
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CBR interviews CHESTER BROWN about PAYING FOR IT

Updated August 9, 2011


Chester Brown is no stranger to attention. Thanks to works like "Louis Riel," "The Playboy," "Yummy Fur" and "I Never Liked You," the 51-year-old cartoonist has attracted a considerable fan base, won two Harvey Awards and was recently inducted into the Canadian Comic Creator Hall of Fame. With Drawn & Quarterly's publication of "Paying For It," however, Brown has taken an even bolder step into the spotlight having created a graphic novel focusing on his personal experiences as a "john" that lays more than just his opinions on the line.

After all, doesn't admitting you pay prostitutes for sex land you in jail? "It's legal when the women comes to the john's home or apartment. So, everything I do in the first half of the book is illegal, but from the second half on, everything is legal. And the last illegal act in this book takes place in 2001. I don't know what the statute of limitations is, but I'm not that worried," Brown explained in May to a giggling crowd on the Montreal leg of his book tour.

Many of his answers during the Q&A portion of the event were met with a mix of giddy admiration and overwhelming, even prying curiosity from the assembled fans. Brown's preference for paid sex over more traditional boyfriend/girlfriend intimacy led to questions about his budgeting strategies ("I did have to be careful -- it's very easy to get in way over your head, financially") and whether or not he gets a discount for having chosen to be monogamous with one prostitute in particular (short answer -- no). In spite of all the interest, he did manage to hold a few details back from his inquisitive audience.

"It's interesting how curious everyone is about 'Denise,' the woman I'm currently sexually involved with," Brown told CBR News from his Seattle home. "At the Seattle event, someone asked me about 'Denise's' taste in comics -- that one took me by surprise. Since I'm trying to say as little about her as possible, I politely declined to answer, but I suppose I can say that, as far as the arts go in general, she has excellent taste."

Protecting the identities of the sex workers who figure into his story was always a priority to the author. "I obscured (their) faces and left out personal details about them to keep them from being identified," he explained. During the book tour, Brown defended this decision, stating, "There are fictional elements to the book, but I wanted to keep that to an absolute minimum. So, I felt more comfortable omitting details rather than inventing details. Some people have complained that that might seem to dehumanize [the workers], objectify them. I didn't see a way around it."

Charlotte Shane, an escort contributing to titsandass.com, took greater issue with something else entirely. Shane stated in her review that while she may agree with Brown's argument for the decriminalization of prostitution, she simply wouldn't want him as a client. "He's the type of johnI religiously steer away from, and that's largely due to his immersion in review board 'culture.' It doesn't take too long for Chester to start cataloging the physical attributes and sexual performance of every woman he sees in anticipation of going home and writing about it for other dudes. Even his non-prostitute-seeing friend asks, don't 'prostitutes [...] expect a measure of privacy and discretion for their johns?' And his (temporary) regular tells him she doesn't want to read the reviews because they'd make her uncomfortable, but Chester is not dissuaded."

With few elements of his personal life off-limits for discussion, you'd think Brown might regret having opened up about this aspect of his life. Instead, the cartoonist seemed to feel it was a price worth paying to bring more awareness to a practice often swept under the rug. "I wasn't that interested in writing about myself," he said. "I wanted to write and draw a book about prostitution. I considered shaping my experiences into a fictional narrative, but it felt dishonest to not admit that I had a personal stake in the issue."

It's that personal touch that has left many applauding his latest work. "If I was to judge by the audience reactions to my public readings and by the people who spoke to me while I signed books," Brown told CBR News, "I would conclude that everyone loves 'Paying For It' and that there's strong support for decriminalizing prostitution. But, obviously, that's not the whole story."

Those hoping to see Brown's latest creative endeavor make the transition to the silver screen are unfortunately going to be disappointed. "The film rights to the Ed (The Happy Clown) story have reverted to me. It looks like that film will not get made," Brown said of his "Yummy Fur" character before nearly altogether ruling out a movie version of "Paying For It." "It's hard to imagine a Hollywood adaptation that would stay true to the book's political message. That would be a problem for me. I doubt I could be convinced to sell the rights to an American company -- filmmakers would be very tempted to turn the 'Denise'-and-Chester story into a variation of 'Pretty Woman.' The reality of our relationship is nothing like that film."
 
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Chester Brown

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  This Magazine interviews CHESTER BROWN

Updated August 4, 2011


Chester Brown, 51, is an accomplished graphic novelist whose new book, Paying for It, depicts his decision in 1999 to abandon romantic relationships in favour of paying prostitutes for sex. Along the way, however, he still seemed to find a version, unconventional though it may be, of true love.

This: How long did it take to do the book?

Brown: One year to write the script and four years to draw it.

This: The primary trigger for going to sex workers was when your romantic relationship with Sook Yin-Lee [the actor and CBC journalist] ended in 1999. When she had a new boyfriend move in with the two of you.

Brown: Right. But we're still very close friends.

This: Why were you through with romantic love?

Brown: It brings people more misery than happiness, in a nutshell.

This: Haven't I read that the most miserable creatures around are men who don't have a relationship?

Brown: I think in large part that's because of romantic love. They have this ideal in the mind and they're failing to bring that into their life. If they didn't want romantic love they then wouldn't be miserable. It's the ideal that's the problem.

This: How many prostitutes did you go to over the years?

Brown: Twenty-three. Some I saw multiple times. Every single experience is in the book.

This: How much did you spend on them?

Brown: I'm not sure. I've never been asked that before. At roughly $200 each time...hmmm. I guess we could do the math.

This: In January 2003 you saw a sex worker you call Denise. Since then you have been monogamous with her and she's been monogamous with you for the last four years. What is different about her?

Brown: She seemed more open. As time went on the connection between us seemed to grow. There were other things that happened to help establish a bond that unfortunately I can't get into.

This: Because she doesn't want her personal information revealed?

Brown: She told me to put her in my book as little as possible. I will say she's an amazing person. Really wonderful and extremely trustworthy.

This: But you still pay her.

Brown: We have sex about every two weeks and, yeah, I pay her.

This: How do you define your relationship with her?

Brown: Hmmm. It's not a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. It's not a romantic relationship.

This: You must have feelings for her.

Brown: I admit I have romantic feelings for her. And when you feel that way about a woman you want to talk about her. I wish I could blab away about her wonderful qualities.

This: Do you double date with friends?

Brown: No. Never.

This: Share holidays, like Christmas, together?

Brown: No.

This: What if she wanted you to stop paying her.

Brown: All of a sudden it would be like every other relationship. I think romantic relationships tend to fail. I'm happy with things the way they're working.

This: Have you ever asked her to move in with you?

Brown: No.

This: It would ruin things?

Brown: Oh yeah. I think so.

This: Don't many men who go to sex workers want the talking, the touching, the cuddling even more than the sex? Was that the case with you?

Brown: I definitely know that's true of a lot of men. But I did want the sex.

This: They want the intimacy, even if it's forced.

Brown: Yeah. Most of the prostitutes I saw would jump up and go to the shower after [we had sex]. Denise was one of the few who seemed to like to cuddle afterwards.

This: Was the intimacy you felt with her what was missing with the other sex workers?

Brown: Probably.

This: Which suggests that's what you were looking for all along.

Brown: I hadn't known that that's what I was looking for but, sure, yeah.

This: Isn't that what we're all looking for?

Brown: Hmmm. I guess so.

This: You still down on romantic love?

Brown: I do change my mind at the end of the book. I come to think of it in a different way and I decide what I have a problem with isn't romantic love but what I call possessive monogamy.

This: Where do you think your relationship is headed?

Brown: I'm pretty sure Denise is fine with the way it is right now. She doesn't want me to be a conventional boyfriend. I think everyone else wants there to be a Pretty Woman type of story where we end up in a conventional marriage. But we don't. No.
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CBR has five solid thoughts on PAYING FOR IT by CHESTER BROWN

Updated August 1, 2011


Drawn and Quarterly released Chester Brown's Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir of Being a John in May. It was one of the more eagerly anticipated books of the year, given the skill and reputation of Brown, and it ended up being one of the most reviewed and most discussed graphic novels of the year (so far).
The subject matter certainly didn't hurt coverage any, in fact it's colorful and controversial nature drove a lot of coverage: Brown meticulously chronicles every time he patronized a prostitute between 1996 and 2003, in the process formulating and defending a particular point-of-view regarding the evils of romantic love and relationships and the relative virtues of paying for sex.
Between the first time I read it and the second time I read it (it's that kind of book), I read somewhere around 50 million reviews of it and articles about it and Brown and his position. Two months after release, and all that ink and virtual ink spilled over it, a formal review from me seems kind of superfluous at this point.

Instead, here are a few thoughts about the book...

1.) The book opens with the cartoonist breaking up with his live-in girlfriend...sort of. She announces that she thinks she's falling in love with someone else, would like to try dating that person. Brown gives his blessing, and they decide to keep living together and see where it goes.
Cut to a scene of Brown walking down the street with the little comics avatars of his fellow Canadian cartoonists Seth (Wimbledon Green, Palookaville) and Joe Matt (Spent, Peepshow).
The pair have fairly big roles in the story-Dwight Garner refereed to them as a "wise-guy geek chorus" in his New York Times book review-and when I saw their first appearance, I felt a sudden surge of a mixture of surprise, glee, excitement, recognition and comfort.
I imagine it must be something like what little boys must have felt like reading Marvel Comics in the 1960s, and seeing Spider-Man sudden swing into a Fantastic Four comic, or Daredevil or Dr. Strange bumping into one another on their shared streets of New York City.
There's something undeniably cool about seeing comic book characters appear where you don't expect them, or interacting with one another, although it's a coolness that has been diluted to the point it probably doesn't even register in superhero comics anymore, given that Superman started playing sports with Batman and Robin back in 1941, and the modern Big Two super-universes are in constant states of crossover (And hell, Archie can meet the Punisher or president or Kiss, and Mr. Spock run into Wolverine or Cosmic Boy).
As cartoonists who are also characters in other comics, Seth and Joe Matt have a peculiar status and, in this narrative, it was the Canadian art memoir comics equivalent of, I don't know, seeing Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake in a Spider-Man arc, only you're seeing it for the first time.
The book even rewards familiarity with these characters and their previous adventures, like in a scene where Brown brings up prostitute review message boards, and the Matt character says it's too disturbing to which Brown replies "How can this be disturbing for someone who watches porn almost 24 hours a day?"
Which isn't just a quip, of course-it's practically the plot of Matt's memoir Spent.
Aside from the crossover thrill, it's worth noting that the scenes with the other cartoonists are among the most enjoyable to read in the book, because they tend to be the most funny; Brown shows himself debating with himself and friends and even some of the prostitutes (to some extent) about the ethics and morality of prostitution and love, sex and relationships in general, but he's apparently most comfortable around his friend cartoonists, so those exchanges tend to be the most honest and amusing.

2.) In that same chapter, the trio are hanging out in a hotel room the night before a comics convention, and, looking at the program, they wonder what Playboy Playmates are doing attending a comics convention.
The next day, Brown sees a favorite Playmate, selling hugs, photos and autographs for $50, and though tempted, is too embarrassed by the thought someone might see him (Which is funny, as he puts his thoughts on the subject in this book, so everyone does see him, sorta-the magic of autobio comics!). It's at this point he thinks, "For another fifty-or-so I could probably pay a prostitute," and his odyssey begins.
It disturbed me to no end to think of these three, each a master of his craft, in a hotel room, at a comics convention, talking about Playmates, one of them even thinking of buying a prostitute.
Because, at that point, I realized that maybe there's no such thing as comics creator groupies, and that the most talented, most famous cartoonist can't simply go to a convention and have scores of women throwing themselves at them.
That completely dashed by 40-year-plan, hatched when I was 14 or so, to finally become super-popular with the ladies by growing up to be a famous cartoonist.
Damn it. I should have learned to play guitar. Or even drums! Brown's last girlfriend left him for a drummer!

3.) Brown is not a bad-looking guy. Here's his author photo in the back of the book:
There are even more handsome pictures elsewhere on the Internet. He doesn't seem like the sort of guy who would have to pay for sex, you know? But then, I guess I don't really know that many johns in real-life, just the ones I see on various incarnations of Law & Orders, and in the occasional Batman comic, and johns aren't glorified in either context.
Also, Brown draws himself as a grim, expressionless little bobble-headed skeleton, looking like Harold Grey drawing of the male half of the couple in Grant Wood's American Gothic, so it was kind of surprising to see that he's not really the undead little goblin I was reading about for the first couple hundred pages, you know?

4.) There's a very big, very transformative twist at the end of the book, the sort that retroactively colors everything that came before. It's not actually presented as a "twist," but rather a plot point; it functions like a twist though.
Somewhat frustratingly, seems like the real story-from a dramatic stand-point, if not from the author's intentions. I won't say what it is, but...well, okay, I will: Chester Brown was a ghost the whole time! No, I'm kidding, the twist is that he and the prostitutes are really all the same person. No, actually Chester Brown is Keyser Soze, and he made the whole thing up. And "Rosebud" is the name of Brown's penis.

5.) I really enjoyed the reading experience, and even wrestling with many of the issues Brown brings up in the back of my head while reading, but, months later, I still can't shake the fact that there was a more interesting story to tell, and that Brown hints at it without getting into it. Maybe in Paying For It II: Pay Harder...?
It's been a few months now, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the 30 pages of back matter, notes and appendices in which Brown expands on the arguments we see made in conversations throughout the book.
They seem sort of foreign to the graphic novel reading experience, but then, it's Brown's graphic novel; he can shape that experience however he wants.
It's inclusion is definitely unusual, which makes it novel, which makes it sort of exciting, a great cartoonist using comics and prose to educate and argue larger social issues... but engaging it seems well beyond my job description as a comics critic, and I don't think anyone really cares about my personal opinions regarding the legality or regulation or sadness of prostitution.
I imagine more readers are more interested in whether or not the book is good and worth reading, and it is at that. Beyond its qualities, it's also unlike just about any other book-length comic you've probably read, which in and of itself recommends it as something to seek out.
 
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  An escort reviews PAYING FOR IT!

Updated June 27, 2011


The sex worker rights movement desperately needs more men outing themselves as johns, standing with sex workers, and defending the right for consenting adults to buy and sell sex. But while I was reading Paying For It, a graphic memoir by Canadian john Chester Brown who does just that, I kept thinking one thing: I would never want this guy as a client.
I'm not flattering myself-it's clear that Brown wouldn't want me either, since I'm over 20 and don't offer half hours-but it was hard to set aside that reaction in spite of the fact that 1) I'm in complete agreement with his arguments for decriminalizing prostitution, 2) I loved his citation of the nearly defunct $pread magazine in his appendix and 3) we share an obsession with sex work. But I'm not the only one who finds him abrasive. In the book's appendix, one of his friends writes, "Chester seems to have a very limited emotional range compared to most people. There does seem to be something wrong with him." Internet commenters routinely tear him apart, though most have assuredly not read the book, reinforcing how far johns will have to go in order to surmount their own set of stigmas when they are now so easily dismissed as perverts and sociopaths.
The book begins as Chester reexamines the usefulness of conventional romantic relationships after his dissolves in an unusual fashion. (He was dating beautiful semi-celebrity Sook-Yin Lee.) He ultimately decides it's all bullshit and he never wants to have a girlfriend again. This, coupled with his self-confessed lack of game, makes him prime material to start buying sex. So he does.
From a social standpoint, Chester is the ideal john: he's not married or in a committed relationship and he doesn't excel socially. People who are largely against men hiring prostitutes will make cautious exceptions for just such individuals. "Well...," they reason reluctantly, "if you're incapable of getting laid any other way and you're not betraying your significant other, I guess it's okay."
Less socially acceptably, Chester occasionally seems detached to the point of amorality. He's only mildly concerned about the possibility that one woman he see repeatedly is under 18, and is aroused by another escort's apparent pain while he's screwing her. He's not categorically a bad guy-when a different escort tells him he needs to hurry up and come, he loses his erection and doesn't get off, but still tips her.
From my (escort) standpoint, he's the type of john I religiously steer away from, and that's largely due to his immersion in review board "culture." It doesn't take too long for Chester to start cataloging the physical attributes and sexual performance of every woman he sees in anticipation of going home and writing about it for other dudes. Even his non-prostitute seeing friend asks, don't "prostitutes [...] expect a measure of privacy and discretion for their johns"? And his (temporary) regular tells him she doesn't want to read the reviews because they'd make her uncomfortable, but Chester is not dissuaded.

In the five years that I've been networking with other prostitutes, I've only ever met two who were enthusiastically in favor of reviews. At best, my acquaintances and friends have seen them as a necessary evil, a form of advertising they dislike but worry they can't do without. Most women I've met hate them and sometimes forbid them outright, like I do. I get why some guys want to read Yelp-like write-ups before seeing someone, and I can understand why Chester wants to complain about it when he loses money on a disappointing experience.
But his fickleness and shallowness rubbed me the wrong way. When one girl stays quiet and inert during sex, he decides he likes her honesty (because she isn't pretending to enjoy it.) When a different girl gives him "the best blowjob of [his] life" but then stays still during penetrative sex, he doesn't tip her and plans to disparage her in a review. Initially he hews to escorts ages 18-20, and when he complains about a girl's legs being "a bit thick," it invites some eye-rolling. ("Oh, the girl you're paying $80 to fuck you doesn't have the body of a photoshopped supermodel? Call consumer protection!")
To his credit, Brown is diligent about not giving away the identity of the women he sees, but instead of fabricating facial features he simply depicts them exclusively from behind or with their heads cut off by the frame or text bubbles. This renders his stream of escorts literally faceless and largely interchangeable. And though Brown ostensibly enjoyed his encounters, at least enough to keep seeing escorts, the sex is coldly rendered and abrupt. Often, the deed consists of several panels of two tiny white bodies rutting in a square of blackness-or more accurately, one body rutting and the other being rutted. Although (spoiler alert?) he eventually leaves the hobbyist lifestyle and settles down with one regular prostitute, this development isn't explored much. "Denise" asks to appear in the book as little as possible, and he's rightly honored that request, probably at a detriment to the story.
The book ends with a dense text-only section refuting anti-sex-work arguments-except for the myth that prostitution is bad for marriage. Bizarrely, never-married Chester says that he agrees with this though many prostitutes and, privately, many johns, have claimed the contrary, reasoning that sex workers are a safer, more reliably discreet option for extra-marital sex than a mistress, and the unavailability of that sexual outlet might otherwise prompt men to leave chaste marriages.
So, regardless of how I felt about Chester the john, I'm grateful to have Chester the cartoonist as an ally. I hope his book reaches many people who might otherwise never give much thought to the legal state of prostitution, and I hope it influences them for the better.
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PAYING FOR IT by CHESTER BROWN is fascinating, says Partners West

Updated June 9, 2011


One of the more fascinating graphic novels I've read in awhile is Chester Brown's PAYING FOR IT, a memoir about his experiences being a john. At the age of 39, Brown comes to the conclusion that his desire for sex and his disillusionment with romantic love were at odds, and began seeing prostitutes on a regular basis. This book chronicles those experiences, beginning with his struggle to come to the decision, through his many experiences with a variety of prostitutes, to his call for decriminalizing the profession. It's frank and honest, and, although it's definitely from a biased, first-person male perspective, Brown's arguments are presented logically and thoughtfully - he totally stands behind his ideals. The art is fantastic - simplistic yet full of detail. I found myself thinking about this long after I'd turned the last page. Rated M.
 
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  Fanboy's Closet is a fan of PAYING FOR IT

Updated June 6, 2011


Ok, so the cover of the book should tell readers everything they need to know about it. But let me go into a little more detail...

Chester Brown is an experienced (formerly underground) Canadian cartoonist who grow up around Montreal. Along with Seth and Joe Matt (two of his friends), Brownis part of the sort of holy trinity of important adult comic writers in Canada.

Often autobiographical, and always entertaining, much of Browns work follows his life and interactions within his group of close friends (including Joe Matt and Seth -- the three usually feature each other in their stories). Other than great autobiographical stuff like The Playboy (an early story by Brown which paints a picture of his young teenage life growing up in Quebec and his first experiences with pornography), Browns most famous and acclaimed work has been his hefty comic book biography of Louis Riel, an excellent (and well-researched) read.

But in his latest book, Paying For It, Brown opens up about an age-old taboo that has been a part of his life for the last 15 years: prostitution.

As the books subtitle suggests, this autobiographical work (just released today) is a first-hand account of Browns long-time involvement in prostitution as a john (customer). In the book he relates his last breakup (with well-known former VJ and CBC radio hostess, Sook-yin Lee), followed by his decision to start paying for sex. Throughout the book Brown puts forth simple but strong arguments in support of his pro-prostitution position, often in the form of arguments and conversations he had with his friends (and former girlfriend) over his choice to start seeing prostitutes.

And although the author seems like an almost emotionless weirdo at times, through his careful explanation and (sort of) gentle-seeming demeanor, readers may come to at least understand (if not accept) why the author has sworn off romantic love forever in favour of prostitution.

So, one of the main things I like to get right to on this site is: is this book entertaining. Yes, it definitely is. It is hard to stop reading even if you recognize yourself being pulled in by the seediness and taboo interest generated by an insiders view of the sex trade. This extremely human and simple voyeuristic look into the the most private parts of the authors life and into a very private industry are difficult to turn away from. So, I would highly recommend it on those grounds alone. Few comics manage to be as simultaneously interesting, entertaining, shocking, enlightening, and controversial as this one.

Whether or not Brown's obviously pro-prostitution stance ends up changing your own opinion of either johns or working girls by the end of the book (or whether or not you start out agreeing or disagreeing his lifestyle from the get-go), one thing is for sure: this book is likely to get you thinking, talking, and maybe even arguing with your own friends about morality, law, and the sex trade.

Personally, I had some pretty serious and fun discussions with FBCs own movie reviewer and my wife about some of the issues addressed by Brown in Paying For It long before I was even able to read the book. For instance, Greg (the movie man) and I had an extended discussion about the morality of even buying Browns book in the first place. I was of the opinion that if you are entirely morally opposed to the whole idea of any type of prostitution, that it wouldn't be justifiable to buy Paying For It at all as some of the money you used WILL almost certainly be used to further the sex trade (i.e. because Brown gets your money and then he will give it to prostitutes almost inevitably). However, this is a hard-liner decision for sure.

Personally, I think even folks who are entirely opposed to prostitution on either moral, legal, or religious grounds owe it to themselves to check out Browns book (take it out from a library if you like!) to see what this first-hand account of a secretive and taboo industry is like so that they might make a better-informed decision about how they feel about it.

Personally, I found that no matter where you sit on the pro- or anti-prostitution spectrum, you can find evidence in Paying For It to support either position. The bottom line is that Browns book provides insight and info and sheds light on an otherwise obscured business.

Anyway, I hope this sparked your interest enough to check out this book. If I didn't convince you, maybe CBC can -- Jian Ghomeshi did an interesting interview with Chester Brown on April 29th on his show Q -- check it out!
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PAYING FOR IT reviewed by the Winnipeg Free Press

Updated June 6, 2011


CELEBRATED Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown has done it again.

In his long-awaited followup to 2003's graphic novel Louis Riel -- winner of two comics industry Harvey awards -- Brown returns to the emotional and sexual ambiguities of earlier work such as I Never Liked You.

This recounting of the artist's experiences as a patron of prostitution is fascinatingly enigmatic (as was his previous work). With Riel, we had to decide for ourselves whether its hero was madman, prophet or martyr.

This time Brown turns the treatment on himself -- to perhaps even greater effect.

As presented, Brown seems capable of considerable self-deception. Yet that's not mutually exclusive with the book's self-representation as an argument for prostitution's normalization.

Regarding the latter, the timeliness couldn't be better after this past fall's Ontario court decision striking down prostitution laws. In any case, this is a rewardingly complex, fascinating volume.

Emotional distancing effects are characteristic of Brown's oeuvre, but Paying for It may take the approach to new extremes, with Brown's drawn face resembling an impassive mask, complete with opaque glasses. (When he obtains contact lenses, his eyes become mere slits.)

What faint emotional expressions break through are conveyed by the subtlest of graphic touches, i.e., one or two slight lines, as when Brown furrows his brows, or ever-so-slightly smiles.

In an early chapter, his then-girlfriend (real-life CBC radio host Sook-Yin Lee) asks Brown if it's OK if her new beau moves in with them. No problem, he insists. Later he tells her he's out having his tree shaken by hookers.

One might reasonably think he's deploying some major passive-aggressive weaponry there. But when Lee leaves later on, Brown sinks into a depression.

What's really behind the facade, though? It's a question equally applicable to the working women he visits. But, of course, he rightfully points out how dangerous it can be to read minds.

And that's the book's spell: we feel forever on the outside, never seeing in.

Yet it remains that Brown may be deceiving himself, because he is soon having communication breakdowns with different women. Just as in a relationship. There are, unfortunately, no quick and easy solutions to sexual (and emotional) satisfaction, especially where two people are involved.

By now comics have already demonstrated they can effectively essay any subject or category. For those whose awareness lags, Paying for It may provide a definitive awakening.

Kenton Smith is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer, arts and culture critic and comics enthusiast.
 
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  PAYING FOR IT a bestseller in Toronto!

Updated June 6, 2011


TYPE BOOKS
THE QUEEN STREET STORE

1. PAYING FOR IT, Chester Brown
2. CITY NUMBERS, Joanne Schwartz & Matt Beam
3. THE MANY REVENGES OF KIPP FLYNN, Sean Dixon
4. IRMA VOTH, Miriam Toews
5. BETTER LIVING THROUGH PLASTIC EXPLOSIVES, Szuzi Gartner
6. ALONE IN THE CLASSROOM, Elizabeth Hay
7. ANOTHER VENTRILOQUIST, Adam Gilders
8. DOGS AT THE PERIMETER, Madeleine Thien
9. THE FREE WORLD, David Bezmozgis
10. A READER ON READING, Alberto Manguel

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ONWARD TOWARDS OUR NOBLE DEATHS and PAYING FOR IT named some of the summer's hottest graphic novels

Updated June 2, 2011


Shigeru Mizuki is the preeminent figure of Gekiga manga and one of the most famous working cartoonists in Japan today--a true living legend. Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths is his first book to be translated into English and is a semiautobiographical account of the desperate final weeks of a Japanese infantry unit at the end of World War II. The soldiers are told that they must go into battle and die for the honor of their country, with certain execution facing them if they return alive. Mizuki was a soldier himself (he was severely injured and lost an arm) and uses his experiences to convey the devastating consequences and moral depravity of the war.

Chester Brown has never shied away from tackling controversial subjects in his work. In his 1992 book, The Playboy, he explored his personal history with pornography. His bestselling 2003 graphic novel, Louis Riel, was a biographical examination of an extreme political figure. The book won wide acclaim and cemented Brown's reputation as a true innovator. Paying for It is a natural progression for Brown as it combines the personal and sexual aspects of his autobiographical work with the polemical drive of Louis Riel. Brown calmly lays out the facts of how he became not only a willing participant in but a vocal proponent of one of the world's most hot-button topics--prostitution. While this may appear overly sensational and just plain implausible to some, Brown's story stands for itself. Paying for It offers an entirely contemporary exploration of sex work--from the timid john who rides his bike to his escorts, wonders how to tip so as not to offend, and reads Dan Savage for advice, to the modern-day transactions complete with online reviews, seemingly willing participants, and clean apartments devoid of cliched street corners, drugs, or pimps.
 
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  The New York Journal of Book writes rave review about PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 26, 2011


Paying for It is the intensely personal memoir of cartoonist Chester Brown (Louis Riel) and the relationships, experiences, and reasoning which led him to leave behind a life of monogamous romantic relationships and chose instead to regularly pay for sex with prostitutes.

Though this choice is arguably quite controversial, through author Brown’s honest (and at times almost neurotically overanalyzed) rationale, we are constantly inside the artist's head every step of the way, from his last girlfriend, to his first experiences paying for sex, all the way through to a long-term relationship with a call girl known in the book as "Denise."

Mr. Brown proves himself to be quite rational, even if his views often skew to the unconventional. It would likely be a common mistake to expect this to be an autobiography full of pathetic self loathing or possibly filled with sordid eroticism, or even a sort of romantic nihilism, but instead he succeeds masterfully in his displays of both courage and character as he unabashedly takes us on a mundanely personal journey, one which lays his male Id bare and in the process demystifies the secret industry of professional sex workers. The respect and pathos that Mr. Brown displays for these women, even as he timidly solicits them to satisfy his sexual needs, is charmingly quirky in Brown's awkward oddball manner.

Though Mr. Brown certainly seeks to justify his behavior to himself and others, at no point does he let himself off the hook, utilizing the various opinions of family and friends to challenge his convictions, including fellow cartoonists Joe Matt (Peepshow) and Seth (Palookaville)--a nice treat for fans of these artists's works.

These points of view and (sometimes heated) arguments help shape Mr. Brown's ever evolving opinion of the sex-worker industry, even as the opinions of those closest to him evolve along with him. The book's message (particularly in the thoroughly researched appendix) becomes a cogent treatise in support of the decriminalization of prostitution, and Mr. Brown takes great lengths to address many common arguments and misunderstandings concerning this controversial topic. Mr. Brown goes beyond mere personal autobiographical introspection to shine a light on matters of personal ownership, human sexual rights, and ultimately human dignity.

Without a shred of shame, Chester Brown proudly shows us a world where a life of frequenting prostitutes need not be one devoid of intimacy, nor need even be an assault on love.

The author certainly seems to be a man of another time, one which predates our accepted modern views of fidelity and marriage for love, but perhaps it is he who is truly the one with the mature modern sensibilities free of jealousy, possessiveness, and the domestic strife that seems inevitable for so many couples.

Read Paying for It and decide for yourself.
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Worcester Mag recommends both PAYING FOR IT and REUNION

Updated May 26, 2011


Paying For It by Chester Brown (Drawn and Quarterly)
It takes a lot of guts to pen such a lengthy autobiographical graphic memoir about your history of paying for prostitutes. Chester Brown seems to have more guts than most, given the amount of time he spends showing himself having sex with prostitutes and letting you know what he's thinking at that moment -- sometimes it's like hearing the thoughts of someone test-driving a car. This makes it all the more surprising that Brown's peek into that closed world -- which results in the examination of himself and his relationship with human emotions -- ends up being so mesmerizing. It's an unlikely candidate for the one graphic novel this year that you just can't put down, and yet with each hooker and anxiety, the allure just magnifies.

Reunion by Pascal Girard (Drawn and Quarterly)
Quebecois cartoonist Girard takes the readers along to his high-school reunion and, in the process, suggests that he might be a stumbling, clueless victim of life. But of course, we all are in that situation, and Girard understands that expectations of facing our past collide painfully with the hidden realities our former schoolmates can sniff on you in order to create unmitigated disasters. In Girard's hands, it's a hilarious example of human need without rhyme or reason. Why do we do this to ourselves? Even Girard doesn't truly know, but that doesn't stop him from sharing his foolish moments with his readership, thus upping the ante of his humiliation.
 
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The Daily reviews PAYING FOR IT by CHESTER BROWN

Updated May 26, 2011


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The NEW YORK TIMES reviews CHESTER BROWN's PAYING FOR IT!!

Updated May 26, 2011


Book titles are a touchy subject for writers. It's not rare to hear an author complain in private about one of his or hers, and ache to reach back in time to swap it for something else. A different title for a fizzled book might have meant a different life for it.
What's rare is to witness a writer complaining about his book's title inside the very book the title is stamped upon. That's what happens in "Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John," by the Toronto cartoonist Chester Brown.
Mr. Brown's illustrated memoir is exactly what it sounds like, a frank and guileless account of his predilection for paying women to have sex with him. Like some Mars-bound rockets, "Paying for It" burns in three stages: It's a factual and often graphic recounting of the author's many erotic sessions with sex workers; it's a bitter critique of the inanities of romantic love; and it's a sustained argument in favor of decriminalizing prostitution.
This is not a feel-good comic book. It's sober and intense, as if written by a lonely and homely Lou Reed and meant to be read aloud beneath a single light bulb hung from the ceiling. But it delivers a series of moral and cerebral and horndog thwacks. It will stick in your mind and perhaps in your craw. It's a real if squeamish-making work of art.
The idea to call this book "Paying for It" came from Mr. Brown's publisher, Drawn & Quarterly, the venerable Montreal comics house. Drawn & Quarterly didn't force the title on Mr. Brown, but he felt he should heed its editorial advice. After all, he admits, "this is a difficult book to market."
What he dislikes about the title, he says, is its implied double meaning, the suggestion that he's paying for his actions in some nonmonetary - some emotional or ethical - fashion. That's absurd, he declares. The comfort of strangers has made him quite happy, or at least much less miserable.
"I'm very far from being sad or lonely," he writes. "I haven't caught an S.T.D., I haven't been arrested, I haven't lost my career, and my friends and family haven't rejected me (although I should admit that I still haven't told my step-mom)."
Mr. Brown, whose previous books include "Louis Riel" (2003), a comic-book biography of a 19th-century Canadian political agitator, is 51. He began sleeping with prostitutes, he tells us, in his late 30s. Skinny, balding and ill at ease, he was never very successful with women. After a series of unhappy relationships, he decided he was through with romantic love. He wanted sex yet not a girlfriend. As far as love and fellow feeling were concerned, friends and family were enough.
"The romantic love ideal is actually evil," Mr. Brown declares, casually tossing a thunderbolt. It promotes "more misery than happiness" and causes many people to yoke themselves for life to the wrong person simply to satisfy society's dictates. His ego is not so fragile, he says, that he needs someone to tickle him like a stuffed animal and affirm that he's lovable.
After some trepidation, Mr. Brown begins to schedule daytime sessions with prostitutes who have advertised online or in alternative weeklies. We meet a shaggy parade of them: There are Carla and Susan and Jolene and Beatrice and Larissa and Millie and others in between. These are not of course their real names, and Mr. Brown never shows us their faces, which he tucks just out of the frame or behind caption bubbles; usually their backs are turned.
Mr. Brown intends to be true, warts and all, to his experience of these interactions. He's honest about what he desires in bed (nothing outlandish) and about his own fears and those of the women he patronizes. There is plenty of straight talk about intercourse, even if his stylized black-and-white drawings are mostly PG-13- or R-rated, not XXX.
In the panels depicting sex acts, the women tend to look lovely, while Mr. Brown - with his tight, unsmiling mouth; bald head; and long, thin body - resembles a praying mantis with testicles.
He can be bleakly funny. He opens a door at one small brothel, expecting to find a familiar face. "What? That's not Angelina!" he thinks. "It's a monster in a mini-skirt!" More often he is off-putting. There's some bravery in his willingness to show himself in a vaguely creepy light.
"She's a bit too old," he thinks to himself, when told a certain woman is all of 28. He suggests in one of 23 appendices (which come before the footnotes) that "prostitution is just a form of dating." He admits that he's slightly turned on by the prostitute who keeps saying, "Ow," during sex, even though she claims she's not in pain. I cringe even to type that sentence.
Most of his encounters he finds to be pleasant, however. The first one makes him feel "exhilarated and transformed." He writes, "A burden that I had been carrying since adolescence had disappeared."
Mr. Brown's arguments in favor of legalizing prostitution are honed in a series of running conversations with his friends, mostly fellow cartoonists, who function as this book's wise-guy geek chorus. When one, hearing an online review of a prostitute, says, "This is too disturbing," Mr. Brown replies, "How can this be disturbing for someone who watches porn almost 24 hours a day?"
He sorts through all the legal, emotional and moral arguments against prostitution. He quotes experts; his book contains a plump bibliography. He considers - and largely if not entirely dismisses - concerns about troubling issues like sex slavery, thieving pimps and abuse. These things sicken him, but he thinks they are sensationalized and, at any rate, have nothing to do with his own and most people's experience of paid sex.
"I'll bet I'm close to what the typical john is like," he says to a female friend. "I'll bet a lot of johns are mild-mannered introverts - guys who would never even consider assaulting anyone."
Mr. Brown's fundamental pro-prostitution argument - he considers it a feminist one - is not dissimilar to one put forward by the political philosopher Martha Nussbaum in the wake of the 2008 call-girl scandal that forced Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York to resign.
"The idea that we ought to penalize women with few choices by removing one of the ones they do have is grotesque, the unmistakable fruit of the all-too-American thought that women who choose to have sex with many men are tainted, vile things who must be punished," Ms. Nussbaum wrote.
Mr. Brown puts it this way: "Feminists should be consistent on the subject of choice. If a woman has the right to choose to have an abortion, she should also have the right to choose to have sex for money. It's her body, it's her right."
"Paying for It," which includes an introduction from another randy cartoonist, R. Crumb, is a thrumming human document, hardly a dissertation. It includes a precoital moment with one sex worker, Anne, who says to the author, when she learns he is a cartoonist, "I used to like Archie comics."
Mr. Brown responds by saying, "My stuff's quite different from Archie." Truer words I have not recently read.
 
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  Amazon's Omnivoracious says great things about PAYING FOR IT by CHESTER BROWN

Updated May 26, 2011


In case you are feeling at all apathetic towards comics, allow me to point you in the direction of Chester Brown's Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir about Being a John. Yes, the widely respected cartoonist has published a first-hand, 280-page account of his life as a customer in the sex-trade. It's unflinching in its honesty (and adult content), and yet once the voyeuristic allure wanes, what remains is a frank, convincing look at a lifestyle that few readers will recognize.

After a break-up with his live-in girlfriend, Brown decides to continue cohabitating with her even when she openly brings home another man. It's a revelation for the artist, realizing he doesn't need that emotional tether, but he does miss the physical nature of their relationship. Naturally, Brown turns to sex-advice columnist Dan Savage, whose book details suggestions for exploring prostitution ("He makes it sound so simple and straightforward. Maybe I should pay for sex... Okay, I'm determined--tonight I'm going to go out and look for a hooker."). And then Brown hops aboard his bicycle and pedals into the night, where he encounters only cop cars ("This is weird.") and opts to return home to try the classifieds instead.

What follows is a year-by-year log of every prostitute Chester Brown employed over the course of 14 years. The encounters are not erotically presented--the panels are cramped and diminutive--and Brown is largely/typically expressionless throughout. Over at The Comics Journal, R. Fiore addresses the lack of eroticism in a review: "The frequenter of prostitutes, even among those who don't condemn the practice in principle, is seen as a creep, an image that Brown does little to discourage when he draws himself to look like the Crypt Keeper." The faces of the women are always obscured, as are any identifiable characteristics, says Brown in his foreword:

Quite a few of the sex-workers I spent time with opened up to me and told me about their families, their childhoods, their boyfriends, and other aspects of their lives. I wish I had the freedom to include that material in the following pages--it would have brought the women to life as full human beings and made this a better book. I'm assuming that all of them want to keep secret the sex-for-money part of their lives, so I refrained from putting in personal details that could potentially reveal their identities if a particular friend, family member, lover, or acquaintance were to read this memoir.

It's an admirable and unfortunately necessary caveat, but Brown is clear on the focus of the book from the subtitle.

In a nerve-wracking succession of pages and panels, we see Brown become a john, beginning with the phone call from a classified ad, to meeting the woman (who offers him a drink--which he declines, thinking, "What if they drug it."), and then to Brown wondering, "Should I take my glasses off?" The entire sequence is rife with anxiety, and it's understandable if readers want it to end as quickly as it does. There are plenty of lighter moments, though, like when the cartoonist informs the prostitutes of his profession and has to face the inevitable follow-up: "Stuff like Superman and Batman?"

Brown's portrayal herein has been called "clinical," but there is still warmth in Paying for It. Cartoonists and friends Joe Matt and Seth appear frequently to chide the author about his new lifestyle and engage him in inquisitive, concerned, and incredulous debates. For all of Brown's claims to enjoy emotional detachment, there exists a nerdy sweetness in his exchanges with some of the women, in his forced attempts to appear relaxed, and in his meticulous planning of where to place the money so that it is both obvious and not.

Paying for It may offend as much as it entertains. Chester Brown is fearless in his self-portrayal, and he offers plenty of rebuttals to those who would shout him down. Not that it's without support: Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore lend extended blurbs to the back cover, and R. Crumb pens the introduction. It's a divisive take on a divisive subject, and Chester Brown has crafted what should be the most talked about graphic novel of the year.
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Mother Jones talks with CHESTER BROWN about his newest book, PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 26, 2011


More than a decade ago, Chester Brown decided he was through with romance. Certainly all the crummy stuff—the insecurity, the jealously, the fights. The only thing wasn't ready to give up was the physical part. As Brown, an award-winning Canadian cartoonist, explains to an ex at the beginning of his new memoir, "I've got two competing desires—the desire to have sex, versus the desire to not have a girlfriend."

That dilemma lead him to make a radical resolution: To never again have a girlfriend and to start paying for sex. The consequences of that lifestyle choice are the subject of Paying For It, a comic-book chronicle of Brown's experiences as a john. Honest and unashamed, Brown explores all aspects of his foray into prostitution, from furtively cruising for hookers on his bike, friends' reactions of disgust and curiosity, and the challenge of budgeting for sex when you're almost broke.

Brown, best known for his fascinating comic biography of 19th-century Canadian revolutionary Louis Riel, bares all as he draws each of his assignations with 23 different women over 5 years. There's nothing prurient or in-your-face about this. He alters or conceals the features of the women he's with (to protect their identities, he says), and he draws himself with a perpetually blank expression, his eyes hidden behind opaque glasses. Though he insists he's enjoying himself, the sex scenes blur into a monotonous loop—which may be the part of the point. A dedicated libertarian, Brown seeks to convey that there's nothing remarkable about a well-mannered guy like himself mixing business and pleasure. Willing buyer, willing seller—what's the problem? (Just in case his story doesn't convince you, Paying For It has an appendix that takes on 22 anti-prostitution arguments.)

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As the public face of the usually anonymous sex client, Brown doesn't come off as a pervert or a predator. Nor is he the rational actor he thinks he is. Paying for It ends with a twist—mentioned below—in which he finds that giving up the real girlfriend experience may be more complicated than he'd anticipated.

Reached in Seattle, a stop on his book tour, the 51-year-old cartoonist talked about putting his sex life on paper, legalizing sex work, and his side career as a libertarian candidate.

Mother Jones: Now that Paying For It is out and you're on tour, have you heard from other johns who have read the book?

Chester Brown: Only one. Last night in Vancouver a guy came up and admitted tome that he was a john. He liked the presentation that I did and appreciated where I seemed to be coming from.

MJ: When you decided to escape from what you call "possessive monogamy," why did you choose to go to prostitutes rather than, say, going the Craigslist "casual encounters" route or looking for a physical relationship with no strings attached?

CB: The Craigslist route—I don't have a computer, for one thing. When I started this, we're talking 1999—it didn't seem to be as much of a thing then, to pick people up on the internet. And as far as picking people up at bars, I just figured I didn't have the social skills for it. I don't know how good at it I'd be at it on the internet, either.

MJ: After you visit your first prostitute, you write, "A burden that I had been carrying since adolescence had disappeared." What exactly was that burden? Sexual repression? Moral concerns?

CB: Not moral concerns. Just the male desire for sex—like, where am I going to find it next? I didn't realize how strongly that was on my shoulders until it was gone.

From Paying For It by Chester Brown (Drawn and Quarterly)From Paying For It by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)

MJ: Is it weird drawing yourself having sex over and over again?

CB: It didn't seem weird. The weird thing about doing those drawings was having to conceal the women's faces. That limited my ability to draw sex to some degree. But was it weird? Not really. What's weirder is being on the road doing these presentations where I show a slideshow of the book and project these images in front of an audience.

MJ: Why did you choose to depict the sex instead of fading to black or doing one of any other artistic sleights of hand?

CB: I suppose I could have. There were a couple of instances where what I'm thinking during sex was relevant, so I might as well show myself having sex. I could have gone from a shot of the bed to just showing the ceiling and my thought bubble. Or maybe just show the feet. It just seemed, sex was taking place—why drag the camera someplace else in the room?

MJ: When you are with a prostitute, is there any way you can be sure you're not having sex with a sex slave, or someone who's underage or being abused by a pimp?

CB: Well, those are three different things. Underage, you have to rely on your own ability to distinguish age, which isn't always completely accurate. As I show in the book, there were only two cases in which I was questioning the ages of the prostitutes. All the rest of the time I was confident the girls were of legal age. As far as sex slavery goes, in Canada, if the woman has a Canadian accent, I'm confident that she hasn't been trafficked and forced to work as a prostitute.

As far as women who are being abused by pimps, I think if you see women who do incalls or outcalls rather than work on the street, they are less likely—from what I've heard—to have pimps. But you can't be sure. And just because a woman has a pimp doesn't necessarily mean that she's being abused by the guy. You can't know for sure.

MJ: In an ideal world, how would you like to see prostitution regulated? What would you do to minimize sex trafficking?

CB: One of the significant reasons why women who are trafficked and forced to work as prostitutes often don't want to come forward is because they're worried they'll be deported. If the police are certain that a woman has been trafficked and forced into prostitution, then perhaps we should automatically allow her citizenship.

MJ: Beyond that, you would like to see prostitution legalized?

CB: I am for decriminalization. The significant aspect of that is that we don't force prostitutes to have to get a license to work. I think the whole idea of licensing consensual sex between adults is offensive. Inevitably, not all prostitutes are going to get licenses. When Denise [see below] was still a prostitute, I asked her if the profession was legalized and prostitutes were required to get licensee, if she would. And she said no way. She just didn't trust the government with that information. But that would mean that if something negative happened to her, like if a john beat her up, she would be less likely to go to the police because she'd have to admit she was doing something illegally.

MJ: One argument for licensing is public health—keeping track of STDs and HIV. Does that strike you as a concern?

CB: I think most people are motivated to want to do what is best for themselves. People want to avoid STDs. I believe in a system that leaves it up to the individual to protect their own health.

MJ: You eventually end up in a long-term relationship with one woman, whom you call Denise. You're her only client, and she's the only woman you sleep with. You say you don't think of her as a prostitute, but do you see her as your girlfriend?

CB: [Laughs.] I was talking with Tracy Quan, and she asked if I would consider myself a sugar daddy. That might be the closest we come to, though I usually think of a sugar daddy as someone who's got a bit more money than I do. I've asked Denise how she feels about those terms—sugar daddy and sugar baby—and she didn't like them any more than she likes being called a prostitute.

MJ: Beyond having a physical relationship, do you hang out?

CB: Yeah, we hang out. I pay for sex but I also spend quite a bit of time with her off the clock, so to speak, where I'm not paying her for the time we spend together. And actually we spend more time off the clock than on the clock.

MJ: So you see it as more than a business relationship?

CB: Oh yeah.

MJ: You have run as a libertarian candidate for Parliament. How big is the libertarian movement in Canada and what does it mean to be a libertarian in Canada? Does it mean you're opposed to nationalized health care?

CB: [Laughs.] I am opposed to nationalized health care. The libertarian movement is, from what I can gather, is much smaller than it is in the states. There isn't a Ron Paul-type character. Certainly the party itself did very poorly in the last federal election. And I personally did very poorly as a candidate.

MJ: Can I ask how many votes you got?

CB: Four hundred and fifty-four, which is fewer votes than I got in the 2008 election, when I got 490. So I was hoping to beat myself, and I didn't. I was very depressed on the morning following the election when I read the results. Although I did find out that I got more votes than any other Libertarian Party candidate across Canada.

MJ: Paying For It was sponsored by the Canada Council for the Arts. You don't have an issue taking a grant from the government?

CB: Mmmm, no. To me, those are two different things. I'm against government giving money to artists, but I'm not against artists taking money. Just like I don't have a moral problem with people taking healthcare from the government, but I don't think government should give it. When I've had medical problems, I've taken the free healthcare that government gives and don't see it as hypocritical to do so.

MJ: The National Endowment for the Arts probably wouldn't touch a project like yours with a 10-foot pole. Have you gotten any reaction from the Canada Council for the Arts?

CB: [Laughs.] No so far. I was wondering if there would be some sort of a stir about that. No one's brought it up yet.
 
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  Winnipeg Free Press wowed by PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 26, 2011


In his recent run for a seat in parliament in the federal election, Toronto Libertarian Party candidate Chester Brown could theoretically have found himself in an old-fashioned sex scandal if one of his opponents chose to point an accusatory finger Brown's way to accuse him of using the services of prostitutes.

There's just one problem with that scenario. Brown not only admits to employing prostitutes -- lots of them -- he has written an entire book about it.







Paying for It, subtitled "a comic-strip memoir about being a john," hit bookstores earlier this month. And while it may be packaged in a disarming graphic-novel format, it is a startling, honest memoir examining Brown's scrupulously reasoned decision to reject the entire notion of romantic love and employ prostitutes to satisfy his sexual needs.

It's a jolting change of pace if you only know Brown from his celebrated 2003 graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography. But if you've been paying attention to Brown's work, you'll recognize his unfiltered sensibility from his 1992 book The Playboy, an autobiographical account of Brown and his decades-long relationship with Playboy magazine, encompassing onanistic male sexuality, popular erotica and oodles of guilt and shame.

"It's probably because of the previous book that I'm used to expressing myself openly like this," says the 50-year-old, Montreal-born author on the phone from his home in Toronto. "I didn't even think it was difficult when I did The Playboy. I remember drawing the first few pages of The Playboy and I was really enjoying myself.

"When I'm drawing and writing, I am in a room alone by myself, creating this work," he says, acknowledging that the process becomes more confessional at a public reading.

"It's a different thing than when I'm actually standing in front of an audience reading from the book."

Brown's new tome is nothing less than an attempt to change the prostitution paradigm. Being a prostitute or being a prostitute's client, Brown asserts, is no cause for shame, providing both parties are respectful of each other.

In the book, Brown starts off as secretive about his decision to pay for sex, following an amicable breakup with his girlfriend, CBC presenter Sook-Yin Lee, the only freely identified female character who appears in the book. (In depicting prostitutes, Brown changes their names and doesn't even draw their faces to guard their anonymity.)

But he refuses to be ashamed of his identity as a patron of prostitutes. And while his predilection caused some lively debates amongst his circle of friends (duly portrayed in the book), he says he did not lose any friends over the issue.

"I wasn't sure what the reaction was going to be. It still feels like a risk when you come out with an admission like that," he says. "I knew my friends were good people who cared about me, and I suppose if I had been asked which way I thought they were going to go, before I told them, I would have said, 'I think they will still want to remain friends with me.' But you still have that worry in your head."

He likens the secretive, shame-based realm of the prostitute-john subculture as akin to that of homosexuals in the '60s.

"At one point, most gay people, not all, were ashamed of being gay and didn't want to come out of the closet," he says. "And with most prostitutes and johns, that's how they feel at this point."

-- -- --

Will Brown's campaign succeed in changing the paradigm?

Well, no, at least not in the political arena. Brown failed in his bid to make a difference in the downtown Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina in the recent federal election, in which he received 454 votes, winning support of just 0.7 per cent of the electorate compared to NDP incumbent Olivia Chow, Jack Layton's wife, who squeaked in 35,000-plus votes in front of Brown.

But as an artist, Brown believes he is getting a fair hearing, going by the reviews.

"The reception has been better than I thought it would be," he says. "I expected the reception to be mixed, and there certainly have been negative reviews. I expected more that really hated the book and there's only been one (review) like that."

"It does seem like attitudes are changing," he says.

One might assume Brown's anti-romantic attitude has changed given the book's denouement, in which he cops to a mutually monogamous six-year relationship with a prostitute he identifies as "Denise," whom he continues to pay for sex.

That situation has not changed since the book's publication. In fact, Brown says they are actually discussing the future for the first time.

"For quite a while, we never did talk about how it would be nice if this lasted several more years," he says. "But she actually did say something like that recently. And I was surprised because that was the first time I heard her say anything like that.

"So yeah, we'll see. We'll see how this relationship goes."
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CHESTER BROWN talks with the Ottawa Citizen about PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 26, 2011


In a recent Toronto Life magazine cover story entitled "The Secret Life of a Bay Street Hooker," a veteran Toronto detective opined that "very few condos in the city would not have escorts working out of them." The cartoonist Chester Brown can attest to that.

Years ago, when he was still regularly frequenting prostitutes, an ad for a particular hooker caught his eye. He clicked on a map on the brothel's website, which directed customers to a condo on Toronto's King Street West.

"Looking at the map, I realized it's my building," Brown says, laughing. "I never did go. I think it would have felt funny. Although it would have been very handy."

Unlike most johns, Chester Brown is unusually candid about his experiences in the Toronto sex industry, which he chronicles in a darkly humorous and painfully honest new graphic memoir, Paying For It. The 50-year-old is one of the world's foremost cartoonists, and Paying For It is among the most anticipated comics of the year. For those only familiar with Louis Riel, his critically acclaimed comic-strip biography of the Métis revolutionary, which was published in 2003, Brown's newest book may come as a shock. Readers will learn more about Brown -and see more of him -than they probably ever wanted.

Paying For It, however, is actually a return to the autobiographical musings that established Brown's career. In some ways, this is the perfect companion piece to The Playboy, which came out in 1992.

In that book, a young Brown grappled -emotionally and physically -with his love of Hugh Hefner's titillating magazine. Whereas the Chester Brown found in The Playboy was ashamed of his actions, in Paying For It Brown is open -and somewhat proud, you could say -about his relationship with sex workers.

The Playboy, he says, "kind of freed me up to be able to talk about that side of myself. To be open, not to be ashamed, about admitting to watching pornography or talking about my sex life." Paying For It, in some ways, is a celebration of the world's oldest profession.

In the summer of 1996, Brown and his longtime girlfriend, actress and radio personality Sook-Yin Lee, broke up. In the months that followed, Brown began to question the necessity of "romantic love" and the arguments, jealousy and effort that usually accompanies such relationships. After a prolonged period of celibacy, he decided to visit a prostitute.

Brown paints a surprisingly endearing portrait of the process: Unable to find a streetwalker, he turns to the back pages of a local weekly; he's worried about being arrested by police, or getting mugged, and unsure of the proper etiquette -does one pay the hooker before or after the act, for instance. "It takes guts to walk into a place like this," says the young woman, "Carla." (All names have been changed, and faces are never shown.) After leaving the brothel, Brown writes that he felt "exhilarated and transformed" and that "a burden that I had been carrying since adolescence had disappeared."

It has never come back.

"I just kind of felt like I'd been freed or something," Brown says during an interview at a coffee shop in his Toronto neighbourhood. "All these people walking around with their concerns about romantic love, and how do I find love, and how is my relationship going, and all that kind of stuff. And suddenly, I felt like I wasn't involved in that world or that way of thinking anymore."

It's a world that exists just under the surface of our own, a world of (sometimes misleading) classified ads, online forums where johns post reviews, and changing identities; sometimes the woman Brown thought he was meeting was not the woman who opened the door.

Paying For It documents visits with all 23 of the prostitutes Brown frequented during five years; some he slept with once, some he saw several times. By the end of his odyssey, he'd learned that the old stereotypes -the hooker with the heart of gold, like Nancy in Oliver Twist, or the villainess, like Cathy Ames in East of Eden -are just that: stereotypes.

It's not just prostitutes who are stereotyped, but johns as well. Brown says one of the motivations to write his book was to explain things from a john's point of view, making Paying For It sort of a 21st-century version of the anonymous Victorian tell-all My Secret Life. That said, Brown calls himself "a typical john."

"I do think I'm typical in that probably most johns are introverted, not the outgoing type, and probably don't feel confident in being able to get women to go to bed with them without paying for it," he says. But "in at least one significant way, I'm not typical, in that I'm very open and out about it. Probably most johns would be ashamed, and wouldn't be telling their friends."

Which Brown does, almost immediately after sleeping with a hooker for the first time. One of the most interesting moments in the book occurs when he recounts his visit to friends and fellow cartoonists Seth and Joe Matt, who is blunt in his assessment: "You cheated." This idea that sex is something one works for -almost a reward -is one Brown rejects.

"One of the things a man is supposed to do is he's supposed to be able to get sex easily. The more easy you can do it -convince women to go to bed with you -the more manly you're seen as being. So if you don't use your personality or your wit or your whatever to get women -if you're just paying for it -you're seen as cheating, somehow."

Brown didn't care about "cheating" anymore. He'd had girlfriends in the past, and knew he could get another girlfriend if he wanted. It's that he didn't want to.

"I just found myself not wanting that type of relationship anymore," he explains. "It wasn't a matter of not wanting to make the effort. It was I didn't like being a boyfriend. I didn't like how I felt when I was a boyfriend. So that left me with fewer options. If I wanted to have sex, it was going to have to be a different way."

And while he admits there "definitely is a difference between what you might call girlfriend sex and prostitute sex, to me it was close enough to what I wanted. Yes, the most passionate sex I've had was with girlfriends as opposed to prostitutes. But, I don't know, the best sex with prostitutes is still pretty close to the best sex I've had."

Paying For It ends with a twist, one which I'll now spoil: Brown falls in love with a prostitute. Although "Denise" no longer works as a call girl, Brown still sees her every two weeks; they've been together for eight years.

He laughs when asked what to call her. He isn't sure. Call girl? Escort? Girlfriend? Special friend? It's a peculiar relationship, where money still changes hands, but each has feelings for the other.

"I don't quite understand why she's decided she prefers being in this relationship with me to being in a more conventional, romantic relationship when she could be in one," he admits.

"We kind of talk about it, and she says she likes our relationship. Whatever. I don't want to try and talk her out of it. I like being in this relationship."

So does that mean he's changed his stance on romantic love?

"In our culture, we're always having this discussion about what romantic love is. So I guess I leave it open for that reason. I don't think anyone's really sure what we mean by romantic love or love in general. We know it when we feel it."

The back pages of Paying For It are filled with notes and appendices on a variety of topics, from human trafficking to the taxation of prostitution to sexual rights to violence against women -subjects he felt necessary to address. Brown supports the decriminalization of the trade.

Brown, who finished drawing Paying For It last July, hasn't had any second thoughts about publishing such a personal book. All his friends and family already know about this part of his life -many of them appear in the book -except for one person: his stepmother.

"I still haven't really told her," he says. When they were talking on the phone a few months ago, he described it to her as "another autobiographical book, but this one's about my sex life."

She probably wouldn't be interested in reading it, he says. "Then I was talking to her last month, or relatively recently. She said 'What's that new book about again?' So I just repeated the same thing: 'It's about my sex life.' "

 
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  UGO highly recommends CHESTER BROWN's PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 26, 2011




What's it like to completely swear off romantic love, limiting your intimate contact with the opposite sex to paying hookers to do it with you? Well, I for one am not telling, so you're going to have to check out cartoonist Chester Brown's new memoir, Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John.

Your first question: is it dirty? Well, it's got an introduction by dirty old mantoonist R. Crumb if that does anything for you. It's more R-rated than X-rated, though, which is good for telling visitors to your house that you own it for artistic/sociological purposes. Because you do, right?

The wiry, pale cartoonist Chester Brown lets it all hang out in his autobiographical book, including what it's like to tell a prostitute that you make your living as a cartoonist. She used to like Archie comics, she tells him. Brown's response? His comics are "quite different from Archie."

Ultimately, Brown seems to feel fine about the whole thing, which started after three months of post break-up celibacy in 1996. I haven't read the book myself, but plenty of fine upstanding critics and sleazebags alike are giving it props across the board.

Just do yourself a solid and pick this up for $15.85 from Amazon.

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Montreal Mirror calls CHESTER BROWN an honest john

Updated May 19, 2011


There's a strange tension that kicks in as you read Chester Brown's latest comic strip memoir, Paying for It. The book is an unblinking, brazenly honest account of the author's own experiences as the client of prostitutes. You'd think there'd be something downright dirty about such a tome-and there is-but Brown himself is this unassuming, gentle, nerd-next-door type. On the line from his Toronto apartment, Brown concedes he wanted his minimalist drawings to convey a certain ordinariness about prostitution and the act of paying for it. His mission was twofold: on the one hand, to demystify being a john through his own honest confessions, and to question the widely held notion of romantic love. "Sure, there have been moments when I've felt a bit funny about it," Brown acknowledges of his racy subject. Several weeks ago he found himself playing pool with a few people he did-n't know that well. "When I told them I was working on a book, they asked what it was about. I could feel my face turning bright red as I explained it."
The book begins with radio personality and actress Sook-Yin Lee ending her relationship with Brown. While he's a bit sad, he actually takes it very well, even agreeing after some time for her new boyfriend to move in with them. It's at this point that Brown begins to wonder why people invest so much time and energy into the quest for romance, and how possessiveness and expectations all but doom any romance between any two people. It's a highly cynical perspective-though many would agree it's rational-but then Brown decides that paying for sex is really a great way of getting it, without any of the complications that come with a conventional het relationship. Paying for It includes conversations he had with Lee and various friends and peers, as he argues his points quite cogently. Sex through prostitutes, while occasionally leaving him with an empty feeling, works well for Brown, and he's fine with it.
"Some of my friends were like, 'Okay, go ahead and do it. But why do you need to talk about it, let alone write an entire book on it?' It shouldn't be shrouded in shame," Brown says, noting that prostitution is the world's oldest profession. "A lot of prostitutes have written about their lives-some positive, some negative. I thought it was time for the john's perspective."
Brown likens his john-pride movement to gay liberation. "When I was a teenager, much like many my age, I was very homophobic. But I loved David Bowie. When I learned that he was bisexual, I thought, 'He's slept with guys? Maybe it's okay to sleep with guys.'"
Brown's encounters with sex workers-from early anxious meetings to regular trysts-are all told, though he made the choice never to depict their faces. He didn't want to possibly infringe on their privacy, but the obscuring of faces also has the odd unintended side effect of dehumanizing the women as well. "I drew a number of faces," he recalls. "But then I was changing the race of some of the women. Then I realized that I wanted this to be as accurate as possible, so the best thing was just not to draw their faces." Needless to say, it's strange to be having a discussion about comics that sounds more like a debate about documentary filmmaking ethics.
Brown has already got a great deal of press over his book's sensational and controversial central focus. And there are heavy-hitters on board: Robert Crumb pens the introduction, and the book flap includes endorsements from the likes of Mirror sex columnist Sasha and a gaggle of academics.
"I just hope people will completely rethink their ideas and attitudes towards prostitution. Prostitutes can be a comfort. How is that bad?"
 
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  The Chicago Reader examines PAYING FOR IT by CHESTER BROWN

Updated May 19, 2011


"It's because I do see sex as sacred and potentially spiritual that I believe in commercializing it and making this potentially holy experience more easily available to all." —Chester Brown

The quote, from Paying for It (Drawn and Quarterly), Chester Brown's new graphic memoir about his experiences with prostitutes, is odd—not so much for what it says as for what it doesn't say. Throughout the book, Brown sets himself firmly against romantic love and marriage, and hypes the commercial approach as best not just for him but for everybody. But how does that make sex holy? Or, to put it another way, if it isn't love that makes fucking sacred, what does?

At the start of the narrative, Brown and his girlfriend, Sook-Yin, are going through an amicable break-up, and he realizes he doesn't want to have a romantic relationship "ever again." In fact, he decides that romance is inherently bad. It brings out all of Sook-yin's insecurities, he notes. "It does that for everyone—me too."

Finished with love but unwilling to give up on sex, Brown eventually decides to get some the old fashioned way—by paying for it. As he learns the ins and outs of johndom—how to find "whores" (as he sometimes calls them), when to tip, where to look for reviews online—he also becomes a more and more adamant proponent of legalization. The book alternates between Brown's sexual transactions and his arguments with friends, family, and the hookers themselves about the morality of prostitution.

His case, by and large, is convincing. Admittedly, I'm biased—I thought criminalizing sex work was a bad idea before I read the book. But Brown pushed hard against my already liberal opinions, arguing forcefully that prostitution should be unregulated as well as legal. In his 23-part appendix, he points out that state-sanctioned prostitutes in Nevada often aren't allowed to leave the brothel without permission and are sometimes forced to buy condoms and food from the brothel owner at exorbitant prices. He even insists that prostitutes shouldn't be subject to mandatory health testing. "Medical treatment," he writes, "should always be voluntary—it should never be forced on anyone."

But while Brown's words make a strong case for the dignity and necessity of legalized prostitution, his pictures are more ambivalent.

This is most noticeable in his dehumanizing portrayal of the prostitutes. Brown never shows their faces. He draws the backs of their heads or covers their features with dialogue balloons instead, turning them into expressionless ciphers. His representations of sex, similarly, have a regimented similarity. He and his sex contractor appear against a black background and fuck with the joyless, repetitive predictability of wind-up dolls.

Brown depicts himself still more disturbingly. Thin, with a bald head, sunken cheeks, and round, opaque glasses, his cartoon avatar resembles a skeleton. And the reasoned arguments that issue from that cadaverous skull begin to grind like a granite lid scraping across a tomb. Romantic love is evil. Marriage is evil. There is only money and desire.

Brown has turned himself into a libertarian caricature. And it's libertarianism—the child of Enlightenment utilitarianism—that forms the basis for his rejection of romantic love. A conventional relationship, he argues, "causes more misery than happiness." Rather than maximize joy, it interferes with the cheerful, autonomous operation of the individual. Brown touts his own long-term, monogamous relationship with a prostitute named Denise precisely because it's based on his desire rather than on potentially traumatizing reciprocity. "I'm having sex with Denise because I want to, not because I made a marriage vow to her or because she'd get jealous if I saw someone else."

And that's what's sacred to Brown. As a libertarian, he worships the individual, and paid sex involves neither commitment nor community. It's an expression of the individual autonomously pursuing pleasure. Sex is sacred because it's private.

The irony here is that Brown thinks that he's rocking the foundations of romantic love. But romantic love is already an ideology of autonomous gratification. It assumes that we marry for love, and that love is personally fulfilling. Brown doesn't dispute the liberal, capitalist goal of personal fulfillment. He just argues that fulfillment is maximized by the market.

That's a logical position. In fact, it's so logical it verges on madness. If everyone is an entirely independent desiring subject, then everyone is also an object—reduced, like Brown's prostitutes, to faceless toys manipulated for everyone else's satisfaction. If we want a less soul-crushing sexual ethic, we may need to consider the possibility that sex is about other people. And possibly even about God. Otherwise, we can look forward to life as happy, fulfilled, free-spending skulls.
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CHESTER BROWN interviewed by Onion AV Club about PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 19, 2011


Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown emerged from the mini-comics movement of the mid-'80s and quickly established himself as one of the most original artists of his generation. With his series Yummy Fur, Brown spun long, surreal tales where pop culture, politics, and perversion intersected, and then alternated those stories with earnest autobiographical reminiscences and adaptations of the Christian gospels. After ending Yummy Fur, Brown embarked on an abstract, science-fiction-tinged serial titled Underwater, which he abandoned after three years and 11 issues. He followed that with Louis Riel, a gripping yarn ripped from Canadian history, and his most successful work to date. Brown has been active in Canadian politics as a Libertarian, extending in real life the emphasis in his art on the struggle of the individual against the state. That's also one of the main themes of Brown's latest book, Paying For It, subtitled "a comic-strip memoir about being a john," in which Brown documents his history as a patron of prostitutes, and advocates for legalization. Brown recently spoke with The A.V. Club about the style and meaning of Paying For It, and about the myriad ways his work reflects his life.

The A.V. Club: A lot of cartoonists have explored the more sordid sides of their lives in their autobiographical comics, but unlike many of your peers, you never seem to have any embarrassment about anything you write or draw about yourself, whether you're discussing masturbation and pornography in The Playboy, your mother's schizophrenia in I Never Liked You, or your current sex life in Paying For It. Is that just who you are? Do you not get embarrassed?

Chester Brown: I certainly can. Actually, about a month back, I was playing pool with some people I didn't know very well. They knew I was a cartoonist, but they didn't know what I was working on. They asked me about the book, so I started telling them, and I found my face blushing. I was blushing intensely. I thought, "Wow, I hope I'm still not feeling this much embarrassment when I start doing interviews." So yeah, I certainly am capable of feeling shame about this stuff.

AVC: In the book, you're not just describing your life, you're trying to make a point about prostitution. So did you consciously exclude the shame?

CB: I do have those scenes from after that first time in the brothel, where I'm describing the experience to Sook-yin [Lee] and to my friends Chris, Seth, and Joe [Matt]. I'm sure I felt nervous and probably embarrassed during those conversations. Maybe I thought it was obvious that that's what I should be feeling, and that I didn't need to explain it too much? Or maybe that didn't really come through. And maybe it's also a matter of not wanting to go too much into emotional stuff in the book.

AVC: When you write and draw yourself as a character in your own work, do you see it as "you," or just a version of you that's imbued with some of your qualities?

CB: I don't worry about how accurately I convey my personality. I learned early on that it's almost impossible to accurately portray yourself. I'm more concerned with getting the events right.

AVC: Is that why you downplay the emotional side of those events?

CB: That could be one of the reasons. But also I find that the type of work I respond to, y'know, when I'm reading novels or watching films or other people's comics, tends to be more austere. Like, one of my favorite directors is Robert Bresson, who, of course, famously instructed his non-professional actors to not show any emotion. I love that approach. That stripped-down, bare way of telling a story.

AVC: You've always had that sense of remove in your work, though in the earlier comics, like Ed The Happy Clown, the illustrations were frequently more graphic or shocking. But with Louis Riel and Paying For It, you seem to have developed more of a physical remove from the characters, in that they're actually smaller in the frame. Was that something where you thought "This is an effect I want to convey, and this is a way I can do it"?

CB: It's not so much me thinking about how I want to convey things; it's more about how I respond to things in other people's work. With Riel, I remember talking about how much I'd been influenced by Harold Gray, the cartoonist who wrote and drew Little Orphan Annie. That influence has certainly continued, along with being influenced by other cartoonists of the early-to-mid-20th century. In those days, cartoonists tended to draw full characters in the frame and not rely so much on close-ups. Very early on, close-ups were unheard of. At the time of George Herriman, you just didn't do close-ups. Even Harold Gray, he might do a shot from the waist up, but never a full face in a panel, y'know. For whatever reason, that's what I respond to. It seems kind of emotionally excessive to really zoom in on a face or a pair of eyes, or things like that. And it probably has a lot to do with my psychological makeup, but I don't examine that too closely. It's just a matter of, "Yeah, this is what I respond to, so I want to create similar sorts of work."

AVC: Do you still read comics? Do you keep up with the new generation?

CB: Certainly with my Canadian peers. I actually have quite a few friends who are younger cartoonists here in Toronto, and know younger cartoonists from around Canada. Do you know Kate Beaton's work? I love her stuff. She's got a book coming up soon from Drawn & Quarterly. Not that we're good friends or anything, but I've met her a few times. I'm good friends with this cartoonist Dave Lapp, who lives in Toronto. He's a few years younger than me, anyway. And then other younger cartoonists I know you've probably never heard of.

AVC: Do you find that you respond to modern work that is similar to yours, much like you said you respond to movies and older comics that are similar to yours?

CB: Hmm. [Pause.] I can like a wide variety of stuff. Actually, now that I think about it, going over it in my head... like, Dave Lapp's stuff, or my friend Nick Maandag, who just brought out a book called Streakers, they don't really rely on close-ups a lot, if at all. Yeah. [Laughs.] I guess their work is kind of similar to mine. I guess that's why they're friends with me. I suppose I do respond to the work of my contemporaries. Even though you mentioned ways that Seth and Joe are different from me, there are definitely also similarities in our work.

AVC: One thing that's enjoyable about Paying For It for longtime fans of your work, and Seth and Joe Matt's work too, is that this almost feels like your last adventure together, since Joe's moved to the States and Seth doesn't live in the city anymore. This book is at times like a nostalgic look back to when you all used to hang out and appear in each other's autobiographical strips.

CB: Yeah, there's definitely an element of that in the book. Although if I remember right, the book Joe's working on right now, at least the early chapters are set in Toronto. I think he's gonna show himself moving away from Toronto, back to the States. So I'm assuming... I don't think I've actually asked him if Seth and I are characters, but I'm assuming we are. Maybe we're not. Maybe the first scene is set in America. But I expect not. We'll see. I've tried asking him some questions but he doesn't even want to tell me how many pages he's done.

AVC: What did you make of Matt's complaints on Facebook about Paying For It?

CB: I don't think I read them, but if I've heard right, he was complaining that I didn't, um... What did he say?

AVC: He felt that you distilled his objection to prostitution to his being a cheapskate, when in fact he has much deeper moral objections.

CB: Yeah, that's accurate. Joe has a very definite romantic side, and I didn't properly convey that in the book. But of course, the book isn't about him. He's a side character. He can't expect to be fully fleshed out.

AVC: One problematic aspect of Paying For It is that particularly in the appendices-and somewhat in the main text-you seem to make a logical leap from "this is the way of living that works for me" to "this is the way everyone should live." Is that just a provocation on your part? Do you generally feel that society needs to evolve to a point where our sexual interactions become financial transactions, as opposed to the often ambiguous emotional transactions we currently have?

CB: Well, there's a two-step thing there. First of all, I'm arguing that prostitution should be decriminalized. And many people speculate about what would happen if it were decriminalized. Lots of people say that nothing would happen, that the way people relate to each other sexually would pretty much stay the same. Some people would still seek prostitutes, and most people would continue to want to be in romantic relationships. One of the conservative arguments against decriminalization is that it would change the way people relate to each other, that it would make people less likely to want to enter into marriage, and probably more people would end up paying for sex. I find myself agreeing with that position. Though when conservatives make that argument, they're saying, "Therefore, it's a bad thing, and we shouldn't decriminalize prostitution because it would change society." I'm agreeing with them, but I see it as a good thing. I think more people would pay for sex, and I think that would be good.
The way people relate to each other sexually has changed so much in the last 50 or 60 years, certainly in the time I've been alive. There's a much more widespread acceptance of homosexuality, a much more widespread acceptance of divorce. It was unusual in my childhood for married couples to break up; now, it's much easier and much more widely accepted. So why are people thinking that if prostitution was decriminalized, it wouldn't change people's behavior in some way? Perhaps I'm wrong about how it would change behavior, but I think they're not really considering how society is always changing. And if you change one thing, that's gonna result in other things changing.

AVC: You do push some buttons, though, when you come up with a phrase like "possessive monogamy" to describe any person who's in a committed relationship, as though they're doing something wrong. Can you see why that term would be somewhat charged?

CB: Sure. I'm trying to wind up my readers, yeah. [Laughs.] I'm being somewhat confrontational there. But I don't see why that's necessarily bad.

AVC: No, but it is challenging. Somebody who's been married happily for a long time is bound to say, "But, but..."

CB: [Laughs.] And I acknowledge that there are happy marriages. I think that people who are happily married are in the minority, but even if we say that 20 percent of married couples are happy together, that's a lot of people. But, you know, that would mean that 80 percent are unhappy, which is even more people.

AVC: Continuing on the topic of politics, you're running for office again, yes?

CB: Yep, I'm the Libertarian candidate in the current federal election that's happening here in Canada.

AVC: How's it going so far?

CB: It's going okay. I'm not campaigning that hard, because I'm also involved in promoting this book. The election kind of happened at a bad time. I haven't been doing any of the things I did in the last election, like I haven't gone to any of the all-candidates meetings or debates or whatever. I've been kinda hoping that the media attention that this book is getting translates to votes, but we'll see if that happens.

AVC: What are your expectations when you run a campaign like this? Do you expect to win, or just to draw attention to your causes?

CB: Oh, definitely the latter. I know there's no way I'm going to win. If I get 1 percent of the vote, I'll be happy.

AVC: What's shaped your politics over time? What made you gravitate towards Libertarianism?

CB: Hmm. [Pause.] I can explain the process, I think. I suppose I've always been kind of distrustful of government, y'know, as a leftist in my 20s, and an anarchist in my 30s, and a libertarian in my 40s. Even as a leftist in my 20s, I was still coming at my political beliefs from a kind of distrust of government. Although it's hard to explain why that would result in my being a leftist. [Laughs.] Do you know the writer Robert Anton Wilson? I suppose I first read about Libertarianism when I started reading him in my late 20s. So even though he didn't shift me into being a Libertarian, he did have that paranoia about government, or certainly a distrust of government. So that was probably a big early influence on how I thought about politics.

AVC: Is there some reason so many cartoonists have such idiosyncratic political and social views? Peter Bagge is a libertarian as well, and Steve Ditko is an objectivist, and R. Crumb has his odd open marriage, and then there's whatever Dave Sim's got going on.

CB: [Laughs.]

AVC: Is there something about the profession that attracts individualists?

CB: Maybe because it's only one person doing it, unlike a film, where you collaborate with people? I mean, novels are written by one person, but there's an editing process that's very heavy. I'm not totally sure why, but yeah, cartoonists are not shy about expressing their individual points of view. Also, we all seem kind of crazy. [Laughs.] Every cartoonist I know seems crazy. I mean, you mentioned Dave, but Seth seems crazy to me, too. Joe seems crazy. And I realize I seem crazy to other people.

AVC: Do you work every day, or only when inspiration strikes? Do you have a daily routine?

CB: Well, I'm not writing right now, because the election's going on and I'm doing promotion on the book. But when I'm actually working on something, I don't wait for inspiration to strike. I sit down every day somewhere between 8 or 9 o'clock and just start drawing or writing and continue on through the rest of the day. I have a pretty solid work ethic. Unless someone calls me up and suggests I go for lunch with them, I'm here working all day just about every day.

AVC: You don't do as much illustration work as some of your peers. Was it difficult financially to move away from the serialization model and spend years working on one project, as you did with Paying For It?

CB: Sometimes. For the most part, I haven't had that hard of a time being able to make ends meet for the last several years. The Riel book sold really well, and it continues to sell. I still do occasional commission pieces, and I got a couple of grants for Paying For It. Certainly, if I can avoid doing freelance work, I prefer to. Not just because it takes me away from drawing comics, but also because it's just annoying having to deal with art editors, and having to read people's articles or books or whatever. These days, if I do need to make money suddenly, I prefer to just draw something I want to draw and have someone else sell it for me on the Internet. It's easier that way.

AVC: Do you see yourself ever returning to serialization, putting out a quarterly or semi-yearly comic?

CB: I think the comic-book market would have to change in some way, because it does seem like the serialized pamphlet is dying, at least for the type of comics I do. And it also seems that way for superhero comics, to the extent that I keep up with that business. So I don't see that it makes sense to go back to serialization. And I don't want to. I didn't want to serialize the Riel book. I did it because Drawn & Quarterly wanted me to. But I had written that book out in script form totally beforehand. And that's the way I wanted people to read it, all as one work, not chopped up into 24-page pieces.

AVC: What's on the horizon for you? Do you know what your next project is going to be? Are you going to finish the gospels?

CB: [Laughs.] That seems unlikely at this point. I have stuff I'm interested in working on, and I'd rather work on what excites me than complete projects from the past that I've grown bored with.

AVC: So no more Underwater.

CB: Yeah, that's kind of a dead project.

AVC: Do you generally think ahead about what you're going to be doing in the years to come?

CB: Usually as I complete one project, I'm definitely thinking about what I should do next. As I was finishing Riel, I did know that I wanted to do Paying For It, and as I was finishing Paying For It, I had a couple of different things I wanted to do. I think I've made a decision, but I might still change my mind. I haven't started actual work on the next project. So no, I won't say what it is. [Laughs.]
 
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  Onion AV Club admires CHESTER BROWN's PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 19, 2011


Twenty years ago, Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown wrote about the history of his porn collection in The Playboy, a series of comics that first appeared in Brown's Yummy Fur before being collected in book form. At the time, Brown was just starting to dabble in autobiography, so his art-style in The Playboy wasn't too far removed from his more surreal, darkly humorous stories. The content may have been less outrageous, but Brown's explicit close-ups of voluptuous Playmates and his own masturbation rituals gave The Playboy an eerie quality befitting a subject often steeped in shame.

Brown's latest book, Paying For It (D&Q), is another autobiographical piece, tracking his recent history as a patron of prostitutes. And "tracking" is the right word here. In keeping with the style of Brown's well-received historical epic Louis Riel, Paying For It takes a detached approach to its subject, telling its story in tiny panels populated by even tinier characters positioned like figurines in a museum case. Brown begins with the moment in 1996 when he broke up with what he calls "my last girlfriend," and then proceeds through his thought process as he decides that "possessive monogamy" is socially regressive, and that it makes more sense to separate companionship and sex. On March 26, 1999, Brown visited his first incall escort. In Paying For It, Brown details the encounter, and ends by writing, "A burden that I had been carrying since adolescence had disappeared. The burden has never returned."

The clinical quality of Paying For It can be a little frustrating at times, as Brown meticulously and exhaustingly documents all the prostitutes he's seen over the years, interspersed with scenes where he argues with his cartoonist pals Seth and Joe Matt about the righteousness of his new attitude about sex. (The book also includes 50 pages of appendices and endnotes, filled with citations both for and against sex work, intended to defuse concerns about human trafficking, drugs, disease, and exploitation.) Whenever Brown crosses over from "This is an arrangement that works for me" to "This is the way everyone should live," Paying For It becomes... well, strange.

But Brown's subject is inherently fascinating-who's not a little curious about other people's sex lives?-and his cartooning skills are as sharp as ever. Even working at a remove, Brown still finds the humor and the drama in his "dates." Some are a little dangerous; some are laughably bad. Paying For It even has a late twist that calls into question a lot of what Brown's trying to say about whether the traditional romantic order is corrupt. Does Brown mean to undercut himself? Probably not, given the barrage of documentation that ends the book. But the advantage of Brown's "watching from a distance" style is that it's open to interpretation, allowing readers to re-raise the questions that Brown may think he's answered.
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PAYING FOR IT gets a review from NPR

Updated May 19, 2011


Paying for It, cartoonist Chester Brown's memoir in comic strips about being a john, is — well, asking for it. The word controversial doesn't begin to describe this remarkably frank but profoundly disturbing book, which not only attempts to defend sex for pay, but insists it's preferable to romantic love.

Brown, a Libertarian from Toronto, has never shied from provocative subjects. Best known for his comic-strip biography of the 19th-century rebel Louis Riel, he first delved into his own sexuality with The Playboy (1992), an exploration of his guilty adolescent obsession with Playboy magazine. But that's kid's stuff compared with Paying for It.

After the girlfriend he was living with fell in love with another man, Brown decided he was done with romantic love. But there was a rub: "I've got two competing desires — the desire to have sex, versus the desire to NOT have a girlfriend."

Brown's solution is to shop for and buy sex in much the way one might procure a coveted pair of expensive shoes. He presents graphic, meticulous accounts of his dealings with some two-dozen different prostitutes (or escorts, as they prefer to call themselves) over the course of several years.

Interspersed with these reports are debates with his closest friends, including ex-girlfriends, about the morality and ramifications of paying for sex. He repeatedly deflects their arguments about exploitation, health risks and emotional vacuity by countering that "sex is always about trade" and that, for the first time in his life, these transactions feel refreshingly "honest" and "upfront." He insists that most prostitutes sell their bodies willingly — dismissing their lack of options and signs of obvious displeasure. His assumption that most johns are "mild-mannered introverts" like himself, and that violence against prostitutes is no more prevalent than in domestic relationships, also seems willfully naive.

Constrained by his budget, Brown calculates that at $160 per half-hour session, he can afford to have sex once every three weeks, spending a total of $2,720 per year — about what he estimates he spent in a relationship. He trolls for his partners on the Internet, cross-referencing through websites that offer user ratings of prostitutes. When he finds a woman who pleases him, he returns repeatedly — suggesting he's less into novelty than reliability.

Brown's dispassionate — or anti-passionate — sex odyssey is matter-of-factly presented in eight black-and-white panels per page. Paying for It is decidedly graphic, yet the impetus is clearly reportorial rather than pornographic, and Brown's cadaverous self-portraits are anything but flattering. Despite post-coital conversations gingerly inquiring into the women's working lives, and his adamant defense of legalizing prostitution (argued further in multiple appendices), Brown comes across as courteous but creepy. His decision not to show any of the prostitute's faces — in order to protect their privacy — has the perverse effect of dehumanizing them.

One of the more perplexing aspects of Paying for It is Brown's admission that, six years ago, he settled into a monogamous relationship with a woman he calls "Denise," whom he continues to pay for amazing sex. Each time, we wonder, or have they cut a deal? Is there more to their relationship than scheduled sexual encounters? Brown doesn't say. The man who eschews romantic love as evil because it's "about owning, hoarding and jealousy" even admits that he loves her, one-sided though it may be. "So paying for sex isn't an empty experience if you're paying the right person for sex," he concludes in this body-and-soul-baring memoir that is sure to stimulate strong reactions.
 
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  NPR explores the controversies of PAYING FOR IT by CHESTER BROWN

Updated May 19, 2011


It's not that getting dumped by his girlfriend soured Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown on the notion of romantic love, exactly. Because to sour on something, one would have to, at some point, feel strongly about it. And given the facts on evidence in Brown's latest autobiographical comic, the guy's not much for strong emotion. No, the Chester Brown we glimpse through the tiny black and white panels the artist arranges with such exacting precision is a creature of intellect. His approach to sex, in the wake of his girlfriend's rejection, is one of cool logic, dispassionate conclusions — and some very literal cost-to-benefit ratios.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say "price-to-benefit" ratios, as Paying For It is a memoir of Brown's experiences with prostitutes over the course of the last 14 years. There are a great many of these trysts, each one making up a separate chapter. Brown alternates these explicit but entirely unerotic depictions of sex with scenes of himself in conversation with his cartoonist friends about his prostitution habit.

Brown believes that prostitution is a logical and healthy choice for him, and the women he engages, to make. His friends disagree, for a host of reasons. Paying For It is, at its cool, affectless heart, an argument for a deeply unpopular position, and as such it seems destined to become one of the most controversial memoirs of the year, graphic or otherwise.

But even when Brown is lecturing his friends (and thus the reader) on the connection between 12th century troubadours and the fallacy of romantic love, Paying For It intrigues. It's never less than absorbing to note the way an excellent and deeply thoughtful cartoonist like Brown frames his assertions and employs his skill at visual storytelling to argue his point.

Because again and again, a puzzling but doubtlessly intentional tension arises between Brown's text and his imagery. Consider, for example, his stated aim to depict the many women he's paid to have sex with him as accurately as possible, using as much of their own words as he can recall from his notes. Yet, to protect their identities, he changes their names, hair color and — in his most unsettling and fascinating choice — he depicts them with their heads turned away from the reader. This, of course, cannot help but reduce these very different women, and their stories, to a series of literally faceless, interchangeable objects. Brown knows this, just as he knows that by continually choosing to depict the sex as he does — so that we suddenly find ourselves at a far remove, gazing down at two tiny copulating figures suspended in inky blackness — he's causing us to view the sex as clinical, joyless and repetitive.

There's also the way Brown depicts himself — an po-faced creature with cadaverous cheekbones and a mouth like a Hangman blank. When a friend suggests that prostitution should be regulated to ensure that the women get regular medical treatment, Brown's reaction registers not on his impassive face but in a thought balloon, which roils into a violent thunderstorm of libertarian outrage.

Inside his tiny, cramped panels, Brown asks questions, challenges assumptions and interrogates long-held cultural, sexual and political positions without ever seeming like a mere contrarian. But a lengthy prose afterword, in which Brown tackles various anti-prostitution arguments by noting that they are founded on sweeping assertions that do not hold true in all cases, is more didactic – and less engaging.

Are his arguments successful? That will depend on the reader, of course. But as a demonstration of the limitless narrative potential of the comics medium, its ability to tackle some of the most difficult and loaded questions of our time, Paying For It delivers. In the end, however, I found myself more concerned with how, and not if, Brown made the case he set out make.
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Paying For It




PAYING FOR IT full of commendable honesty, says Comics Journal

Updated May 19, 2011


What does good sex consist of, exactly, for a straight man? I'll admit, in the spirit of full disclosure, that this might not the most apt question to be puzzling out in my current state as a bloated, fatigued, 39-weeks-along pregnant woman, but let's give it a try anyway: Does enjoyable sex have to do with the achievement of an enhanced level of mutually felt love and intimacy? Is it about the uninhibited playing out of fantasies? The ego boost? Or, is it simply about what Alex the droog once crudely called "the old in-out in-out" - that pleasing physical gratification felt as one's penis is manipulated to orgasm not by oneself, but by another's hand, mouth, or vagina?
According to Chester Brown's comic-strip memoir, Paying For It, it would seem that the latter definition holds truest, at least at the beginning of the narrative. In 1996, the book tells us, Brown was faced with a quandary. His longtime girlfriend had fallen in love with someone else and broken up with him, but this was not really the problem. The issue, instead, was Brown's desire to have sex with a woman without ever becoming emotionally involved with one again: the jealousy and anguish that he believed traditional monogamy entails were too much of a deterrent. Brown had loving relationships in his life: his intimacy with his ex-girlfriend Sook-Yin, though now platonic, continued; he carried on close friendships with his fellow cartoonists Seth and Joe Matt. What he was missing, pure and simple, was sexual fulfillment. And so he decided to buy some.
Refusing to pay with the coin of love, which he saw as sex's steep and fickle ransom (as he literally calculates in one chillingly frank early passage, seeing a prostitute every three weeks would cost him less than it did to be Sook-Yin's boyfriend - "and we didn't have sex anywhere near seventeen times in the last year"), Brown turned to that reliable equalizer, cash; and from the get go, this seemed to work out very well. Not only did his first time sex with a prostitute feel "amazingly good," but as he walked out of the brothel, he was also "exhilarated and transformed." "It was so honest and upfront," he thinks. "A burden that I had been carrying since adolescence had disappeared (and) has never returned."
It's hard not to feel at least a little bit pleased for Brown at this and other relative high points in this emotionally muted narrative. Those familiar with his persona from his past work, especially the great memoirs The Playboy (1992) and I Never Liked You (1994), know him as a sympathetic, sensitive character, the product of a repressed, Christianity-inflected adolescence, whose mentally ill mother died when he was still a teenager. And in contradistinction to what many of us might think of as the behavior of a "typical" John, Brown's obliging politeness remains on display here. When the legs of one of the prostitutes tire out in a certain position, he is quick to accommodate her; when he is told he is thrusting too deeply and painfully, he agrees to stop right away (though admittedly, while inwardly grumbling: "it's only six inches!"); if they seem willing, he is interested in conversing with the prostitutes he sees about their lives and routines. He is, in short, quite an exemplary customer.
Calling someone a respectful John might sound like faint praise indeed (not unlike that bit from Carrie Fisher's Postcards from the Edge, where a badly behaved, not very smart drug addict insists that "I was always very cordial to everybody. Certainly, my dealers liked me"). Nonetheless, I think it does aptly reflect the book's argument for the decriminalization of prostitution, which Brown sums up at one point as the following:
Your body is your property... you should have the right to do whatever you want with your body... as long as you respect the property rights of others... If you respect the property rights of others and treat them with courtesy, you're living a moral life.
In other words, paying for sex, as long as you observe the appropriately courteous marketplace behavior, should be considered no different from either a conventional sexual relationship (as Brown writes, "prostitution is just a form of dating") or from a conventional economic one. Indeed, most of the arguments against the decriminalization of prostitution that Brown rebuts in the (sometimes exhausting and lengthy) appendices at the end of Paying For It have to do with the question of free will, either obliquely or directly; and the classic libertarian argument that he is a proponent of comes up again and again: viz., since your body is your own property, you're free to do what you want with it, just as long as you're not harming another's.
Brown's sexual/economic utopia sounds a lot like what Marx mockingly called the "very Eden of the innate rights of man." Within the sphere of commodity exchange, Marx writes in Capital, everyone - whether employer or laborer - is equal and free to form a market relationship by virtue of his or her essential property rights. The problem, however, begins once one realizes both the possible prehistory and the potential future of this freely contracted relationship. How is it that the wallet ended up in the John's pocket and not in the prostitute's? And what are the ramifications of this (often gendered, class-based, ethnicity-based) division of resources?
The issue, then - at least for me - is not whether paying for sex should be decriminalized. Brown makes a pretty good argument for this course of action, and it seems plausible that while some women might despise sex work, others may pursue it as a fairly easy moneymaking opportunity, and should not be censured or punished for practicing it. What is more troubling, however, is the pretense that free will is a transparent, unproblematic accompaniment of capitalism; that money is an innocent vehicle that consistently enables choice rather than oftentimes restricting it.
This, I think, is just as true of sex as it is, for example, of health care. As I waddled along recently, trailing in the footsteps of a chipper guide on a maternity ward tour here in New York, I was repeatedly told that I'm not a patient, but rather a client, or more to the point, a shopper. I have a "choice," the tour guide explained, and I should "exercise" it. If I wanted to procure, say, a private postpartum room for the flat fee of 850 dollars a night, I had the "choice" to do so. If this for whatever reason didn't suit, I had the "choice" to "shop" for a shared room, or for other options elsewhere, at other hospitals. What no one spoke of, however, is that arriving at the place where one can even begin to make a choice is not part of a self evident, inevitable process; that it has everything to do with a very specific history of class relations which may very well preclude one from becoming the shopper one is so lustily encouraged to be.
Unlike myself, Brown obviously doesn't seem to think it depressing that we're living in a world in which everything - because it is objectified into property - can be bought and sold. In fact, he accepts it at face value. Towards the end of the narrative, he embarks on a long-term, paid relationship with "Denise," one of the prostitutes he sees. Even though it's a monogamous arrangement, he admits that it's not one that many would consider mutual. While he loves her, she only likes him, and probably wouldn't have sex with him if he weren't paying her for it. From Brown's perspective, though, the relationship with "Denise" is mutual, since, as he writes, "sex is always about trade: 'I want to give you physical pleasure because I want physical pleasure in return', or, 'I'll have sex with you because I want affection', or, 'you can fuck me for 200 dollars'."
Which brings us back to the "good sex" question we began with. Brown's previous work was often structured around the interaction with inanimate objects. In The Playboy, what formed the narrative was the obsessive return to a porn magazine, and to the places where one buys it, hides it, jerks off to it, and so on. In I Never Liked You, there was a somewhat less obvious but still central repetition of panels over the course of the narrative, in which the passing of time was conveyed through Brown's munching on an after-school snack - the box cyclically taken out of the cupboard and the crackers eaten one by one. It is somehow disturbing to see Paying For It anchored by a similar strategy, in which the narrative is continually marked by Brown's interactions with prostitutes, always proceeding through a depiction of the initial contact, the sexual act, and the paying for said act. There is a commendable honesty here, to be sure: a kind of downbeat, detached naturalism. But there is something dispiriting about it too. As we read along, we might begin to ask ourselves: is having sex with a woman just like having an itch pleasantly scratched, not unlike a gussied-up version of masturbating? Or, for that matter, eating a cracker? Is this, as they say, really all there is?
 
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  The Stranger delights in CHESTER BROWN's PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 19, 2011


Early in Paying for It, comic book memoirist Chester Brown is contemplating hiring a hooker. He doesn't know anything about how prostitution works, so he consults a source familiar to Stranger readers—he sits on a couch and scours Savage Love, the 1998 collection of Dan Savage's advice columns, for escort advice. "Make an appointment to meet in a safe, mutually agreeable location," he quotes Savage in one thought balloon. "She'll know what to do. Be respectful, let her lead, use condoms, and tip the lady." Brown looks up from the book reflectively. He watches his cat jump onto the sofa. "He makes it sound so simple and straightforward," Brown thinks to himself. "Maybe I SHOULD pay for sex."

That was in 1999. Brown still pays for sex today, and Paying for It is a polemic arguing for legalized prostitution. Brown has always made autobiographical comics—his memoir The Playboy, about his relationship to masturbation and one particular copy of Playboy magazine is, in some ways, a prequel to this book—but Paying for It is a departure in terms of craft and goals.

Asked about this difference, Brown readily admits the change: Paying for It, he says, is "much more strident" than his early work. "I'm proselytizing in a way I didn't before." With his relationship memoir I Never Liked You, he "just sat down and wrote the memories in order, and it was very easy," but Paying was "structured." It's not strictly factual; for instance, he combines and condenses conversations with friends about being a john. "I would try to think of what the point of the conversation was," he says, "and I tried to structure them in a way to make the [book's] argument." Brown didn't have any models for this kind of graphic essay-writing; as far as he knows, it hasn't been done before.

As Brown's work has matured, his artwork has become more idiosyncratic. The clean, featureless rooms inside his tiny panels are almost a shorthand for the world, with a spare feathering and cross-hatching around the edges of objects to add the merest hint of ornamentation. He draws himself as nearly expressionless in every panel of Paying. Between the single perpendicular lines of his mouth and nose, his lightbulb-shaped head, and the hollow circles of his glasses, he resembles a cartoon grim reaper; give him a robe and a scythe, and he'd be ready to find work in a New Yorker cartoon. He doesn't smile or laugh or betray much sadness. His face is a blank slate, and depending on your mood when you read the book, you could interpret his emotional state as neutral, melancholy, or haughty and aloof.

Brown is at first a bit defensive when asked why he portrays himself with so little emotional color. "I show myself smiling at least a bit in the book," he says. "There are a few times where I show creases in my forehead." After a second, he says, "I guess it is true that there isn't that much [emotion displayed]. I do feel like I'm a pretty emotionally even-tempered person. I don't really hit low lows." Finally, he admits: "I suppose it's a fair representation of my emotional inner life."

Paying is split up into chapters devoted to Brown's experiences with different escorts. Brown hides or disguises the distinguishing characteristics of the prostitutes; he never shows us their faces, instead drawing them from the back or from the neck down, a move that doesn't help in humanizing them. In the introduction, he writes, "Any of the more idiosyncratic views they expressed to me, I've omitted. It's a shame—I felt genuine affection for many of these women and I really wish that this narrative gave a better sense of their personalities." The attitude—a little chilling—does keep the book from toppling over into a macho pile of prurience: While the sex is explicit, only miniaturists will be titillated by Brown's tiny fornicating figures.

But ultimately, a polemic's job is to make a case to a reader, and Paying does. Brown normalizes prostitution; in fact, he makes it into something mundane. It would be flip and inaccurate to say he turns the act of becoming a john into something as dull as buying a carton of milk, but it's not too far away from the truth. The only palpable emotion that can be plucked from the delicate lines that Brown strings onto the page is his affection for the women on the other end of the transactions. Even though we don't know anything about these women—really, even though he's had sex with them, Brown doesn't know anything about them, either—we can't help but throw a complicated mass of emotions in their direction, too, becoming engaged, trying to peer around the corners of panels in order to get a glimpse of the faces that Brown withholds.
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BOINGBOING fascinated by PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 19, 2011


I've been reading Chester Brown's comic books since the early 1980s when he self published a mini comic called Yummy Fur (eventually published by Vortex Comics). He's from Montréal and is good friends with cartoonists Joe Matt and Seth.

Brown's latest work is a fascinating 280-page memoir called Paying For It: a Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John (Drawn & Quarterly). It's about his experiences being a customer of prostitutes since 1999. Brown started paying for sex a few years after his girlfriend broke up with him (he stayed celibate for three years after the break-up) and he decided the emotional toll of romantic relationships was too much to bear and swore off ever having a girlfriend again. With some trepidation, he began seeing prostitutes in Toronto.

There is nothing erotic about Paying For It, even though there is some nudity and depictions of sex. Instead, Brown focuses on his inner dialogue while visiting prostitutes ("Why did I care if I hurt her feelings? She lied -- she's not in any way like the description in her ad." "The last few times I've seen Anne I've felt empty afterwards.") and the frank conversations with Seth and Matt, who are at turns bemused and concerned for their friend's practice of hiring prostitutes and his decision to abandon romantic relationships.

As you can see in the sample above, the comic is drawn in small, sedate, panels, and Brown's expression never changes from panel to panel. He appears to be emotionally flat. Robert Crumb writes in the introduction to Paying For It:

Chester Brown is not of this planet. He is probably the result of one of those alien abductions where they stick a needle in a human woman's abdomen and impregnate her. He is a very advanced human. You can tell by looking at the photo of him. Notice how, throughout the book, his facial expression is always the same. His mouth is a slit. He never shows his teeth, never grins, never grimaces. The opposite of my portrayals of myself. Chester Brown's neutrality in the world is, in my estimation, quite admirable. As Jesus said, "Be as passers-by."

In the "Notes" section of Paying For It, Seth writes:

I often jokingly refer to Chet as "the robot." In posing a question to him I might quip, "Perhaps I should ask a person who has actual human emotions instead." The truth is, Chester seems to have a very limited emotional range compared to most people. There does seem to be something wrong with him. He's definitely an oddball. That said, he is also the kindest, gentlest and most deeply thoughtful oddball I know. Perhaps he is missing something in his emotional makeup, perhaps not. Who can say what is natural and what is learned behavior? I'll say this -- he really doesn't appear to be suffering. You can't argue with that.

A 30-page afterword is devoted to Brown's arguments in favor of the legalization of prostitution. To me, this is not nearly as interesting as the comic that precedes it.
 
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  Village Voice has never seen anything like PAYING FOR IT by CHESTER BROWN

Updated May 19, 2011


Trust us when we say you've never seen a graphic novel quite like cartoonist Chester Brown's Paying for It: a comic-strip memoir about being a john. The book takes the reader through Brown's escapades with more than 20 prostitutes over 12 years ending with what many may consider to be a head-scratching revelation-he does not consider the woman whom he currently pays for sex to be a prostitute because she only has sex with him. The subject matter is certainly a big switch for Brown, whose last graphic novel was the kid-friendly and award-winning Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, about the history of the 19th-century Canadian revolutionary. In a section of appendices, Brown argues for the decriminalization of sex workers, blithely calling prostitution "just a form of dating." He adds, "Nothing happens during paid dates that doesn't happen in unpaid dates." Questions, anyone? Yeah, we thought so. Bring them to the Strand tonight when he discusses his book with former call girl Tracy Quan (author of Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl).
Thu., May 12, 7 p.m., 2011

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TORO Magazine reflects on CHESTER BROWN's PAYING FOR IT launch

Updated May 16, 2011


It's interesting to meet Chester Brown in person, especially after having just read his new graphic novel, Paying For It. On one hand, there is a startling resemblance between the real Chester and his fictional counterpart. But it quickly becomes clear that Chester the artist is having a bit of fun at his own expense - in other words, he's not as spectacularly neutral as the character that shares his name.

This overlap even carries into the introduction by Robert Crumb, "I'm sure to many people he's a dry, emotionless person. Notice how, throughout the book, his facial expression is always the same." I can report that the "real" Chester Brown, while thin and balding and low key, is nonetheless animated by intelligence, compassion and an easy sense of humour. Not an automaton by any means.
To think that this nice, affable, conscientious man has just written what might be one of the more incendiary books of 2011 is strikingly odd. In his new memoir, Brown tells the story of how he got out of romantic relationships altogether in favour of paying for sex - and how that choice quickly made him a much happier and contented man. Over the course of the book, Brown both writes about his own experiences and advocates for the decriminalization of prostitution. Just as entertaining are a series of 23 appendices in which he repudiates many of the common arguments against decriminalization. Also of note, the artist Seth - a character in the book - gets his own appendix to reflect on the story, his representation, and his relationship with Brown.

On the eve of a North American book tour, TORO caught up with Chester Brown in downtown Toronto.

What do you hope the impact of this book will be? Is Paying For It in some way designed to bring about social and cultural change?

I definitely wanted the book to be part of the debate. It sounds a bit arrogant to think that your book can result in real change. But at least it will be one of the voices out there and I think that's part of the reason that - to use another example - homosexuality became normalized. It's because you had all these gay people who were writing about their experiences, doing films about their experiences, doing paintings and just simply showing people what their lives were like and getting people more acclimatized to it and willing to accept what, at one point, had been seen as something disgusting.

Do you think prostitution will ever be decriminalized in Canada?

I think it has to happen sooner or later, but I think it's more likely later than sooner.

What do you think is the main thing preventing it?

Our lingering Judeo-Christian heritage and how that effects people's view of sexuality. That's what was keeping gay rights back for so long and eventually gay people won that fight - though the fight is, of course, still going on to some degree. But things are certainly a lot better on that front than they were 50 years ago. And this is just another similar fight that's going to start developing. But how long exactly? Hmm, maybe one or two generations.

What I think is going to happen in the short term is that they're going to go for the Swedish model of criminalizing the john and making it illegal to pay for sex, but not illegal to accept money for sex.

That sounds like a fairly Kafkaesque outcome.

Well, it will be good for the prostitutes - they won't be in any danger of being arrested. But, of course, bad for people like me.

In this book you make the case that romantic relationships seemed to you, at a certain point, not worth all the hassles, fighting, ego, discord, etc. You came to the conclusion that there simply had to be a better way?

Yeah, that sounds right. I just don't see how other people can put up with the stuff that they go through in romantic relationships - both men and women.

Canadian filmmaker and media personality Sook-Yin Lee is a character in this memoir - in fact, she's the last girlfriend you had before you turned to prostitutes full-time. What was her reaction to the book?

She was fine with it. She didn't ask for any changes. She was concerned that she was going to come off looking like a villain in the book. Like she had turned me into a whoremonger or something. But that's just her insecurity and fear about how she'd be perceived, and that's understandable. But as far as how it depicted me or prostitution, she had no problem with any of that.

Did you have any concerns about how people might react to this book - starting with your friends and moving outward to the general public?

Well, my friends knew that I was doing the book and that it was going to be autobiographical and they could pretty much guess that they were going to be characters in it. Originally I had wanted to do a book about my whole sex life, beginning in childhood and bringing it right up to the present - including how things had gone in my relationships with different girlfriends. I had even asked the two girlfriends that I'm still friends with - Chris and Sook-Yin - what they thought about that and neither was too crazy about that idea, which was understandable. And so I had to rethink that idea and just focus on the prostitution aspect.

We don't see the faces of the prostitutes in this book. I understand wanting to protect their privacy but did you ever think of getting around making them faceless by instead giving them fictitious faces?

I considered that. I started to do that - to draw out 23 fictitious faces. And the big problem that I ran into was that I wanted to avoid giving as few details about these women as possible. And so that included skin colour - in this book you can't discern their race at all, and I saw Asian women, Native North American women, black women, etc. And if I showed faces then you could tell their race by facial features, and this would be an added detail. So am I going to start making the black women white and the white women black?

But if a woman had a fictitious face and she was white, that's still a large group of women that she's a part of.

That's true. But there was the one prostitute that knew something of American history and I depict her with large breasts, which she did have. And that starts to narrow things down. Now if on top of that, if you know what her skin colour is, that further narrows it down. It just seemed sensible to avoid that altogether by not depicting faces. I was also more comfortable with omitting things than fictionalizing, because it's a memoir and not a work of fiction.

At the end of the book you wind up with a prostitute named Denise, and it evolves into a surprising and unusual arrangement.

Yes, I'm monogamous with her and she's monogamous with me, but I still do pay her for sex. When we get together to have sex, we basically make an appointment to do so. But if we get together for other reasons, then we know - and there's no payment for that.

So that happens too? You'll go out with her to dinner or a movie?

Yes, occasionally. Perhaps not as much as a real romantic couple would, but we do spend time off the clock so to speak.

If a man is married to a woman and she doesn't have a job, in some ways there's a parallel because he's paying her, in a way, a lump sum over an extended period of time. I mean, it's not as specific, but do you see what I mean?

Oh definitely. There are many examples from my friends' lives. I have a friend whose girlfriend is a student and having difficulty keeping up with the rent payments, so he helps her with the rent. And I see that as a very similar thing.

Let's return to you relationship with Denise. She formerly had more than one client, but now she only sees you?

At a certain point she decided that she wanted to do things more safely. And so she decided to only see her regulars, and perhaps guys that they recommended. And after a certain point all of those regulars had dropped off and she was left with only me. And she found other ways of getting income.

You know, Chester, if this were a Hollywood movie you'd marry Denise, making her the "hooker with a heart of gold." And then settle down to raise a family as the closing credits roll by. What are the chances of that happening?

I think that Denise likes me as a person but I don't think she has any romantic interest in me. She doesn't want to take the relationship in that direction. And we've talked about it. We've been talking about it more now because it seems that a lot of the media have been wanting to push the story in that direction. Like the Globe and Mail guy interviewed a friend of mine who said, "Denise is probably the love of Chester's life." Well, I didn't say that. But there it is in the story. I think people want to see it as a "Pretty Woman" type scenario.

And you're Richard Gere.

[Laughs] Right. But the thing is, I honestly don't know where this relationship is going. She could fall in love with someone else, or it could continue like this indefinitely. I started to see her eight years ago. I became monogamous seven years ago. And she's been monogamous with me for four years.

It's fascinating - just a very interesting set-up.

Well, I wasn't expecting things to develop this way. But it certainly ended up working out well for the book. It gives it a nice ending.
 
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  National Post reviews CHESTER BROWN's PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 12, 2011


If you want an image of the Canadian zeitgeist, thumb through the back pages of your local alternative weekly. Last September, long before the very public travails of Stephen Harper's besotted ex-advisor Bruce Carson, Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel struck down the laws criminalizing prostitution in that province. Though stayed pending an appeal, Himel's decision was controversial. In this newspaper, whose editorial board supported the ruling, Barbara Kay managed to find common ground with misogynistic pimps: "The danger to prostitutes will continue, because the kind of men who frequent prostitutes and the kind of men who control them don't have a lot of respect for them on the whole. Nor should they." But Canadian sex workers have experienced advocates arguing otherwise, people like the dogged Ontarian litigant Valerie Scott. What about their clients, rather less sympathetic figures whose media strategy entails avoiding it?

Chester Brown's graphic novel Paying For It is that rare thing, a john testifying outside of the courtroom. It opens in 1996 as the cartoonist's long-term relationship with CBC host Sook-Yin Lee is disintegrating - their intimate relationship, anyway, because they continued living together for years and remain dear friends. The duo prove to get along much better that way, which inspires Brown to swear off "romantic love" altogether: "I've got two competing desires - the desire to have sex, versus the desire to NOT have a girlfriend." After a lengthy period of celibacy, he decides to reconcile them by seeking professional help.

That forthright subtitle belies its exhaustiveness: Brown depicts literally every woman he's hired for sex since 1999, 23 in all. The meticulous detachment will be familiar to readers of his most recent and most successful work, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, but Paying For It treads different formal territory otherwise. While Louis Riel paid an extended stylistic tribute to Annie creator Harold Gray, the new book fills small panels with smaller figures, divided into a pair of rigid columns on each page and limned so carefully it makes one's eyes water.

Brown's many assignations in tidy condos have a comical side. The cartoonist draws himself with an impassive, fine-boned mask even when he's thrusting away; his partners' faces are never fully shown at all (to protect them from being identified). It's as sexy as an economics textbook, albeit much funnier, and intentionally so. The early scenes' neurotic fumblings are only slightly more awkward than your average first date, but this sense of distance gives the dialogue a deadpan ring: "Uh, I'd ... like to have vaginal intercourse with you." Or, after Brown offers the American history tome he's reading: "Does Johnson think the Civil War was started by tariffs or slavery?"

This unexpected humour extends to Brown's hooking-related discussions with his friends and exes, which form the memoir's philosophical heart. The debates with his fellow cartoonists - dapper, sardonic Seth and tight-fisted porn enthusiast Joe Matt - are both amusing and revealing. Matt's conflicted lament that "this is disgusting, but it's also good gossip" might be the best line here. And Seth, who sometimes teases the shy, introverted author for being a "robot," nonetheless recognizes the central irony of Paying For It in his prose response: "Out of all the men I know [Chester's] quite possibly the one I think would make the most considerate boyfriend or husband for a woman ... and yet he is the one who picked the whoring. It's a funny world."

Seth's notes are included in a hefty sheaf of appendices and annotations. It's only there that Brown outlines the full extent of his utopian vision: a society where paid sex becomes routine, dabbled in by friends and strangers alike, scandalous as spotting a pal 20 bucks. His basic arguments for decriminalizing prostitution - that it would make the trade safer, that a sex worker "selling her body" is no more immoral than a construction worker selling theirs - are well-researched and compelling. But it may be prudent to read this book next to a sturdy wall in anticipation of the section where Brown claims that physical drug addiction doesn't exist. The artist's hardcore property-rights libertarianism blinds him to the fact that removing puritanical restrictions on prostitution won't make all its dangers and inequities disappear - exploitation exists in state-approved industries, too. His analysis barely acknowledges class. It's disappointing because Brown's illustrated self is so curious and so courteous on dates, asking the women about their lives and careers, scrupulously paying even when he loses interest upon opening the door. Most pertinently, his avatar experiences doubt.

Indeed, the book's ending hinges on one hell of a self-questioned assumption, to the point of complicating everything that came before it. Spoiling the precise nature of that revelation would be churlish, so let's just say that Brown is moved to replace "romantic love" with "possessive monogamy" in his personal demonology. He ends up agreeing with his (happily married) brother Gordon, who argues: "It's the intensity of the emotion and how they express it to each other that defines [a] romantic couple - not whether they have sex with other people or whether they promise to be together forever." After 200 pages of fearless iconoclasm, Brown's conclusion seems all the more challenging in its equanimity: "Paying for sex isn't an empty feeling if you're paying the right person for sex." The Pet Shop Boys put it another way, with a touch of added poetic irony: "Words mean so little, and money less / When you're lying next to me."
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National Post talks candidly with PAYING FOR IT's CHESTER BROWN

Updated May 12, 2011


In a recent Toronto Life cover story entitled "The Secret Life of a Bay Street Hooker," a veteran Toronto detective opined that "very few condos in the city would not have escorts working out of them." The cartoonist Chester Brown can attest to that. Years ago, when he was still regularly frequenting prostitutes, an ad for a particular hooker caught his eye. He clicked on a map on the brothel's website, which directed customers to a condo on King Street West.

"Looking at the map, I realized it's my building," Brown says, laughing. "I never did go. I think it would have felt funny. Although it would have been very handy..."

Unlike most johns, Chester Brown is unusually candid about his experiences in the Toronto sex industry, which he chronicles in a darkly humorous and painfully honest new graphic memoir, Paying For It. The 50-year-old is one of the world's foremost cartoonists, and Paying For It is among the most anticipated comics of the year. For those only familiar with Louis Riel, his critically acclaimed comic-strip biography of the Metis revolutionary, which was published in 2003, Brown's newest book may come as a shock. Readers will learn more about Brown - and see more of him - than they probably ever wanted.

Paying For It, however, is actually a return to the autobiographical musings that established Brown's career. In some ways, this is the perfect companion piece to The Playboy, which came out in 1992. In that book, a young Brown grappled - both emotionally and physically - with his love of Hugh Hefner's titillating magazine. Whereas the Chester Brown found in The Playboy was ashamed of his actions, in Paying For It, Brown is open - and somewhat proud, you could say - about his relationship with sex workers. The Playboy, he says, "kind of freed me up to be able to talk about that side of myself. To be open, not to be ashamed, about admitting to watching pornography or talking about my sex life." Paying For It, in some ways, is a celebration of the world's oldest profession.

In the summer of 1996, Brown and his long-time girlfriend, actress and radio personality Sook-Yin Lee, broke up. In the months that followed, Brown began to question the necessity of "romantic love" and the arguments, jealousy and effort that usually accompanies such relationships. After a prolonged period of celibacy, Brown decided to visit a prostitute. He paints a surprisingly endearing portrait of the process: Unable to find a streetwalker, he turns to the back pages of a local weekly; he's worried about being arrested by police, or getting mugged, and unsure of the proper etiquette - does one pay the hooker before or after the act, for instance. "It takes guts to walk into a place like this," says the young woman, "Carla." (All names have been changed, and faces are never shown). After leaving the brothel, Brown writes that he felt "exhilarated and transformed" and that "a burden that I had been carrying since adolescence had disappeared."

It has never come back.

"I just kind of felt like I'd been freed or something," Brown says, during an interview at a coffee shop in his Toronto neighbourhood. "All these people walking around with their concerns about romantic love, and how do I find love, and how is my relationship going, and all that kind of stuff. And suddenly, I felt like I wasn't involved in that world or that way of thinking anymore."

It's a world that exists just under the surface of our own, a world of (sometimes misleading) classified ads, online forums where johns post reviews, and changing identities; sometimes the woman Brown thought he was meeting was not the woman who opened the door. Paying For It documents visits with all 23 of the prostitutes Brown frequented over the course of five years; some he slept with once, some he saw several times. By the end of his odyssey, he'd learned that the old stereotypes - the hooker with the heart of gold, like Nancy in Oliver Twist, or the villainess, like Cathy Ames in East of Eden - are just that: stereotypes.

It's not just prostitutes who are stereotyped, but johns as well. Brown says one of the motivations to write this book was to explain things from a john's point of view, making Paying For It sort of a 21st-century version of the anonymous Victorian tell-all My Secret Life. That said, Brown calls himself "a typical john."

"I do think I'm typical in that probably most johns are introverted, not the outgoing type, and probably don't feel confident in being able to get women to go to bed with them without paying for it," he says. But "in at least one significant way, I'm not typical, in that I'm very open and out about it. Probably most johns would be ashamed, and wouldn't be telling their friends."

Which Brown does, almost immediately after sleeping with a hooker for the first time. One of the most interesting moments in the book occurs when he recounts his visit to friends and fellow cartoonists Seth and Joe Matt, who is blunt in his assessment: "You cheated." This idea that sex is something one works for - almost a reward - is one Brown rejects.

"One of the things a man is supposed to do is he's supposed to be able to get sex easily," he says. "The more easy you can do it - convince women to go to bed with you - the more manly you're seen as being. So if you don't use your personality or your wit or your whatever to get women - if you're just paying for it - you're seen as cheating, somehow." Brown didn't care about "cheating" anymore. He'd had girlfriends in the past, and knew he could get another girlfriend if he wanted. It's that he didn't want to. "I just found myself not wanting that type of relationship anymore," he explains. "It wasn't a matter of not wanting to make the effort. It was I didn't like being a boyfriend. I didn't like how I felt when I was a boyfriend. So that left me with fewer options. If I wanted to have sex, it was going to have to be a different way."

And while he admits there "definitely is a difference between what you might call girlfriend sex and prostitute sex, to me it was close enough to what I wanted. Yes, the most passionate sex I've had was with girlfriends as opposed to prostitutes. But, I don't know, the best sex with prostitutes is still pretty close to the best sex I've had."

Paying For It ends with a twist, one which I'll now spoil: Brown falls in love with a prostitute. Although "Denise" no longer works as a call girl, Brown still sees her every two weeks; they've been together for eight years. He laughs when asked what to call her. He isn't sure. Call girl? Escort? Girlfriend? Special friend? It's a peculiar relationship, where money still changes hands, but each has feelings for the other.

"I don't quite understand why she's decided she prefers being in this relationship with me to being in a more conventional, romantic relationship when she could be in one," he admits. "We kind of talk about it, and she says she likes our relationship. Whatever. I don't want to try and talk her out of it - I like being in this relationship."

So does that mean he's changed his stance on romantic love?

"In our culture, we're always having this discussion about what romantic love is. So I guess I leave it open for that reason. I don't think anyone's really sure what we mean by romantic love or love in general. We know it when we feel it."

The back pages of Paying For It are filled with notes and appendices on a variety of topics, from human trafficking to the taxation of prostitution to sexual rights to violence against women - subjects he felt necessary to address. Brown supports the decriminalization of the trade, something that may happen thanks to last September's ruling by Justice Susan Himel; the Ontario Superior Court of Justice struck down several laws relating to prostitution, such as operating a bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and living on "the avails of the trade." The laws were to stay in place until April 29, awaiting the outcome of an appeal from the federal government. Surprisingly, Brown isn't in favour of legalization, as that would likely mean regulation, and government involvement, and Brown is an ardent libertarian - in fact, he's currently running for a second time against NDP incumbent Olivia Chow in the riding of Trinity-Spadina, which he lost in 2008.

Brown, who finished drawing Paying For It last July, hasn't had any second-thoughts about publishing such a personal book. All his friends and family already know about this part of his life - many of them appear in the book - except for one person: his stepmother.

"I still haven't really told her," he says. When they were talking on the phone a few months ago, he described it to her as "another autobiographical book, but this one's about my sex life." She probably wouldn't be interested in reading it, he said. "Then I was talking to her last month, or relatively recently. She said 'What's that new book about again?' So I just repeated the same thing:

"'It's about my sex life.'"
 
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  PAYING FOR IT by CHESTER BROWN loved by PopCandy

Updated May 12, 2011


Best book I read: I just read Chester Brown's new graphic novel, Paying for It, in which he recounts his experiences paying for sex. I'm not sure what I learned, but it's a compelling read, from Robert Crumb's introduction all the way to the end. Look for that in stores next month. (And speaking of comics, look for me at the MoCCA Festival in New York this weekend. I'll be wandering the floor Saturday and moderating a panel on Sunday.)
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CBC recommends PAYING FOR IT by CHESTER BROWN

Updated May 12, 2011


First aired on Q (4/29/11)

Chester Brown is an accomplished, award-winning and internationally renowned graphic novelist.

He also pays for sex.

And while these professional and personal issues don't normally collide, Brown made the personal professional (and in this case, also political) when it became the subject of his latest book. Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John is garnering international attention, both for its provocative subject matter, but also for the sensitive and thoughtful way it is explored.
Why did Brown decide to put this personal practice - one that's highly controversial and hotly debated - out there? Why share his most intimate acts with thousands of readers? Brown has a political mandate with this book: he feels that the only way to change minds is to create a forum for public debate. "Being a john and paying for sex, I wanted people to think a different way about this," Brown told Jian Ghomeshi in a recent interview on Q. "And the way to do that is through your own experiences."

Brown turned to prostitution in 1996, after a four-year monogamous relationship ended. (This ex-girlfriend is CBC's Sook-Yin Lee, host of Definitely Not The Opera, and she appears in Paying for It.) Prior to his first visit to a brothel, Brown was uncomfortable with the idea of being someone who paid for sex. "I probably had thought of johns the way a lot of people in our society do, that they were losers," he admitted. "There was that side of me that didn't want to become a john because I didn't want to be perceived as being a loser."

However, this perception changed when he felt his first experience was overwhelmingly positive, and he now pays for sex on a regular basis. "Now that I am a john, I just realized that johns are normal guys the way that I am a normal guy."

What also changed was Brown's view of the romantic relationship. Being a john is currently Brown's only form of sexual activity. "I was never comfortable being a boyfriend," he said. "There was always tension in the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship." By paying for sex, Brown felt freed from the constraints of a traditional relationship, and no longer feels the need to pursue one. Ever.

He has, however, found a relationship that's fulfilling, that defies traditional monogamy and embraces prostitution. And how does this relationship work, you ask?

You'll have to read the book to find out.
 
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CHESTER BROWN in attendance at TCAF

Updated May 12, 2011


Quill & Quire catches Chester Brown hard at work signing copies of his newest book, Paying For It, at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.
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Vue Weekly discusses PAYING FOR IT with CHESTER BROWN

Updated May 12, 2011


Paying For It begins with a depiction of the author's amicable break-up with his third and what turned out to be final girlfriend, the actress and former VJ Sook-Yin Lee. The year is 1996. Chester Brown was only in his mid-30s. In the subsequent decade and a half, Brown neither became a monk nor decided he preferred his own gender. Rather, after some hesitation, he started visiting sex workers, very gradually arrived at the conviction that what we conventionally call romantic love is bullshit, and that the world's oldest profession is not only acceptable but that its decriminalization was a cause worth fighting for. Brown, who previously authored a celebrated comic-strip biography of the contentious 19th-century Métis leader Louis Riel, is an intelligent, even-tempered artist whose work is consistently engaged in issues of individual freedom. Paying For It is an overtly politicized memoir. It's not incidental that Brown has twice run as the Libertarian Party candidate for Toronto's Trinity-Spadina riding. (Monday's election earned him 454 votes, placing him fifth.)

Paying For It is a fairly unusual graphical novel. An emblematic panel features Brown, rendered as rail-thin, his opaque spectacles obscuring his eyes, laying on his side, ding-dong dangling, in post-coital conversation. "My stuff's quite different from Archie," he explains to a sex worker curious about his profession. There's much humour in the book, often arising from Brown's politeness and uncertainty regarding etiquette. One chapter finds him visiting a prostitute that continues to watch soaps during the entirety of their transaction. A not atypical line: "She began to lick and suck my balls. Not this again ... " Brown is endearing in his attempts to communicate his needs with respect and clarity, but he insists that he's a fairly typical john, and that the dangers associated with prostitution are grossly exaggerated or misunderstood. While compelling and entertaining, Paying For It, which features a number of sometimes heated conversations between Brown and his friends about prostitution, as well as a series of exhaustive, informative appendices, is very much a didactic book. That's not a slander—its didacticism is one of the book's strongest attributes. And, once read, I can't think of a single reason why any thoughtful person would dismiss it, regardless of how firm their feelings are on the subject.
 
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  Forbidden Planet delves into CHESTER BROWN's PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 12, 2011


Chester Brown has always been an artist who takes his own, rather unique route. His debut; “Yummy Fur” was one of my first introductions to a world of alternative comics, and I absolutely loved it for its surreality and invention.

A switch to the pure autobiography of “The Playboy” worked even better. Brown’s unashamedly no holds barred ability to look at his own life, warts and all, had an honesty that meant it was incredibly readable. And his simple yet beautifully constructed artwork combined with this readability makes anything he turns his hand to; Bible stories, autobiography, the crusading, polemical ”Louis Riel” (a biographical retelling of the 19th Century Canadian politician and leader of the Métis people), absolutely essential reading.

And Paying For It is every bit the Chester Brown work. Essential certainly, intensely personal, unflinchingly honest but also somewhat difficult and flawed. Not in its execution, which is every bit as good as I expected from Brown, but because it’s determined to function as two things – autobiography and manifesto. And it’s a manifesto that a near evangelical Brown pushes just a little too far.

Paying For It, if you hadn’t already heard, details Chester Brown’s experiences with prostitution upon deciding he no longer wants all the emotional trouble of having relationships...
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Georgia Straight talks to CHESTER BROWN about PAYING FOR IT's controversies

Updated May 12, 2011


Chester Brown must have known what he was getting himself into. In creating Paying for It, the Toronto-based cartoonist was setting himself up for criticism, not just of his work but of himself and his chosen lifestyle. The graphic novel, published this month by Drawn & Quarterly, documents Brown's interactions with prostitutes over the course of a decade or so. It also includes notes and appendices in which the author lays out his arguments in favour of the decriminalization of selling sex, and against the notion of romantic love in general.

The book, as you might imagine, has engendered a bit of controversy. Reviewing Paying for It in the Chicago Reader, Noah Berlatsky called Brown's drawings of the prostitutes "dehumanizing", and characterized the artist's libertarian view of sex-as-commodity as "an expression of the individual autonomously pursuing pleasure" and a "soul-crushing sexual ethic".

"People are taking issue with certain things in there," Brown admits, speaking to the Straight over the phone from his home. "I certainly think someone who is brighter and more articulate than I am could have expressed things in a better way, but the book came out as well as it could given my limited abilities. No, I wouldn't change anything."

As for "dehumanizing" his subject - Berlatsky pointed out that Brown never shows their faces, "turning them into expressionless ciphers" - the cartoonist had his reasons for drawing the sex workers he visited as uniformly black-haired enigmas. Specifically, he was protecting their identities.

"Yes, I left things out, particularly when it came to matters that might reveal the identities of the prostitutes I saw," Brown says. "In the very first scene, the first time I see one, in a brothel, she asks me that question about what I do for a living, and I answer that I'm a cartoonist, and that I write and draw comic books. And then she started talking about comic books in her life, and it was very interesting, but that could have been revealing. She had particular experiences with comic books, and maybe she's talked about those with other people, and so, yeah, I omitted that entirely from that conversation, as if she hadn't told me any of that stuff. And at every encounter there were things like that, that I left out-things that could have revealed something about a particular woman that might have identified her."
 
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  CHESTER BROWN frankly interviewed by Montreal Gazette about PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 12, 2011


MONTREAL - "I take an immature delight in surprising people," says Chester Brown.

The Montreal-born cartoonist is commenting, with tongue probably at least partly in cheek, on the motivation for his new book. The 50-year-old, long a revered figure on the comics scene, scored an unexpected mainstream success in 2003 with Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, a work born out of what the author calls his "anarchistic distrust of government" that improbably reached everywhere from bestseller lists to high school history classes. But any readers who thought they had stumbled on simply an offbeat chronicler of Canadian history are in for a big surprise indeed when they see Brown's follow-up.

Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John is exactly what its subtitle claims. With dispassionate detail, the book chronicles a period in Brown's life when, post relationship breakup, he became a regular customer of Toronto prostitutes - 23 in total, all depicted (with faces obscured) in the book. Through the comic narrative, and in an extensive set of notes and appendices, the one-time Libertarian Party candidate for Parliament in Toronto's Trinity-Spadina riding presents and defends his basic argument: that prostitution is a commercial proposition no more "immoral" than any other merchant-consumer exchange, and that changing the law to reflect this would make it safer and more dignified for all concerned.

Much of Brown's pre-Louis Riel work was notable for its autobiographical frankness, so it seemed fair to ask, in an email interview last week, whether Paying for It is simply a continuation of that self-revealing mode or motivated more by advocacy for change in what Brown sees as Canada's antiquated prostitution laws.

"My concern was definitely advocacy," he replies. "If I'd thought that creating a fictional set-up would have been more effective in conveying my points, I would have done so, and I did consider doing that, but I decided that it was important to make it clear that I had a personal stake in the issue and I was speaking from first-hand experience."
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CHESTER BROWN forthcoming about PAYING FOR IT in Comics Journal interview

Updated May 12, 2011


There's a scene in I Never Liked You, Chester Brown's ethereal memoir of adolescence, where his younger self greets a friend by saying, "I shit it was you!" I wonder if this isn't what Brown does in all his work: like dropping a cuss into an otherwise normal sentence, the cartoonist often says what's forbidden but phrases it in familiar ways.

His early Ed the Happy Clown delights in excesses of castration and scatology, while his autobio work like The Playboy trades in masturbation, pornography, racism, and snot-eating. Why, the artist wonders, are such topics off-limits? When young Brown swears in I Never Liked You, his mother erupts into hysterics - and though the child is silenced, his older self will devote his work to asking why the authorities in our lives restrict both our expression and our behavior.

Brown's latest book, Paying for It, renews such concerns. This account of his experiences in the demimonde of prostitution both depicts and picks apart the cartoonist's own sexual proclivities and peculiarities. At the same time, it questions why prostitution has been vilified, and why we define both call-girl and john in terms of criminality rather than commerce.

As I found in the course of this Journal interview, Brown is just as forthcoming and unstinting in his conversation as he is in his comics. Brown was happy to discuss the issues raised by his book, but he also indulged my questions about his process, his influences, and the evolution of his work. So, while Paying for It remains the occasion for our conversation, Brown's willingness to discuss both Louis Riel, his biography of the Canadian rebel hero, as well as the rebellious Jesus he portrays in the now-defunct Underwater, should illuminate what the cartoonist is up to in his latest venture.
 
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  The Globe and Mail profiles CHESTER BROWN

Updated May 4, 2011


As election day draws near, the Libertarian Party candidate for the federal riding of Trinity-Spadina is thinking about getting on his bike to do some campaigning in the wetlands of downtown Toronto.

Not that Chester Brown is expecting to be Ottawa-bound Tuesday morning. A lean 50-year-old with a noggin best described as “skull-like,” Brown ran for the same party in the same riding in 2008, earning 490 votes. “Pathetic, of course,” he admits with an almost giggly laugh as he sits on the narrow, faintly monkish bed in his bachelor condominium. “But pretty good for a libertarian.”

Brown does, in fact, have a pretty substantial following; just not as a politician. Among the Canadian mainstream, he’s famous as the creator of the astonishingly successful illustrated biography of Métis leader Louis Riel. Originally released as a series of pamphlets in 1999, Louis Riel has gone on to sell more than 50,000 copies in the U.S. and Canada since its publication as a book in 2003 by Montreal’s Drawn & Quarterly. It earned Brown two Harveys (comicdom’s Oscars) plus the heartfelt thanks of librarians and teachers for making Canadian history exciting for “the kids.”

There’s a new Brown book out this weekend, however, that may test the tolerance of those whose affection for Brown starts and ends with Louis Riel. Called Paying for It, the “comic-strip memoir” tracks Brown’s sexual adventures in the past 12 years with more than 20 female “escorts” in Toronto. Smart, unflinchingly honest, frequently funny, occasionally charming – and chock-full of nudity – it’s clear we’re not in Batoche any more.

For some, this might seem career suicide, a kiss-off of the good-will generated by Louis Riel. But for Brownians who’ve been fans for 30 years, not just the past eight, Paying for It will be received less as faux pas than welcome return to the unfailingly candid, TMI autobiographical terrain of, say, 1992’s The Playboy, Brown’s vivid recreation of the masturbatory mania of his teen years near Montreal.

Clearly, Drawn & Quarterly thinks Paying for It will pay off: It’s printed almost 20,000 hardcovers, with an introduction by the legendary R. Crumb. According to associate publisher Peggy Burns, “We project 75 per cent of the run will sell in the U.S.” – hence Burns’s tour next month to cities such as New York and Chicago. Besides, D & Q has always prided itself on being an “artist-centric company: If this is the book Chester wants, this is the book we put out.” Lest we forget, she says: “Everyone thought Chester was more crazy when he was doing the bio of the obscure, to most of his fans, Louis Riel!”

During an interview in the laughably cluttered condo that’s been both home and studio for the past 10 years, Brown claims not to remember the date he first paid to have sex. A peculiar lapse, that, since Brown’s famous among friends for the acuity of his memory. For the record, it’s there on page 29 in Paying for It: March 26, 1999. While the liaison (with “Carla”) lasted all of 30 minutes and cost the nervous, timid Brown $120 (excluding his $40 tip), the event proved a life-changer, maybe even a life-saver. All of Brown’s sex since has been paid sex, in fact – albeit with an intriguing twist in recent years.

Thing is, Brown doesn’t just buy sex; he advocates for the practice. Go through Paying for It’s 50 pages of notes and appendices and you’ll find not only a manifesto for decriminalizing prostitution but an apostrophe to prostitution as a cure of sorts for the “possessive monogamy” Brown disavows. In one of those inversions beloved of libertarians, Brown even goes as far as to declare: “Prostitution should be seen as primarily sacred and only secondarily as a business”; it is “too intimate, too sacred,” in fact, to be taxed the same way as any other job.

Brown initially conceived Paying for It – a title he’s not entirely keen on since it implies moral and physical “burdens” he claims not to have suffered – as a much larger opus “about my whole sexual history, starting with my childhood. … But when I ran the idea by the ex-girlfriends I’m still friends with, neither was very keen on it, so that kind of put the kibosh on it. I had to narrow down.”

The “twist” in Brown’s sex life is “Denise,” Call Girl No. 21 in Paying for It. More than eight years after their first session, Brown continues to see Denise; in fact, she’s been his sole sexual partner for several years, and vice-versa – a state of affairs that, in part, has prompted one Brown amigo, fellow cartoonist Dave Lapp, to proclaim Denise “probably the love of his life.” Chester himself admits he loves her, while quickly adding “it doesn’t feel like romantic love, or not like the first couple of times I was in what could be called romantic love.”

Perhaps the fact he still has to (yes!) pay Denise each time he wishes to have sex with her has something to do with this. Admittedly, the cash outlay hasn’t obviated all tensions, but they never “escalate” into the “melodrama”of previous involvements, one of which was with Sook-Yin Lee, host of CBC Radio’s Definitely Not the Opera. They haven’t lived together since 2001, but remain great friends – even though she says she’s still “the one person Chester can’t do a likeness of.” A key figure in Paying for It (and pretty much the only female to keep her clothes on), Lee unhesitatingly endorses her ex’s memoir as “a brave, important book, one touching on all kinds of stuff that I think can start conversations that have been absent in the larger cultural sphere.”

Another Paying for It staple, cartoonist Seth, serves as foil to Brown’s ruminations on marriage and the like. New Yorker cover artist, creator of the Clyde Fans picture novellas, Seth counts Brown as his “best friend.” Nevertheless, he believes “Chet’s a bit lacking in the emotional range department.” Paying for It puts “together a very ironclad argument” for decriminalizing prostitution. “Except for one thing: Chet doesn’t take into account that human beings are involved. His argument for prostitution is like this very good system if you happen to have a planet populated by robots.”

Brown, for his part, remains unperturbed. If (or when) the relationship with Denise ends, he says he won’t rule out resuming the life of john Brown. As for the work, true to his credo of “working against people’s expectations,” he expects his next project will be “another historical thing. That’s all I’m prepared to say right now.”
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PAYING FOR IT reviewed by The Globe and Mail

Updated May 4, 2011


In the early 1990s, my girlfriend and I considered it our duty as self-righteous university undergrads to write to cartoonist Chester Brown concerning a story in his comic book Yummy Fur. If I remember correctly, the offensive storyline in question detailed in a non-judgmental – and almost clinical – way Brown’s lifelong obsession with pornography.

A panel-by-panel of Chester Brown’s graphic style
I’ll spare you the details of my politically correct proto-feminist bluster. Let’s just say that as a devoted fan of his brilliant, groundbreaking alt-comic, I recall being genuinely distressed that he would threaten to throw it all away in favour of an examination of an issue as objectionable as (gasp) pornography.

To Brown’s credit, he reprinted my letter without comment in a subsequent issue of Yummy Fur. As for me, I eventually graduated from university, grew out of my ideological training pants and quickly learned to appreciate Brown’s fearless approach to his art.

Little did I know, he was just getting warmed up.

Given how I reacted two decades ago, I can only imagine how fans of Brown’s recent work, 2003’s bestseller Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, will react to his new graphic memoir, Paying for It. His first all-original graphic work, the book’s subtitle – A Comic-strip Memoir About Being a John – does a nice job of summing up the plot. And on the surface, Paying for It is as advertised: an exposé of the prostitution industry from the first-person perspective of a repeat customer.

But it also somehow manages to be about more than just its author’s journey into john-dom, wrangling with issues such as the nature of love and sexual attraction, all thanks to Brown’s almost-fiendish command of the medium.

The book begins in 1996 as his relationship with CBC Radio personality and musician Sook Yin-Lee comes to an unexpected end. While most people would wallow in self-loathing, Brown takes the news as an opportunity to explore his feelings about romance in general. Witnessing his ex’s new relationship bloom, then wither, girds him in his opinion that romantic relationships are inherently destructive.

Fast-forward a couple of years and Brown is resolved to try out prostitution as a means of satisfying his sexual desires. From there, he slowly and methodically lays out his progression through the foreign (to most of us) world of prostitution, chronicling his intimate experiences with more than two dozen prostitutes over a five-year period. Along the way, he presents his case for the decriminalization of the profession to his friends and family, which will seem self-serving to some readers.

But Brown is well aware of society’s attitudes toward prostitution and has built this book with such care and precision that I’d be shocked if even my devout Catholic mother weren’t sympathetic to his world view – at least a little.

This care is evident in the various levels that the book operates on. First and foremost, it’s an exploration and justification of prostitution as a logical option between consenting adults. But it also plays out as a tricky tale of unromantic love: a heartfelt argument against the ingrained cultural trappings of romance, and a fierce defence of the often overlooked joys of other forms of love (such as platonic, filial, interpersonal).

And it’s funny. As is the case in most of his other autobiographical comics, Brown sets himself up as the target of the jokes. Joe Matt, a good friend and recurring character in Brown’s work, gets the lion’s share of the yucks here. I especially liked Matt’s reaction after he learns Brown has visited a prostitute: “This is disturbing, but it’s also good gossip.”

Of course, the art is as idiosyncratic as ever. Brown forgoes the six-panel grid and turns down the cross-hatching that he used in Louis Riel for a small, rectangular eight-panel layout inspired in part by the comics of Carl Barks. These oblong panels house some of the year’s most effective cartooning, capable of lending dignity to even the most awkward sex scenes.

The book is not without its faults, though. Brown’s decision to obscure the faces of the women he has sex with to protect their identities is bound to lead to criticism that he’s objectifying them. And it’s difficult not to feel that a female perspective is missing here, especially since all we see of them is their frequently naked bodies.

Then there are the copious appendices and notes, which Brown has reserved for his real axe-grinding. Though often amusing (especially the notes by his friend and fellow cartoonist Seth) and thought-provoking, they are at times reductive and didactic. Some read like something you might find tucked under your car’s windshield wiper, like his comment that “any government scheme to license sex would be evil.” Possibly, but in what world is this an actual concern? In the end, though, I expect most people will judge this book on the comics, not the commentary, and these are some of the best comics of Brown’s career.

Simply told in a deceptively straightforward manner, Paying for It is a defiant work of truth-telling and a welcome return to autobiographical comics from one of the medium’s incontrovertible masters.
 
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  The Globe and Mail looks at PAYING FOR IT panel-by-panel

Updated May 4, 2011



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The Toronto Standard examines PAYING FOR IT's extensive endnotes

Updated May 4, 2011


If years ago, when I was in college, someone had dubbed me a tape of The Best of Leonard Cohen, I’m not sure what I would have made of the music. There’s a chance I would have become a fan. But I happened to buy an old copy of the LP, the back cover of which is given over to Cohen’s notes on the songs. None exceeds seven lines in length; the shortest is 12 words long. They masquerade as compositional backstory, but really comprise a sly autobiography in prose poems, perfect compressions of wanderlust and good old-fashioned lust. A persona is being erected even before the record is out of the sleeve. (Indeed, it includes a comment on the jacket portrait: “I rarely ever look this good, or bad, depending on your politics.”) Cohen’s notes didn’t deepen my experience of the music, but rather replaced it. The songs took a back seat to the life lived, a life recorded telegraphically but indelibly on that tan back cover. The pleasure, the point, of The Best of Leonard Cohen was not where I thought it was.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the notes of another Canadian artist, also originally from the Montreal area, 26 years Cohen’s junior. Chester Brown is a cartoonist I’ve followed, with admiration and occasional perplexity, for two decades now. His books are remarkably varied in scope and style: the surreal, id-accessing Ed the Happy Clown (1989); the teen-angst diptych of The Playboy and I Never Liked You (1992 and 1994); the miscellaneous stories from 1980 to 1995, gathered in 1998’s collection The Little Man; Louis Riel, an account of the 19th-century French-speaking rebel leader and heretic in what is now Manitoba; and, coming next month, Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John, an unsettling, full-contact approach to the debate over the legalization of prostitution.
How important are Brown’s notes? Just as someone who listens to a burned copy of The Best of Leonard Cohen could reasonably say she’s experienced that album, without ever reading Cohen’s notes, I considered that I had finished Louis Riel upon reaching page 241, the last page of the story proper — the last illustrated page. I had experienced, in all the important ways, Brown’s portrait of this figure and his turbulent times. The notes were just words, whereas words-and-pictures constitute the cartoonist’s art. I did read most of the notes included in the initial (1998) publication of The Little Man, probably because the anthology itself felt pretty thin; as Brown writes in the preface, “I really love some of the work in here, and I really hate some of it, but most of it I’m somewhat indifferent to.” But I didn’t read every word of the extensive apparatus that he erected around the last strip in the collection, “My Mom Was a Schizophrenic.” Title panel aside, the strip is less memoir than a smart, patient, and numbing argument against the classification of schizophrenia as a disease. It’s replete with talking-head psychologists and panels in which Chester stands stock still and delivers his monologue. The notes mainly supplied additional evidence, for page after page.
But two things made me start thinking differently about the status of this paratext. One was the increasing amount of space the notes were taking. The main narrative of Paying for It, his forthcoming book on his experiences as a john, is 227 pages long; what follows—afterword, twenty-three appendices, and notes on both the body text and the appendices—take up an additional 51 pages. In other words, about 18 per cent of what’s between the covers is not “comics,” per se. The story, such as it is, has all the candour, brilliant draftsmanship, discomfort, and humour that are the hallmarks of Brown’s work; but now I wondered whether note-making should also be considered a signature Brownian move as well.
The second thing that made me take a closer look: My sister recently visited Montreal, and brought me something from the Drawn and Quarterly store that I hadn’t seen before. This was the first installment (from 2005) of D&Q’s reserialization of Brown’s first work Ed the Happy Clown, which had originally appeared in installments in his comic book Yummy Fur, then was published as a book (twice). Now it was appearing again in comic-book format, across nine issues, for which Brown would be writing new notes to each of the nine slim volumes.
Revisiting this maiden voyage, now nearly 30 years old, the nihilism and dark humour feel strained, but the three pages of notes to issue one are something of an origin story. We learn that he was 21 in early 1982 and living in a Toronto rooming house on Albany Avenue, working a “low-paying job printing photographs” while trying to be a cartoonist; he tells us that “Ed the Happy Clown” was an attempt to “create in a more spontaneous manner” based on surrealist principles he’d read about, and that he hadn’t meant for him to be a series character at all, let alone his first claim to fame. The long third note is to “Adventures in Science,” an exercise in grotesque whimsy (think masturbating squid). Brown dilates on a nearly invisible attribution attached to the final panel that reads, “Idea: ‘Dr M.’” One of his day-job colleagues, a fellow aspiring cartoonist named Mark, had begun a strip with someone saying, “We were in deep shit when the professor’s brains popped out.” Mark, a/k/a Dr. M., never finished it, and Brown asked if he could “redraw the first few panels and take the strip in whatever direction I felt like.” Mark agreed, and when he saw Chester’s finished artwork, he said, “I give up—I’m never going to draw again.” In the notes Brown wonders why he wanted to appropriate his friend’s idea, confessing he “may have just wanted to show off,” as if to say, “Look at me — I can draw these panels better than you, and I can actually finish the strip.”
“And then,” Brown writes, “I went and stole his girlfriend.” The woman in question is Kris, who will appear as a character once Brown starts creating autobiographical strips; here we learn that it was in fact Kris who encouraged Brown to self-publish the first issues of Yummy Fur. “I might still be working in that photo-reproduction shop if she hadn’t,” he writes.
I liked this behind-the-scenes maneuvering more than anything else in the book, and indeed the notes to this fourth incarnation of Ed the Happy Clown pulled that Leonard Cohen trick: I began to see the artist himself as the real hero, and the fictions within as so much scaffolding. The comics — the initial product, the point of all his artmaking — were no longer the main attraction.
So as I read (or reread) all of Brown’s notes, I thought of them as intentional rather than optional. Brown writes them out in his own meticulous, microscopic hand. The steady flow of words is staggering — page after page of tightly spaced sentences. (Indeed, when I say a “page,” the actual wordage in most cases is likely three to four times as much as you’d fit in the same space with a ten-point font.) In contrast to the spontaneous construction of Brown’s early Ed stories, these give the appearance of steady, deliberate thought, but the more you read, the more surprising they are.
His book The Playboy was noteless, but the 185-page I Never Liked You had two pages’ worth in its 2002 printing. “I’m writing the following for those of you who wondered when and where things happened,” he explains. The affect soon feels off — abrupt and concrete after the limpid, flowing narrative we’ve just emerged from. One example: At the book’s conclusion, shy, confused Chester makes a feeble excuse to avoid going out with a girl he likes, telling her that instead he’s going to stay home and put on the new Kiss album, which he’s bought but hasn’t listened to yet. “According to page 29 of Black Diamond 2: The Illustrated Collector’s Guide to Kiss,” the notes tell us, the album in question is Love Gun, which was released “either June 7th or June 17th 1977,” thus giving a very tight window during which the encounter could have taken place.
What’s good enough for the reader — an acceptable approximation of reality — doesn’t suffice for Brown, who, like a scholar of his own output, documents dates and times with an exactitude that Brown the artist knew to leave out. But in the final note, Brown writes that the original 1994 dedication (which still stands in 2002) was to his girlfriend, Sook-Yin, with whom he had a relationship between “late 1992 until mid-1996.” The author photo — Brown with long hair, standing at the side of the frame with eyes downcast — was taken by Sook-Yin in the summer of 1993. The earnest original dedication (and its later reinforcement) are a way of indicating that the teenaged Chester, like most of us, outgrew his awkwardness around affection — a happy ending, if you like, to a story brimming with aggression, repression, and insanity.
*
Though 2003’s Louis Riel is biographical rather than autobiographical, and its story arc grandly tragic, its imposing 27 pages of notes turn out to be oddly inviting. On the one hand they function traditionally as citation, definition, and clarification. But many of the notes point out the liberties that Brown has taken in depicting Riel and his struggle to secure land rights for the people of the Red River Settlement in the 19th century, whose existence is thrown into chaos by the machinations of the Canadian government and the Hudson’s Bay Company.
A prose memoirist might downplay the messy or dreary aspects of real life with a quick preface saying that some names have been changed, the timeline has been tweaked, and certain characters are composites, but Brown is almost hilariously punctilious. Of page 13, panel 5, he writes that a man named McDougall “arrived in Pembina by ox-cart, not stage-coach.” I’m not sure why I drew stage-coaches — there is a note in my script specifying ox-cart.” He notes that he loves the name of “Major-General Thomas Bland Strange,” who wouldn’t have been at a gathering in April 1885 — where, nevertheless, Brown has placed him. What initially appeared to be a somewhat sober, dignified, doggedly fact-based story is, by Brown’s own design, showing cracks.
You only get this if you read the notes. One in particular, buried on page 259, threatens to throw the whole narrative topsy-turvy. About a nefarious conspiracy depicted in the story, Brown writes:
I’ve made the McLean/Sprague-theory part of my strip, not because I’m convinced that it’s true (I honestly don’t have a strong opinion on the matter one way or the other), but because it makes [Prime Minister John A.] Macdonald seem more villainous — villains are fun in a story, and I’m trying to tell this tale in an engaging manner.
Brown follows this with an unexpected revelation:
Incidentally, even though I think that Macdonald was capable of abusing his power, I don’t think that he actually was a villain. I disagree with much of what he did and stood for, but I recognize that he tried to do what he thought was best for the country. And, quite frankly, I’d rather have lived in a state run by John A. Macdonald than one run by Louis Riel.
Reading Louis Riel, a reader’s sympathies are with the title character, and when he meets his end, one might be forgiven for cursing in the direction of Prime Minister Macdonald, who contrives from the very first panel to grab as much land for Canada as he can, no matter the human cost. Riel’s heretical and hallucinatory bent make him a natural Chester Brown hero — or so we would imagine. That Brown — in his notes and nowhere else — champions the official over the visionary is perhaps the most heretical thing of all. His history is a performance. As in Brown’s explicitly autobiographical work, truth is elusive, and subject to change.
Paying for It, Brown’s new “comic strip memoir about being a john,” is exactly what the title declares, and more, and a little less, and more again. Brown depicts his whoring as a long-fused, utterly rational decision following the dissolution of his four-year relationship with the aforementioned Sook-Yin in 1996. The tone is tantalizingly intimate and detached, as he’s initiated into Toronto’s red-light culture. He becomes an expert in the world — from how to solicit and how much to tip, to what the cryptic abbreviations in the Yelp!-style reviews of local hookers mean. He debates regularly the ethics of prostitution with his friends, the cartoonists Seth and Joe Matt, who serve as our stand-ins. They’re shocked not only by Brown’s habit, but by his increasingly strident statements against monogamy. “Keep repressing those emotions,” Seth tells him repeatedly. Brown draws his own face to look like a skull, as though the loneliness he can’t accept has whittled him down to next to nothing.
As uncomfortable as the subject matter is, there’s a delicious, knowing irony in the story’s resolution, when Chester finds himself in a long-term, monogamous, mutually respectful and satisfying relationship with a prostitute named “Denise.” “So if I’m not against romantic love, what do I oppose?” he wonders, then decides, “I’m against…possessive monogamy.” A few pages later, he explains, for the umpteenth time, his latest view of prostitution to Seth: “[P]aying for sex isn’t an empty experience if you’re paying the right person for sex.”
That’s the last panel of the graphic narrative proper, and such a mouthful of a sentence that the reader is surprised to turn the page and find it blank. In a way it’s the perfect ending to this challenging book; we get the impression that Chester will keep reformulating his views on romantic love, probably letting his pronouncements erode as his relationship with “Denise” deepens. (By book’s end, in summer 2010, Chester has been monogamous with her for six years.) It’s smartly ambivalent.
Then come the 23 appendices and notes, where Brown can push his argument for the legalization of prostitution for as long as his writing hand doesn’t cramp. Brown isn’t interested in ambiguity or art here — the pamphlet-like tone bears similarities to the notes for “My Mom Was a Schizophrenic.”
But the mask slips a few times, most dramatically in the final appendix, where Brown presents the notes that his friend Seth made upon reading the book. Calling attention to his appearance on page ten Seth says, “I often jokingly refer to Chet as ‘the robot.’ In posing a question to him I might quip, ‘Perhaps I should ask a person who has actual human emotions instead.’” In a long note regarding a scene where Chester grows incensed by Seth’s hidebound views on prostitution, Seth rebuts: “It’s a bit of a broken record listening to these arguments over and over again. I gotta say, it tires me out. I really couldn’t give a shit about most of these issues.” As Brown, in the appendices, becomes an unimpeded, less engaging version of the character in the main narrative, Seth steps in at the last minute to cut him down to size.
There is genuine warmth in Seth’s notes. They humanize the robot, flesh out the skeleton. “The funny thing about Chester,” Seth writes in the last paragraph of the appendices, “is that out of all the men I know he’s quite possibly the one I think would make the most considerate boyfriend or husband for a woman…and yet he is the one who picked the whoring. It’s a funny world.” As any memoirist must, Brown has concealed parts of himself in Paying for It. Is it robotic, or very clever, for him to let someone else fill in the blanks?
 
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  PAYING FOR IT reviewed by Maclean's

Updated May 4, 2011


In the whole of the Platonic canon, Socrates leaves Athens just once: in the Phaedrus, the second of the dialogues on romantic love. As Socrates walks through the city he sees Phaedrus, an attractive young man, deep in thought. Phaedrus tells him he has just heard a speech about love and invites Socrates to walk with him into the countryside to hear the details. Under a tree, he outlines the speech: you should always be with someone who doesn’t love you rather than someone who does. Someone who loves you will make your life difficult: they want to be with you always; they become jealous, frightened you’ll leave, and so discourage you from meeting people who might take you away; they become angry when you change; they suffocate you. With someone who doesn’t love you, you can come and go as you please. It doesn’t hurt to be with someone who doesn’t love you; often it hurts to be with someone who does.

Later, just as Socrates turns to leave, he stops. He realizes that by discussing love in these terms he has committed the sin of impiety against the god Eros. To make amends, he must make his own speech: that to be in love is actually the greatest good.

Consider now a modern treatment of the issue. Cartoonist Chester Brown’s new graphic novel, Paying For It, is sure to stir controversy when it’s released next month, for its explicit chronicling of his life paying for sex, and for its impassioned argument in support of prostitution’s decriminalization. But the book is at its best when it explores the same territory as the Phaedrus—the nature of romantic love. The comparison isn’t so far-fetched. Brown, a Canadian, has been instrumental in popularizing the notion that comics are capable of a lot more than just caped superheroes, and he’s best known for a psychologically acute biography of Metis leader Louis Riel.


Yet he’s also written painfully candid autobiography: one book, The Playboy, deals with a pornography habit. Propelling Paying For It, as well as his ongoing life as a john, is Brown’s breakup with Sook-Yin Lee, the former MuchMusic VJ and current CBC Radio host, with whom he lived for many years. “I love you as much as ever, and I’m sure I’m always going to love you, but…I think I’m falling in love with someone else,” she tells him. “Do you want me to move out?” he asks. “No. I…at this point I just want to date him…even if I do end up having a sexual relationship with him, I don’t know if that will mean that I’ll want to stop having sex with you.” Then she asks: “Do you hate me?” He replies: “I love you as much as ever.”

In fact, Brown feels an odd serenity, even as he continues living with Lee and hears the development of her new sexual relationship through the walls of his bedroom. Soon, he realizes romantic love is the last thing he wants. “Being the friend is way better than being the boyfriend,” he tells an ex-lover. “It’s something about the dynamic of romantic love…The people I’ve behaved the worst to were my girlfriends.” But he’s left with a quandary: “I’ve got two competing desires—the desire to have sex, versus the desire to NOT have a girlfriend…I don’t know how I can reconcile them.” The answer, as it turns out, lies in the pages of the alternative weeklies where sex workers advertise their services. His first attempts to meet prostitutes are blackly funny—he patrols the streets by bicycle seeking streetwalkers—and his introduction to the protocols of the modern brothel are fascinating and leave little to the imagination. (Is requesting lubricant impolite? What to do when a prostitute watches soaps mid-coitus?) For Brown, it’s all deeply satisfying. “It was so honest,” he writes of his first session. “A burden that I had been carrying since adolescence had dis­appeared.”

Brown occasionally bores as he advances his case for decriminalization, and though it’s a thoughtful book, some of the darker corners of prostitution—human trafficking, say—are left strangely unexplored in its comic-strip component (he addresses such things in an appendix). But Paying For It captivates in part because you sense a coming Socratic conversion. Brown never admits to blaspheming Eros; still, as he tells Maclean’s, the book “feels like a love story to me.”
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Maclean's talks to CHESTER BROWN about PAYING FOR IT

Updated May 4, 2011


Chester Brown, the Toronto-based graphic novelist best known for his 2003 book, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, will be touring North America in May in support of his latest, Paying For It: a comic-strip memoir about being a john. Painfully candid, the book begins with the collapse of his relationship with long-time girlfriend Sook-Yin Lee, current host of the CBC’s Definitely Not the Opera, then recounts how that split led him to forgo romantic love in favour of paying prostitutes for sex. [SPOILER ALERT] It ends with his discovery of a new kind of monogamy with his “special friend”—a woman he met while she was still a working prostitute and who he continues to pay in exchange for sex.

Q: What do you hope Paying For It accomplishes?

A: Obviously there’s a political undercurrent to the book. I’m trying to make a point. Last fall we had Justice Susan Himel’s ruling basically decriminalizing prostitution. In the wake of that there were all these people saying, ‘Okay, now we have to re-criminalize prostitution and make it illegal for johns to buy sex.’ Stop criminalizing the prostitute, which I agree with, and start criminalizing the john, which of course I don’t agree with. There was Victor Malarek’s book [The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It] a couple of years ago and Benjamin Perrin, who wrote a book [in 2010] called Invisible Chains, with a very similar theme: that johns are evil monsters. I wanted a book from the john’s point of view, since of course, I don’t think of myself as an evil monster and I hope I’m not. So you want a book to explain where you’re coming from, and hopefully people will understand.

Q: One of the things that comes out in one of the appendices in the back of the book is that you hadn’t wanted to call it Paying For It. What would you have preferred?

A: I had a couple of different titles. One I was considering, but not that seriously, was The Sex Life of John Brown. But probably more seriously I was thinking of I Pay For Sex—much more direct or blunt. And for them [his publishers at Drawn & Quarterly], that was too blunt, too direct. Darn, I wish I could remember the title they suggested that I really hated. I think they actually suggested In Defence of Prostitution, which just is so boring.

Q: You suggest in that same passage that it’s a difficult book to market. But in my dealings with Peggy Burns, the associate publisher at Drawn & Quarterly, I would guess that she’s having the opposite problem, which is fighting people off with a stick. Are you surprised by the level of interest in the book?

A: They are concerned about the reaction of bookstores. I guess it’s not so much, “Will journalists be interested in covering the book?” It’s, “Are bookstores going to be willing to carry the book?” The Riel book did very well—there were lots of people willing to buy it as a gift for other people. This is a very different book. It’s much less likely that people will be buying it as a gift. Even just being in a bookstore and asking for it. When we were still considering calling the book, I Pay For Sex, they were saying, “Imagine you’re in a bookstore and you’re having to ask the bookseller for the book, I Pay For Sex.” So, I can see the problems associated with marketing this book.

Q: But it’s also a bold book. It’s a book that’s fun to cover as a journalist because it’s kind of audacious. You’re left exposed by the book, the way it’s drawn, how graphic it is. How can you open yourself up to this degree?

A: I read an interview with Spalding Gray several years ago where he was questioning—why do people even have secrets? Most of us just take it for granted—we all have secrets. And he was questioning the whole idea of secrecy. And I was like, “Yeah, why do we even have secrets? Why do I care if people know this or that about me?” It is easier to live openly when you’re not married. Not to get too much into the whole “romantic love” thing, but if you’re going to live successfully with another person, there are things you have to keep to yourself. So the guy who lives on his own, I think, is more used to just expressing things openly.

Q: You mention romantic love. The book begins with such a charged tone—when you break up with Sook-Yin Lee—and it propels the rest of the book in many ways. It’s actually quite painful to read.

A: Incidentally, that first scene is entirely black in the book. I tried to draw that scene so many times, I couldn’t get the emotional tone right. I tried just drawing our faces, and that didn’t seem to work. Then I tried drawing our heads shot from the back, and that didn’t seem to work. I went through at least four different drawn versions, redrawing and redrawing that scene. And so finally I was like, “Okay, I’m going to start drawing the next scene.” And the next scene seemed to work right away. And then eventually I was like, “I’m just going to black out that scene. I can’t draw it for whatever reason.”

Q: And the reason I think it propels the rest of the book is, it’s kind of a meditation on romantic love—what it is and what different people want to get out of it. Is that what you wanted to discuss, or is that incidental to the other discussion, about how society should treat prostitution?

A: I think they go together in some way. But I can’t say that I even come to a conclusion about romantic love. In that last chapter, or the last two chapters, I have various people talking about what romantic love is. And then at the end of the book I have myself saying that I do love this woman. But it’s hard for me to even be sure what I mean by that. Obviously I do have deep feelings and I care for her a lot. But how does that relate to what other people mean by the word “love,” because so many people mean so many different things. So, yeah. I guess in the end it is all kind of vague—what does love mean? Personally, I like just living on my own. I would prefer not to be living with anyone, really. Like, as much as I care for my special friend, I don’t want to live with her. The relationship we have works perfectly and I don’t think we’re trying to move it in a conventional relationship direction. It is the way it is. I don’t think she wants to live with me anymore than I want to live with her.

Q: It’s not clear to me from the book whether that relationship goes beyond the physical.

A: Do we share some interests outside the bed? Yes.

Q: Can you talk a bit about how the written appendices at the back of the book came about—where you elaborate on the details of prostitution and why it should be decriminalized? Were they originally part of the conception of the book?
A: I’ve got a notes section at the back of the Riel book, and I’d done this with other works too. I didn’t want to drag down the narrative with too much in the way of theory. Most of the stuff I introduce into the book as “my ideas” was done through dialogue I would have with people. And some things I just thought without actually talking about it with other people. I didn’t want to invent conversations, so it seemed like, instead of inventing conversations, just put those things in the appendices.

Q: Was there any worry that you should acknowledge or anticipate arguments that critics would no doubt marshal against you?

A: Oh definitely. That was a big part of it.

Q: Can you talk a bit about some of the things that didn’t lend themselves to the comic part but that you thought you should deal with?

A: The significant one is probably the issue of human trafficking. None of my friends ever even mentioned the topic, and I didn’t think to talk about it with people. And I didn’t become aware of the subject until 2003, in a CBC story that Shelagh Rogers did on Sounds Like Canada. I might have heard of human trafficking before, but not in relation to prostitution. I never really put together that that might be a problem. So, yeah, putting it in scenes—there wasn’t really a way to do that. But I wanted to address the topic.

Q: In the section of the book when you’re introduced to the protocols of prostitution, which is so interesting, the thing that jumps out is that your experience doesn’t jive with the perceptions many people have of that world—that it’s all about drugs and exploitation. Why the discrepancy between the perception of that world and your experience of it?

A: Well, I was seeing indoor workers as opposed to streetwalkers and from what I hear, drug use is much more prevalent among streetwalkers then it is with girls who are escorting.

Q: In a funny way, is Paying For It a love story in the end?

A: Certainly not a conventional love story. But, yeah, I guess it is. It feels like a love story to me. Even though she has never said the words “I love you.” She has certainly indicated in enough other ways that she does care about me. She wouldn’t think of it as a “romantic” love. I care for her and she cares for me. It is a type of love story.

Q: At this point in your relationship with your “special friend,” is the payment—the transactional part of the relationship—almost like an escape hatch, something that says, ‘this is still fleeting’?

A: I don’t know if it’s an escape hatch, but I think it is something that makes the relationship feel different. In a lot of ways it is like a conventional boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, and even occasionally we argue about stuff. But it never gets into the type of melodramatic arguments that I’ve experienced in my relationships with my girlfriends. Things just don’t get hostile in that way. It feels like a different sort of sexual relationship between a man and a woman. And the only thing I have to attribute that to is the money.

Q: This will no doubt be a controversial book. What do you worry about what could happen—about how others will criticize you? Does it worry you?

A: It only really worries me in what I might call “real life” situations. I’m going to be doing a tour to promote the book, and giving live presentations in front of audiences, and I’m worried about the heckling—if there’s going to be heckling. Because I’ve never experienced it in the past, I have no idea what I would do with hecklers. I guess we’ll see. And maybe it’s not even going to happen.
 
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  The National Post covers PAYING FOR IT

Updated April 29, 2011


In a recent Toronto Life cover story entitled “The Secret Life of a Bay Street Hooker,” a veteran Toronto detective opined that “very few condos in the city would not have escorts working out of them.” The cartoonist Chester Brown can attest to that. Years ago, when he was still regularly frequenting prostitutes, an ad for a particular hooker caught his eye. He clicked on a map on the brothel’s website, which directed customers to a condo on King Street West.

“Looking at the map, I realized it’s my building,” Brown says, laughing. “I never did go. I think it would have felt funny. Although it would have been very handy …”

Unlike most johns, Chester Brown is unusually candid about his experiences in the Toronto sex industry, which he chronicles in a darkly humorous and painfully honest new graphic memoir, Paying For It. The 50-year-old is one of the world’s foremost cartoonists, and Paying For It is among the most anticipated comics of the year. For those only familiar with Louis Riel, his critically acclaimed comic-strip biography of the Métis revolutionary, which was published in 2003, Brown’s newest book may come as a shock. Readers will learn more about Brown — and see more of him — than they probably ever wanted.

Paying For It, however, is actually a return to the autobiographical musings that established Brown’s career. In some ways, this is the perfect companion piece to The Playboy, which came out in 1992. In that book, a young Brown grappled — both emotionally and physically — with his love of Hugh Hefner’s titillating magazine. Whereas the Chester Brown found in The Playboy was ashamed of his actions, in Paying For It, Brown is open — and somewhat proud, you could say — about his relationship with sex workers. The Playboy, he says, “kind of freed me up to be able to talk about that side of myself. To be open, not to be ashamed, about admitting to watching pornography or talking about my sex life.” Paying For It, in some ways, is a celebration of the world’s oldest profession.

Courtesy Drawn and Quarterly

In the summer of 1996, Brown and his long-time girlfriend, actress and radio personality Sook-Yin Lee, broke up. In the months that followed, Brown began to question the necessity of “romantic love” and the arguments, jealousy and effort that usually accompanies such relationships. After a prolonged period of celibacy, Brown decided to visit a prostitute. He paints a surprisingly endearing portrait of the process: Unable to find a streetwalker, he turns to the back pages of a local weekly; he’s worried about being arrested by police, or getting mugged, and unsure of the proper etiquette — does one pay the hooker before or after the act, for instance. “It takes guts to walk into a place like this,” says the young woman, “Carla.” (All names have been changed, and faces are never shown). After leaving the brothel, Brown writes that he felt “exhilarated and transformed” and that “a burden that I had been carrying since adolescence had disappeared.”

It has never come back.

“I just kind of felt like I’d been freed or something,” Brown says, during an interview at a coffee shop in his Toronto neighbourhood. “All these people walking around with their concerns about romantic love, and how do I find love, and how is my relationship going, and all that kind of stuff. And suddenly, I felt like I wasn’t involved in that world or that way of thinking anymore.”

It’s a world that exists just under the surface of our own, a world of (sometimes misleading) classified ads, online forums where johns post reviews, and changing identities; sometimes the woman Brown thought he was meeting was not the woman who opened the door. Paying For It documents visits with all 23 of the prostitutes Brown frequented over the course of five years; some he slept with once, some he saw several times. By the end of his odyssey, he’d learned that the old stereotypes — the hooker with the heart of gold, like Nancy in Oliver Twist, or the villainess, like Cathy Ames in East of Eden — are just that: stereotypes.

It’s not just prostitutes who are stereotyped, but johns as well. Brown says one of the motivations to write this book was to explain things from a john’s point of view, making Paying For It sort of a 21st-century version of the anonymous Victorian tell-all My Secret Life. That said, Brown calls himself “a typical john.”

“I do think I’m typical in that probably most johns are introverted, not the outgoing type, and probably don’t feel confident in being able to get women to go to bed with them without paying for it,” he says. But “in at least one significant way, I’m not typical, in that I’m very open and out about it. Probably most johns would be ashamed, and wouldn’t be telling their friends.”

Which Brown does, almost immediately after sleeping with a hooker for the first time. One of the most interesting moments in the book occurs when he recounts his visit to friends and fellow cartoonists Seth and Joe Matt, who is blunt in his assessment: “You cheated.” This idea that sex is something one works for — almost a reward — is one Brown rejects.

“One of the things a man is supposed to do is he’s supposed to be able to get sex easily,” he says. “The more easy you can do it — convince women to go to bed with you — the more manly you’re seen as being. So if you don’t use your personality or your wit or your whatever to get women — if you’re just paying for it — you’re seen as cheating, somehow.” Brown didn’t care about “cheating” anymore. He’d had girlfriends in the past, and knew he could get another girlfriend if he wanted. It’s that he didn’t want to. “I just found myself not wanting that type of relationship anymore,” he explains. “It wasn’t a matter of not wanting to make the effort. It was I didn’t like being a boyfriend. I didn’t like how I felt when I was a boyfriend. So that left me with fewer options. If I wanted to have sex, it was going to have to be a different way.”

And while he admits there “definitely is a difference between what you might call girlfriend sex and prostitute sex, to me it was close enough to what I wanted. Yes, the most passionate sex I’ve had was with girlfriends as opposed to prostitutes. But, I don’t know, the best sex with prostitutes is still pretty close to the best sex I’ve had.”

Paying For It ends with a twist, one which I’ll now spoil: Brown falls in love with a prostitute. Although “Denise” no longer works as a call girl, Brown still sees her every two weeks; they’ve been together for eight years. He laughs when asked what to call her. He isn’t sure. Call girl? Escort? Girlfriend? Special friend? It’s a peculiar relationship, where money still changes hands, but each has feelings for the other.

“I don’t quite understand why she’s decided she prefers being in this relationship with me to being in a more conventional, romantic relationship when she could be in one,” he admits. “We kind of talk about it, and she says she likes our relationship. Whatever. I don’t want to try and talk her out of it — I like being in this relationship.”

So does that mean he’s changed his stance on romantic love?

“In our culture, we’re always having this discussion about what romantic love is. So I guess I leave it open for that reason. I don’t think anyone’s really sure what we mean by romantic love or love in general. We know it when we feel it.”

The back pages of Paying For It are filled with notes and appendices on a variety of topics, from human trafficking to the taxation of prostitution to sexual rights to violence against women — subjects he felt necessary to address. Brown supports the decriminalization of the trade, something that may happen thanks to last September’s ruling by Justice Susan Himel; the Ontario Superior Court of Justice struck down several laws relating to prostitution, such as operating a bawdy house, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and living on “the avails of the trade.” The laws were to stay in place until April 29, awaiting the outcome of an appeal from the federal government. Surprisingly, Brown isn’t in favour of legalization, as that would likely mean regulation, and government involvement, and Brown is an ardent libertarian — in fact, he’s currently running for a second time against NDP incumbent Olivia Chow in the riding of Trinity-Spadina, which he lost in 2008.

Brown, who finished drawing Paying For It last July, hasn’t had any second-thoughts about publishing such a personal book. All his friends and family already know about this part of his life — many of them appear in the book — except for one person: his stepmother.

“I still haven’t really told her,” he says. When they were talking on the phone a few months ago, he described it to her as “another autobiographical book, but this one’s about my sex life.” She probably wouldn’t be interested in reading it, he said. “Then I was talking to her last month, or relatively recently. She said ‘What’s that new book about again?’ So I just repeated the same thing:

“‘It’s about my sex life.’”

• Paying For It by Chester Brown is published by Drawn & Quarterly ($24.95). He launches the book Sunday at 7 p.m. at Goodhandy’s (120 Church St., Toronto) and will appear at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 6-8.
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Chester Brown

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Paying For It




The Millions previews PAYING FOR IT

Updated March 4, 2011


Paying for It by Chester Brown: Throughout his twenty-year-long career, Chester Brown has developed a reputation as a wan and fearless confessor, presenting his lapses and failures from a dispassionate remove. Paying For It—subtitled “A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John”—may prove to be his most quietly self-lacerating. In exploring his penchant for prostitutes, Paying For It will likely feature little glamour, little boasting, and an understated honesty. Drawn and Quarterly predicts that the book “will be the most talked about graphic novel of 2011,” yet Brown doesn’t seem to relish controversy. When asked in 2004 why he might write so openly about his sex life, he responded, “Because it’s interesting.” (Jacob)
 
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Chester Brown

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Paying For It




  See Magazine talks upcoming comics

Updated February 18, 2011


The long-overdue death of the Comics Code Authority is quite a note to kick off a new year in comics.

Comics publishers established the CAA, similar to the former Hayes or Motion Pictures Production Code, after Congressional hearings on comic’s supposedly harmful effects. Now that Archie Comics has abandoned the code, it’s been rendered defunct.

What a marvelous signifier that the comics medium isn’t — and never was — mere pabulum for supposedly overly impressionable cherubs. Too bad men in tights are still looming; Google “most anticipated comics 2011,” and you get no shortage of articles touting the “Most Anticipated Superhero Movies of 2011.”

But enough bitching, this particular article is all sunshine. And the list it presents ignores superheroes altogether. Rather, the next several hundred words detail this nobody writer’s completely subjective picks for 2011’s most notable comics releases. If any books will make the diversity and potential of the medium shine this year, it’ll be these.

Scenes from an Impending Marriage (February)

Anything by the gifted Adrian Tomine should be trumpeted: his haunting 2007 Shortcomings was chosen as a New York Times Notable Book for that year. Perhaps no one, however, expected this lighthearted, loosely drawn collection of comic episodes concerning the artist’s own wedding.

In fact, Tomine’s fiancée suggests within the book that the project be a memento for guests. “I originally assumed that no one else would see the comic,” the cartoonist told this writer via email. Lucky us.



Mid-Life (March)

Montrealer Joe Ollmann’s 2007 This Will All End in Tears won best book at the Doug Wright Awards, the top honours for Canadian comics. Now comes his first book with perhaps the world’s premiere literary comics publisher, Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly.

Mid-Life concerns the titular crisis of 40-year-old John, who becomes a father again with his much-younger second wife. Viewable at D&Q’s website, Ollmann’s arch drawing style conveys the sense of pins-and-needles stress that can accompany aging — both naturally, and prematurely.



Reunion (April)

The third book from the Quebec City artist, Pascal Girard, is behind the spare, emotionally direct Nicolas, which also comes directly on the heels of his recent Bigfoot. The semi-autobiographical Reunion recounts an invitation for Girard to attend his ten-year high-school reunion — and be the date of an old crush.

Two problems: Girard already has a girlfriend. And he needs to drop some weight.

“He’s at his peak, style-wise,” says Frederic Gauthier, co-owner of Montreal-based La Pasteque, Girard’s francophone publisher. “And he’s gonna be a star very soon.”

Here’s your chance to like him before he’s too popular.

Paying For It (May)

It’s been awhile, but acclaimed Canadian artist Chester Brown is back with his first original graphic novel since 2003’s Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography.

Flipping up the lid of Brown’s sex life, Paying For It shares his misadventures as a former john. It’s also billed as an argument for the sex trade itself. And in the wake of this past fall’s landmark Ontario court decision striking down prostitution laws, its timeliness couldn’t be better.

Hark! A Vagrant (Fall, TBA)

Beaton’s comics have appeared in Harpers and The New Yorker, but she’s almost certainly best known for her comics website — the recipient of over a million monthly hits — that lampoons famous literary and (Canadian) historic figures.

D&Q has acquired the rights to her next collection. Thou be on lookout.

Carl Barks’ Donald Duck (Fall TBA)

The blog Robot 6 at Comicbookresources.com calls it “what is sure to be one of the most acclaimed comics events of 2011.”

As the blog explains, “the Barks library has been one of the great missing links in a time that many have dubbed the ‘golden age of reprints.’…Barks has long been regarded as one of the great cartoonists of the 20th century.”

Some have demurred, mind: in a 2008 blog entry at Sans Everything, in anticipation of the first D&Q reprint of Barks contemporary John Stanley’s Melvin Monster, comics historian/journalist Jeet Heer concluded “that Stanley was a much greater writer than Barks.” The debate took off from there in the comments.

Now any interested readers will have a better chance to decide for themselves.

Xerxes (Release date TBA)

One of comics’ biggest names returns in 2011: Frank Miller’s Xerxes, a prequel to the adapted-to-film-by-Zack Snyder 300, looks back to the rise of ancient Persian emperor Xerxes.

Never mind the criticism of 300, with no less than Hugo Award-winning comics writer/ demigod Alan Moore (Watchmen) attacking its historical accuracy. And forget that fans can’t decide whether it’s Miller or Moore who’s crazier (as per a Comicvine.com forum poll).

This is a comics event that can’t be ignored.

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas: Old Growth (TBA)

From the artist behind 2009’s comics and indigenous art-bending Red: A Haida Manga, this is a new collection of thirty years’ of pre-Haida manga political cartoons. Published through Vancouver’s Grunt Gallery, the volume should interest anyone with admiration for Yahgulanaas’s inimitable output (also presently showing at Edmonton’s Douglas Udell Gallery).

“The appetite for my haida manga and comics has proven quite broad,” Yahgulanaas says.

And there’s no question he’s presently in great demand: he’s speaking at Bard College in New York state in April, with Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Art Spiegelman (Maus).
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Pascal Girard
Joe Ollmann

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Milk Teeth
Reunion
Paying For It




The Globe and Mail highlights CHESTER BROWN in its timeline history of Louis Riel

Updated November 30, 2010


TIMELINE
Louis Riel's latter-day legacy in politics and pop culture

The Métis leader's evolving place in history is contested ground over the past 20 years. Below are a few events in Louis Riel's historical evolution.

Nov. 16, 2010: New Democrats Pat Martin and Thomas Mulcair call on the government to support their private-member’s bill, An Act Respecting Louis Riel. Bill C-248 would reverse Riel’s treason conviction, as well as recognize him as the founder of Manitoba and a hero to the Métis people. Several similar bills have been tabled since 1992, but without success.

Feb. 19, 2010: The Prime Minister’s Office joins the opposition in condemning a Conservative member of Parliament who called Riel a “villian” in a brochure. In the pamphlet, Peter Goldring (Edmonton East) also maintains that Riel was responsible for the deaths that occurred during the Northwest and Red River rebellions in the mid- to late 1800s.

Feb. 18, 2008: Manitobans celebrate the first Louis Riel Day, which is held on the third Monday of every February.

2004: Former prime minister Paul Martin vows that his government will rethink Mr. Riel’s role in Canadian history

Oct. 23, 2003: Chester Brown’s graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic Biography hits the stands as a single volume. (The first instalment appeared in 1999). Its well-researched content and artwork by Seth was appreciated by critics and comic connoisseurs alike.

Oct., 23, 2002: A web poll after a televised CBC mock trial finds Riel not guilty of high treason. Some Métis leaders slammed the CBC, calling the program misleading. Some also complained that Métis people were not included in its production, a claim that CBC denied. Out of 9,657 votes cast, a whopping 87 per cent were for a not-guilty verdict.

March-May, 1998: Two Liberal MPs launch a private-member’s bill to overturn Riel’s conviction. While it gains the support of all federal parties and the blessing of the Riel family, Métis leaders said it did nothing to advance Riel’s causes.

March 11, 1992: A motion honouring Riel as founder of Manitoba was passed unanimously. However, the motion does not include a posthumous pardon.

April 30, 1985: The Globe and Mail looks into the debate about Riel on the 100th anniversary of the Northwest Rebellion. Some, such as Donald Maclean, a researcher with the Gabriel Dumont Institute in Regina, say former prime minister John A. MacDonald sent an agent provocateur to cause trouble in a quest to raise more money for the Canadian Pacific Railway. Thomas Flanagan, a political scientist at the University of Saskatchewan, said giving Riel a posthumous pardon would be “quite wrong.”
 
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Chester Brown

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  Frank Santoro studies CHESTER BROWN's grid layouts in YUMMY FUR

Updated October 19, 2010


Class with Frank part 2
DOIN’ THE CHESTER

by Frank Santoro

Howzitgoin’ CC faithful!? Good? Good. This week we are studying the evolution of Chester Brown’s grid layouts in Yummy Fur issues 19, 20, and 21. Seriously. What? You don’t have these comic books in your collection? What? How old are you? It’s okay. I know it’s hard to collect comics. But you gotta try. For me. You can have a better sense of the maker’s intent if you dig up the original issues. Track these comics down. They are essential reading. Yummy Fur #19 contains “Helder” and issue #20 contains “Showing Helder” both of which are collected in The Little Man from Drawn and Quarterly. We will also be looking at Yummy Fur #21 which contains the first chapter of The Playboy (originally called Disgust). FYI comparing Chet’s original comics with the eventual collection is a sport in and of itself. Things change and rearrange.

The set-up: Yummy Fur 19 came out in the fall of ’89. It was a big deal at the time because Chester had stopped doing his Ed The Happy Clown feature and switched it up to produce something more personal. Issue 19′s “Helder” is a ridiculously rich story that I can’t even begin to describe here. There was also a short Gospel of Matthew story in the back. Plus a great letters page. Man, did I love Chester’s letters pages. Anyways, Yummy Fur 20′s “Showing Helder” was the making of the Helder comic essentially; the drawing of it. And finally YF 21 would be Chester’s first longform auto-bio strip, The Playboy. To me, this is a rapid and remarkable development not only in content but in structure. Why? Because in three issues Chet abandons the fixed 6 panel grid that he has maintained for the entire five year run of the book – 18 issues – and replaces it with a more organic collaged sequencing using panels of a more varied shape. And where it hinges is on issue 20, “Showing Helder”, where he uses no panel borders at all – but still maintains the grid’s left to right zig zag reading.

Yummy Fur #20 - Showing Helder
The invention, I believe, is that Chester found a way to balance the rigidity of the grid with the informal way he composed and arranged the panels which was direct and collage like. Chester was sequencing images one at a time on individual sheets of paper and ordering them on the grid – so it was very immediate, like writing. Chester wasn’t setting out to draw a complex mural-like pages – he seemed more interested to me in timing. The pages become more like careful diaries. He abandoned the grid’s panel borders and then eventually escaped the “tyranny” of filling the page with panels. If the page only needed two small panels to convey what needed to be conveyed then why not do that? Fill the rest of the space with black. Make a powerful composition out of what is not there. It worked very well. Chester’s thinking process was right there for us all to behold. And you can see it change so clearly over these three issues. He shows us exactly how he does it and how he adapts his process to the new “personal” work.

I think what’s interesting to consider is what Chester may have learned during those grid years and how he applied the skill of balancing the grid to his more organic approach .

Ed The Happy Clown was a heroic, action-adventure story and it read like a Kirby monster comic, like a 70s Kirby grid. Quick, like a storyboard almost, but depicting moments a movie would not – it’s all timing – the way all the pieces, moments fit together. The grid accommodates the heroic and the banal moments all the same. It’s like a metronome. Then Chester switches to autobio and he now has the spacing to make the everyday seem heroic – look at the distortion in The Playboy! – it’s KIRBY – yet Chester manages to be so spare and clear in tone like Miles Davis wiping away all that re-bop noise chatter and just creating tones and simple phrasings – Chester’s work reduces so beautifully – The Little Man collection is smaller than the original comics but it looks fine – imagine reducing a current Marvel comic to book size – so while mainstream work has gotten more clogged because of the format, Chester’s 5 inch by 5 inch squares are perfectly phrased notes, simple melodies strung together on a metronome that sound just right at any volume.

And then, he makes the phrasings even more clear as The Playboy storyline goes on. Chester is is still “on the grid” when he is creating his organic grid but he is centering things in the middle of the page like word balloons – something he could not do when he maintained the rigid fixed grid. So for example the below page’s word balloons become a “center focus” in a way they could not in a fixed grid. And this text is relevant to the story so it is a focus; a center. As the storyline continues through the next few issues and Chester begins creating very spare pages, one can almost feel him composing new arrangements to old songs. Meaning he’s still on the grid but he is using the invisible architectural power of the fixed grid to reinforce his own “intuitive” phrasings. Sort of like playing spare and sometimes “off” notes along a familiar melody.
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Chester Brown

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Canadian Art studies the art of comics through the D+Q catalogue

Updated September 7, 2010


The Art of Compression: Comic Conversations

by Kenton Smith
in Canadian Art, September 2nd

Towards the end of Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s mammoth comics autobiography A Drifting Life, his artist hero experiences an epiphany: “There are still expressive methods left for gekiga [dramatic pictures] to explore.”

Such “dramatic pictures” go by various names—comics, graphic novels, graphic narratives—but the point remains. Like all media, comics enjoy a perpetual state of self-discovery and reconsideration: even as scholarship and critical theory continues to amass, contemporary artists continue to fracture established conventions. Bruce Grenville, co-curator of the Vancouver Art Gallery’s 2008 "KRAZY!" exhibition, says that comics is a medium that is by no means exhausted, and indeed “does not seem to lend itself to stability.”

Indeed, comics have perhaps never been as diverse, vibrant and exciting as now—for they are no longer possible to pigeonhole. Comics publisher Chris Oliveros, founder of the Montreal-based publisher Drawn & Quarterly, says “the work today is so diverse—everyone has a unique vision.” Insofar as comics can be considered a literary medium, there seems to be no category they’ve neglected, whether memoir (A Drifting Life), journalism (Joe Sacco’s Palestine) or fictional biography (Seth’s George Sprott). Chester Brown wanted to do Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography because, well, who else was doing history as comics? And besides, he explains, “comics’ visual dimension makes a story more engaging, and keeps history from being dull.”

But are comics simply a matter of providing pictures for the reader intimidated by text? According to Grenville, “the language of comics is neither that of prose or the visual. There are aspects of both, but one doesn’t read comics in the same way as either. Comics are a unique form of visual communication.” As Seth points out, one absorbs visual information completely differently from text; hence, says Jillian Tamaki, artist of the Governor General’s Award–nominated Skim, “people still need to learn how to ‘read’ comics.”

How unique are comics? Opinions vary among friends and fellows. “It’s a given,” says Seth, “that a medium always does something that others don’t.” On the other hand, argues Brown, “I think it’s more that comics are simply able to do certain things well.”

A definitive aspect of comics, according to Seth, it’s that it’s a narrative art form. This consequently determines its characteristics in numerous ways. For one thing, it means the image cannot be divorced from its narrative context—every panel has to be well composed, but can’t necessarily be isolated. “If the image is gorgeous but doesn’t communicate the story, it’s not good comic art,” declares Tamaki.

Furthermore, Seth continues, excessive visual detail distracts in a narrative context; the best comic art reduces the images on the page to a minimalist essence (although there remains an aesthetic beauty to the overall page design). It’s the reductive choices an artist makes, he says, that define the artist’s style.

At a deeper level, the very form of comics is suited to particular narrative techniques. Seth favours presentation of disparate elements, letting viewers make connections as they will. His recent George Sprott is a perfect example: the titular character’s life is related in episodic, fractured fashion through the memories of various characters. Carefully planted within the juxtaposed words and pictures are recurring motifs—such as a painting of an Inuit girl—that initially seem inconsequential but acquire later significance. As celebrated Watchmen writer Alan Moore has repeatedly pointed out (as in a 1988 interview from Strange Things Are Happening) the reader can flip between pages to unpack at his or her own pace the dense information contained in both image and text. Comics, says Seth, are about compression.

This characteristic makes comics a highly individual reading experience. “They really can’t be shared,” Seth declares. “You could say that about a novel, but even novels lend themselves to readings before an audience.” For the same reason, Tamaki “feels funny” about situating comics in a gallery.

If comics are intimate for the reader, Seth and Brown do agree upon this: comics are also extremely conducive to personal expression. “Comic artists spend a lot of time working alone,” Seth confides. “And isolation is conducive to introspection and interior reverie. For me, comics and self-expression go hand in glove.” How interesting, he continues, when one considers that comic characters have in fact been mostly extroverted throughout history—most prominently in the superhero genre.

That one story comes from a single artist means one can tell stories of a more personal nature, declares Brown: “For artists who want to tell such stories, comics are perfect.” As per Seth, D&Q has the most clear-cut catalogue of the former approach. His own work in Palookaville exemplifies this, as does that of Brown (I Never Liked You), Lynda Barry (What It Is) and Adrian Tomine (Shortcomings).

Yet, according to Seth, the younger generation of artists hasn’t always embraced these aims; what’s coming back is more visually oriented work. The D&Q catalogue is becoming increasingly characterized by such work as well: examples include titles from the Petit Livres imprint, such as Montreal-based artist Matthew Forsythe’s Ojingogo, nominated twice for an Eisner Award and winner of a 2009 Doug Wright Award for Best Experimental Comic. An almost completely wordless picture narrative, Ojingogo also dispenses with other established conventions, such as panels. Likewise, “The Tapemines,” included in Tamaki’s first book Gilded Lilies, is an 80-page textless comic that often resembles a picture scroll.

“Comics are really just sequential art,” says Tamaki. “They don’t even have to be panels on a page.”

So words aren’t necessarily so important. For that matter, are comics even really all about the narrative? Take the “Gustun” comic included in London, Ontario-born artist Marc Bell’s Hot Potatoe. Bell sees it as falling somewhere between comics and stand-alone drawing—a “quasi” or “open” narrative that nonetheless more resembles a diagram. For that matter, he says even his “ahtwerks” sometimes contain extremely loose narrative threads (albeit highly esoteric and perhaps impenetrable ones). Such play on form is reminiscent of the cubists’ visual “games,” in which the line between two- and three-dimensional was straddled as much as possible.

But what is Bell’s angle, exactly? He says his M.O. is to deconstruct and make novel use of “comics language” for his drawings, collages and mixed media works. Whether it’s the drawing style, the inclusion of text or use of grid forms, the influence of comics is fundamental and pervasive. “I see comics and drawing as all the same thing, anyway,” Bell says. Yet he insists he’s no Warhol or Lichtenstein: “I’m a cartoonist creating art, not the other way around.”

What all this means, according to Oliveros, is this: “The whole medium is growing. There’s more experimentation now—many artists don’t seem to feel as constrained.” As a trained illustrator and designer, Tamaki remains unconditioned to thinking that comics necessitate a certain style; for that matter, she cites non-comic influences like impressionism and expressionism in addition to Japanese manga. After all, Tamaki argues, comics aren’t a style, they’re a medium—and for that matter, a medium in transition. “I’m still figuring out my own approach to comics,” she concludes.

Perhaps the last word belongs to Seth: “There’s a lot of changes that are taking place in the comics medium that no one could have anticipated. And this will probably continue to be the case.”
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly
Seth

          



  The National Post declares LOUIS RIEL one of the best books of the decade!

Updated January 5, 2010


The National Post's Best Books of the Decade

by Mark Medley

A decade ago, Harry Potter was still at Hogwarts, Stephen King was still recovering after being struck by a van and Dan Brown was several years away from becoming the world's most famous author. Bonnie Burnard had just won the Giller Prize for her novel A Good House; her next book, Suddenly, wouldn't come out until later in the year. Matt Cohen won the Governor General's Award for Elizabeth and After, just a few weeks before his death. It would be a few years before Scott Griffin established the Griffin Poetry Prize. To kindle was to set something on fire, a nook was a cranny and a kobo was, er, we're not really sure.

Millions of books would be published around the world in the next decade, so assembling a list of the 10 or 20 best books of the decade is a fool's errand. But it has been fun trying.

In late November, we asked a broad selection of Canadian writers, critics, editors, agents, bloggers and others who work in the publishing industry to send us a list of their favourite Canadian books of the past decade and their favourite books of the decade, regardless of country of origin, along with why they selected those titles. We also asked them to tell us what they feel was the most important publishing story of the past 10 years. We received close to 50 replies, resulting in a short list of almost 200 books. The results appear below.

A word about methodology: For a first-place vote, a book received five points, for a second-place vote, four points, and so on, down to one point for a fifth-place selection. There are problems with this approach, of course: A book that receives three first-place votes (15 points) would not do as well as a book receiving four second-place nominations.

Our best books of the decade run the gamut from short-story collections to volumes of poetry, from memoirs to graphic novels. The most important franchise of the decade, arguably of all-time, Harry Potter, received little attention, while Dan Brown received nary a vote. Instead, votes were cast for the story of a teenage boy lost at sea with a zebra, an orangutan, a hyena and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker; a memoir about a young man who loses both his parents within the span of a month; an epic novel chronicling 20th-century America through the medium of comic books; a remarkable poetry collection that makes a playground of the English language; and the tale of two Cree snipers from one of the most new exciting voices in recent Canadian fiction.

Here, then, are the National Post¹s best books of the decade, along with selected comments from our respondents.

The Top 10 Canadian

1. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel (Knopf Canada, 2001)

Yes, Life of Pi is a commercial and mainstream choice, and some may argue that Martel's allegorical tale involving a boy stranded at sea with a talking tiger isn't deep enough. But after it won the 2002 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, it was one of those books that got everybody reading good fiction again, whether it was your grandmother who rarely reads anything other than the newspaper or your sister who usually sticks to Harlequin romances. You could go to a party and at least 80% of the people would have an opinion about whether, as Pi says, the story with animals was the better story. It also created a nice dialogue about religion and culture that somehow felt new. Also, how could you not love a line like this: "There was only rain, marauding waves of black ocean and the flotsam of tragedy." Melodrama, but of the most intentional kind, which is just delicious. Vanessa Farquharson, National Post

2. Three Day Road, by Joseph Boyden (Penguin Canada, 2005)

It's his best and bravest book, and he's the most invigorating writer to emerge over the past few years. Ian Weir, author of Daniel O'Thunder

3. The Man Game, by Lee Henderson (Penguin Canada, 2008)

Lee Henderson fulfilled the promise of his short-story collection, The Broken Record Technique, with this genre-bending novel set in turn-of-the-century Vancouver. The story of two lumberjacks and a former vaudeville performer who invent a sport that mixes boxing, ballet and breakdancing -- yes, it's that bizarre a book -- raised the bar for historical fiction to a level other writers will be hard-pressed to reach. Mark Medley, National Post

4. (tie) De Niro's Game, by Rawi Hage (House of Anansi Press, 2006)

Bursting onto the literary scene in a furious volley of incantatory prose and existential rage, Hage's first novel, about two petty criminals caught in the crossfire of the Lebanese Civil War, is a slap in the face and a boot to the nuts of all our accepted CanLit pieties. Reminiscent of the fiction of Céline and the cinema of Scorsese, De Niro's Game is the most exciting, most bracing, most honest literary novel published in Canada in the last decade. Steven Beattie, Quill & Quire/That Shakespearean Rag

No book in Canada has the same range: high and low emotions expressed; thrilling style; sacred and profane, great plotting -- De Niro's Game has it all. Makes most Canadian novels read like they were written by well-behaved but shallow and emotionally stunted beings who have never travelled beyond their backyard. Andrew Steinmetz, author of Eva's Threepenny Theatre

4. (tie) Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Mariage, by Alice Munro (McClelland & Stewart, 2001)

6. Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly, 2003)

Not only is Louis Riel a uniquely Canadian story, it was published by Drawn & Quarterly, surely the most interesting Canadian publisher of the decade, and it epitomizes its success at unearthing and supporting creative talent. Dan Wagstaff, Raincoast Books

7. Lullabies for Little Criminals, by Heather O'Neill (HarperCollins Canada, 2006)

Heather O'Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals is no question my No. 1 book of the decade. Baby is my favourite little renegade narrator, and O'Neill captures the imaginative voice of a young girl thrown into tumultuous adult situations with aplomb. It's a brave, quirky book with so much original style and humour, I can think of no other book to compare it to. Lullabies is a visceral ride through terrain that rarely gets written in the voice of a young girl, and O'Neill nails it with dead-on accuracy. It should replace The Catcher in the Rye in all Canadian schools. Zoe Whittall, author of Holding Still for as Long as Possible

8. Eunoia, by Christian Bök (Coach House Books, 2001)

The idea of this book divided even the people who never read it. That's real success. Eunoia marked the battle lines of this decade by making the faux weirdos of the 1990s look like the slumming rich kids they were, as well as opening up the gates for recent conceptual work that dares to state the obvious: Words are just words, and that's their power. Brian Joseph Davis, critic and author

9. The Middle Stories, by Sheila Heti (House of Anansi Press, 2001)

The surreal modern fairy tales of The Middle Stories are like origami -- small, precise and perfect. Nathan Sellyn, author of Indigenous Beasts

10. Natasha and Other Stories, by David Bezmozgis (HarperCollins Canada, 2004)







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Chester Brown

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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




Guy Delisle, Joe Sacco and Chester Brown in BC Local News

Updated March 25, 2009


GOOD READ: These pictures are worth much more than a thousand words


The Tri-City News


Text
Published: March 24, 2009 10:00 AM
Updated: March 24, 2009 10:41 AM

By Jason Colantonio

Graphic novels are all the rage among young readers but non-fiction, particularly history and current events, told through the graphic novel format is gaining ground.

Popular notions of comic books are that they are light and, well, comic. But the following graphic non-fiction titles show that they are suitable to a wide range of real world topics, including history, current events and biography.

Art Spiegelman, early on, explored the comic book’s non-fiction potential in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, an anthropomorphic recount of the Holocaust, and in his post-9/11 work In the Shadow of No Towers. Maus (originally published in 1973) and its sequel Maus II (1986) were later compiled into one book. The story is of Spiegelman’s father’s life as a Holocaust survivor as well as of his own troubled relationship with his father.

In the Shadow of No Towers (published in 2004) is a large format board book with pages arranged like those of a newspaper. Spiegelman, through the use of drawings taken from news images, his own memory of 9/11, Cold War propaganda and turn-of-the-20th century comic strips, effectively captures the surreal and frightening political and psychological landscape of life during and after the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. Both of Spiegelman’s books remain powerful examinations of their respective historical events.

Safe Area: Gorazde (set in Bosnia, 1992 to ’95) and Palestine, both by Joe Sacco, tell of the horrific conflicts in both regions. Sacco’s style is journalistic, the points-of-view on both side of each conflict are examined through the characters portrayed; Sacco himself appears in both books, observing and taking notes. Safe Area and Palestine also provide some historical background to the events shown and make good study material for those seeking to know more about them.

Originally from Quebec City, globetrotting animator Guy Delisle has published three award-winning graphic travelogues: Pyongyang: A Journey to North Korea; Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China; and Burma Chronicles. Each of these features the animator/narrator teaching animation and comic-strip skills to students in these countries and, along the way, dealing with culture shock with a good dose of humour and pathos. The best thing about these books is that, as Delisle learns about his host countries’ political cultures and social norms through everyday interactions, so do we.

The Complete Persepolis combines the two autobiographical volumes written and drawn by Marjane Satrapi, who was born and grew up in Iran during the 1979 revolution and its aftermath. In Persepolis, Satrapi struggles to define herself and her relationship with her family, friends and authority figures in home country as well as abroad when her parents send her to school in Austria at the age of 14. The second half of the story has Satrapi returning home at 18 to settle down but ultimately to resolve past issues before deciding to move again six years later, having found some inner balance between traditional and modern attitudes. Persepolis was later made into an animated film (produced by Satrapi) that won the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize.

Chester Brown’s moving four-part Canadian history epic Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography, like Delisle’s books, is drawn in a style reminiscent of Herge’s Tintin series, although he suggests in his introduction that his main influence was Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie. As the story of the rebellions at the Red River settlement in 1869 and in the Northwest Territories in 1885 unfolds, we are introduced to a large cast of supporting characters, including prime ministers John A. Macdonald and Alexander Mackenzie, George Stephen, the first president of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and Cree chiefs Big Bear and Poundmaker. We know how the story ends, nevertheless, the impact of the last scene is heartbreaking.

Ho Che Anderson’s King: A Comics Biography of Martin Luther King Jr. is stylized in the manner of a TV docudrama with an almost non-linear narrative (e.g. flashbacks). Told mostly from King’s point of view, King zeroes in on his early life, his entering the ministry and becoming a civil rights leader during the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-’56, his founding of the civil rights organization the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the 1963 March on Washington, the 1966 Chicago Freedom Movement and the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike during which King was assassinated. All the while, the story contrasts King the person with King the media image to create a fresh, new take on one of the major social movement leaders of the 20th century.

The Big Book of the 70s, part of Paradox Press’ Factoid Big Book series, is a compilation of vignettes about that decade of excess and identity crisis each drawn by a different artist in a different style. The narrator, Biff Lothario, appears in the first and last chapters as well as in a few in between. A variety of social, political and cultural events and trends are covered: Watergate, the oil crisis, TV programs such as The Brady Bunch and The Gong Show, disco music, the Bay City Rollers, Skylab and punk rock among them. The Big Book of the 70s manages to alternate between serious and humourous, all the while providing a fascinating panorama of a much-mythologized era.

Check these and other graphic non-fiction books out of your local library today.

A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Jason Colantonio works at Coquitlam Public Library.

 

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Joe Sacco
Guy Delisle

          



  CHESTER BROWN interviewed by du9

Updated September 2, 2008


CHESTER BROWN
Interview by Nicolas Verstappen in August 2008
Translated in August 2008
du9

Having unsuccessfully approached Marvel, DC Comics and the RAW anthology, Chester Brown decided to join the then-blooming self-publishing crowd in the early 80s. When the first issue of Yummy Fur is released in 1983, he has no idea he is about to start a body of work that will influence all his generation and the next. Along the course of the periodical, he will alternate between eclectic and ambitious projects (Ed The Happy Clown, Underwater, an adaptation of the Scripturs) and masterful autobiography pieces (The Playboy, I Never Liked You). Third head of the Triumvirate formed with Seth and Joe Matt, Chester Brown soon develops an austere esthetic aiming at stripping his works of all melodramatic elements. He finds in cartoonist Harold Gray’s style a model that he imitates in his biography of Louis Riel, who led the Métis people over two resistance movements against the Canadian government at the end of the XIXth century. Himself a resistant to the conventions of an often moribund form of expression, Chester Brown is an emblematic figure of alternative comics.
Nicolas Verstappen: Aged twelve, you started with strips about your family (reminding of Doug Wright’s Family). Do you think it was already a need of working on autobiography or more a way of finding materials as you had a hard time on making fictional plots at that time?

Chester Brown: I wouldn’t say that those Doug-Wright-like strips had actual plots. They were short gaga-strips. And there was certainly no desire then to express any sort of autobiographical truth. Dough Wright’s strips gave me a formulaic template that looked easy to imitate. At that age I also did gag-strips that were fictional.

NV: You worked on the “Gospels” to “figure things out” about your faith. Do you think it’s the same idea that led you to work on your autobiographies? Was it to figure things about your sexuality, your relationships to woman?

CB: No. Autobiography looked like the most fun genre at the point in time.

NV: Joe Matt was also an influence on your work as he participated to your interest in autobiography. Do you feel like your respective works are nourishing each other progression?

CB: Joe’s work certainly influenced me when I was doing autobiographical strips. I can’t say that’s the case these days (I don’t think there’s any Joe Matt influence in Louis Riel) but I continue to enjoy Joe’s stuff. He’s one of the best cartoonists out there.


NV: We can see in The Little Man collection that you take advises from Seth. I’ve read it was the same for Louis Riel. How does work your “professional” relationship?

CB: We don’t have a professional relationship; we’re friends. I get him to read most of my work prior to publication. He made several suggestions for Louis Riel. I followed some of those suggestions, and the result is a better book, I think.

NV: You dedicate your book The Playboy to Seth for “his example as an artist”. His achievement is an inspiration for you?

CB: Seth’s work was heavily influencing me at the time that I drew The Playboy, although it’s probably not obvious. These days my biggest influence is Harold Gray’s work. [1]


NV: Was working with Harold Gray’s style for Louis Riel a way to confront yourself to his techniques, to understand what you’re finding so fascinating in his work?

CB: No, I simply found his drawing-style to be so beautiful that I wanted to try to capture what I found appealing in his work in my own. To my eyes, I failed completely in that attempt.

NV: In The Comics Journal #162, [2] you said that autobiography helped to “keep out that melodramatic stuff”. Is using more graphical restraints in Louis Riel a way to keep the melodramatic stuff out?

CB: Yes, from limiting my use of close-ups to keeping every panel the same size.

NV: Did you thought since the beginning of Louis Riel that the last panel (before the epilogue) would be missing or did it came during the writing?

CB: It was an accident. I was laying out the panels for the last issue of Louis Riel in its serialized form and I realized that for the last page, because I hadn’t counted correctly, I had only five panels instead of six, but I also realized that the mistake worked, so I kept it.

NV: How come you started to draw each panel on a separate piece of paper? Is it to give you more freedom when you do a page composition, to try different ways those panels could fit before a “definitive” version? Is it to avoid an imbalance between your panels, to have each panel being complete and strong by itself?

CB: I didn’t like drawing on large sheets of board. Reaching up to draw the highest part of the page made my arm tired. A side-benefit of doing each panel separately is that it makes it easy to restructure a story.

NV: In the design of the hard cover edition, we can find inside the end-papers twelve silent panels. How did you come with that? Was it envisioned as some kind of a “trailer”?

CB: I did the same thing in The Little Man. It’s traditional to put some sort of imagery in the end-papers and giving a kind of condensed comic-strip preview of the book’s contents seemed natural.

NV: You didn’t copy all Harold Gray’s techniques (no long interior monologue for instance) but you kept those “oval, open eyes”. In his America’s Great Comic-Strip Artists, Richard Marshall says: “One critic [3] suggested that expressionless eyes obliged readers to provide their own emotions in different story situations. But in fact, Gray infused the circlets with subtle expression and made much of little. In a larger sense the famous eyes were symbols of the bleak space they observed and in which Gray placed his characters in a spirit of foredoom”. What would be your opinion about that (for my part I think it works perfectly with Louis Riel’s preoccupations or visions of and the perfidy in John A. MacDonald eyes)?

CB: Drawing blank eyes is another way of pulling back from melodramatic excess. Fully-drawn eyes can convey too much emotional information. But Marshall is right that even those blank circles can be used to express some degree of emotion.

NV: Was the use of “oval, open eyes” already a « Harold Gray » influence in Underwater?

CB: Very much so.

NV: There’s also some linguistic economy in Louis Riel. You summed up Thomas Scott’s insults by crosses. Was it linked to your habit not using any (like in The Playboy [4]) or linked to an economy of coarse language and violence (or both)? You seem to avoid everything that’s not strictly useful (which is the quality of the greatest artists to my opinion).

CB: I couldn’t get the right tone for Scott’s insults. When I wrote dumb insults, they didn’t have enough impact to justify the Métis’s anger at him, but when I tried to write more intelligent insults for him, they made him seem too clever. He would have become too appealing as a character. So in the end I opted for leaving the insults to the reader’s imagination.

NV: On the other hand, you’re using words as “tabernac” or words without “h” when the French-speaking people are talking in English. Is it a way to keep all this sounds natural, a compromise between great economy and realism?

CB: I wasn’t sure how far to go in trying to reproduce a French accent. I’m not fond of the difficulty that writing in a dialect can give to the reader, but on the other hand I wanted to give some indication that the French Métis weren’t completely at ease speaking English. This was particularly necessary in the trial-scene in Part Four where Riel is on trial for his life but is at a linguistic disadvantage in defending himself. The compromise I made was to drop the letter H when Francophones speak English.


NV: Another imposing comic-strip biography (with a lot of square panels and endnotes) came out during your Louis Riel work. Would you relate your book to From Hell or point out fundamental differences?

CB: From Hell is a wonderful book, a masterpiece. It is subtitled “A Melodrama” and it clearly sets out to get more of an emotional response from the reader than my book does. While I try to avoid melodrama in my own work, I don’t necessarily dislike it the work of others. Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie was very melodramatic.

NV: At first, I thought that there was a strong thematic difference in Louis Riel with your previous books. But you said in The Comics Journal #163: “I create out of two emotions mainly. Outrage [at abuses of power by people in authority] and guilt”. The outrage was there but I didn’t find the guilt as inThe Playboyor I never liked you. Later, I understood that the guilt was there, in Louis Riel participation to Thomas Scott’s death leading even to schizophrenia”. What led you to the Riel character at first: his fight against a government or his psychological instability (or both)?

CB: The first book that I read about him, I read because of his fight against the Canadian government, because I was an anarchist at the time. Mind you, Riel himself was not an anarchist. His personal political views were, for the most part, conservative.

NV: You ‘were’ an anarchist. So you changed from political views?

CB: I’m no longer an anarchist. I considered myself to be one for about five or six years, then I moved over to libertarianism in 2000.

NV: Does it have some influence on your artistic work?

CB: even if I was still an anarchist, it would have no bearing on my creative process. Anarchism is a political ideology, not an artistic one. Sure I place restraints on myself. Every artist does. But I think I allow myself more freedom than most cartoonists do.

NV: You allow yourself a lot of freedom in an unfinished project calledUnderwater. It is one of you’re most audacious work. Do you think it was too audacious and how did you get that idea of telling a kind of evolution of language from its beginning?

CB: I bit more than I could chew. And since I was telling a story from a child’s point-of-view, it seemed natural to make the gradual understanding of language a part of what was going on.

NV: How did you work on Underwater dialogs? Did you first write a lexicon of that imaginary language?

CB: It’s really just a code. Simple letter substitution.

NV: Another unfinished project is your Gospels adaptation. Will you come back to it? Can we expect a new face of Jesus in Luke and John?

CB: I’ll probably finish Matthew, but I won’t bother doing Luke or John. There are other subjects that interest me more now.

NV: In a lot of adaptations of the New Testament I’ve read, the parables were drawn. Why did you decide not to draw them and keep only the text?

CB: I was going to handle the parables differently in Matthew and Luke. In Luke, the parables are more concrete, more story-like, so I was going to depict them when I adapted Luke.

NV: Jesus’ face changed during your adaptation. He went “bald on the top” (with “long hair”). It’s also your physical description at that time. Was it meant to get a closer physiognomy?

CB: Drawing Jesus bald in my adaptation of Matthew was an easy way to distinguish him from my depiction of Jesus in Mark. If I remember correctly, I began to draw Jesus bald before I myself began balding.

NV: Another question about artistic freedom. You have re-drawn the beginning of Louis Riel for the graphic novel format and also re-arranged panels for The Playboy graphic novel. Do you have the feeling that prepublication gives you an area of relative freedom where you can try things and then fulfil them in a “definitive version”?

CB: Not really. I always try to get it right the first time. But if I’m not happy with the initial result, why not try and fix a work if it’s being reprinted.

NV: Speaking of “definitive version”, why will you change the black background from The Playboyinto white? Is it linked to “clarification” again? Is it to restore the black and white balance inside the panels that was altered by the black pages?

CB: I like austerity. The white background looks more austere to me.


NV: Was it meant since the beginning of The Playboy that the “angel/demon” incarnation of you would disappear progressively? Or was it through the making that you found out that this external narrator was unnecessary?

CB: The latter. I didn’t write a script for the story before beginning it, so my handling of the narrator developed and changed as I created the piece.

NV: I see in The Playboy a “crime story” subtext (with a “body” to hide, witnesses and Hitchcockian paranoia). Is it something you’re aware of or is it only my imagination? For me, the “mixing” of genres works perfectly there.

CB: Ha-ha. An amusing comparison that makes sense. But I didn’t intend that parallel.

NV: If we look at your books from the “writing” viewpoint, we can see that you started with improvisation (Ed), then you wrote some sequences mixed with improvisation (The Playboy, I Never Liked You), then adapted or summed up (The Gospels, My mom was a schizophrenic) then went back shortly to improvisation (Underwater) and finally jumped into History and biography (Louis Riel). We can see there that there’s a strong evolution in your narrative work. Do you have an idea of what will be the next step?

CB: The was very little improvisation in I Never Liked You. It was quite planned out, even if I didn’t write a full script. Anyway, what’s next for me/ right now I’m working on slightly revising Ed The Happy Clown. After that I intend to do another autobiographical graphic-novel. And, after that, another historical graphic-novel. This one set in Toronto.

[Interview conducted through mail in July 2004 for the sixth XeroXedleaflet.]

[1] Harold Gray (1894-1968) was an American newspaper artist and cartoonist. His best-known work is Little Orphan Annie.
[2] The Comics Journal #162, “Seth - Brown - Matt”, October 1993, p.52.
[3] I think the critic is Coulton Waugh. “Coulton Waugh argued that Gray’s trademark use of empty ovals for his characters’ eyes led the reader to supply the expressions for himself, and thus the meanings are "clearer and more forceful than if the eye details were completely drawn"” from The Encyclopedia of American Comics, Denis Wepman, Promised Land Productions, 1990.
[4] The first title of The Playboy should have been “Fuck” in reference of the word that Chester Brown’s friends were trying to force him to tell.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




D+Q at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, August 17-19

Updated August 3, 2007




With Special Guests: Joe Matt, Seth, Chester Brown, and Kevin Huizenga.


TCAF Kick-Off Events - Friday, August 17th:

@ Innis Town Hall
2 Sussex Avenue
Toronto, ON

(located within Innis College on the U of T's downtown campus, at the NW corner of St. George Street and Sussex Avenue, just south of Bloor. St. George subway).

Featuring the presentation of the 2007 Doug Wright Awards, AND Seth, Chester Brown, and Joe Matt reunited on stage as Joe returns to Toronto from Hollywood! Seth & Chester put the spotlight on Joe Matt in light of his latest graphic novel Spent

6:30 programming starts, signing with Joe Matt, Chester Brown, and Seth follows!

9:00 after party (details TBC)


Saturday, August 18th

festival hours 10AM - 7PM

Old Victoria College
93 Charles St. West

12:30 - 1:30 Seth (@ D+Q table)

1:30 - 2:30 Chester Brown (@ D+Q table)

3:00 - 4:00 Joe Matt, Chester Brown, & Seth signing in the Beguiling-sponsored signing room

2:30 - 4:30 Kevin Huizenga (@ D+Q table)

4:30 - 5:30 Joe Matt (@ D+Q table)


Sunday, August 19th

festival hours 10AM - 6PM

Old Victoria College
93 Charles St. West

11:30 - 12:30 Chester Brown (@ D+Q table)

1:00 - 2:00 Joe Matt, Chester Brown, & Seth signing in the Beguiling-sponsored signing room

12:30 - 2:30 Kevin Huizenga (@ D+Q table)

2:30 - 3:30 Joe Matt (@ D+Q table)

3:30 - 4:30 Seth (@ D+Q table)

 

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Joe Matt

           Featured product

Spent




  CHESTER BROWN interview in Subject Magazine

Updated August 3, 2007


Louis Riel
A Comic-Strip Biography
By Chester Brown
SUBJECT MAGAZINE

Louis Riel (1844-1885) is a great figure in Canadian history. He represented the Métis people, half-French, half-First Nations, in the Red River Rebellion, which resulted in the Red River settlement entering the Confederation of Canada as the province of Manitoba in 1870. He was exiled to the United States; a consequence of the execution of Thomas Scott, during the Rebellion. Riel returned to Canada to defend the Métis over the division of Rupert’s Land, sold to Canada by the Hudson Bay Company, which led to the North-West Rebellion of 1885. Riel was arrested, tried for treason, and executed. Although Riel’s action may be controversial, his role in the making of Canada is undeniable.

In his book, Louis Riel A Comic-Strip Biography, author Chester Brown, tells the story of Louis Riel as a graphic novel. Brown’s adaptation of Riel’s role in the Confederation of Canada relies on six black and white pictures on a page and very little text. The omitted details about Riel’s life as well as other historical facts and Brown’s point of view can be found in the Notes section at the back of the book. The Notes are helpful in understanding the accuracy and context of events, all short enough to gather lots of information normally found in entire books, carefully condensed by Brown himself and his small handwriting. Because of its comic-strip design, its strict use of language, and its detailed notes, Louis Riel A Comic-Strip Biography is a must read for anyone learning about Louis Riel, and Canadian history, for the first, or umpteenth time.



Interview conducted at North York Central Library, Toronto, 2006.

Subject Magazine (SM): In Louis Riel, not only do you teach people the story and history of Riel, but you also teach them how to read a comic (like on page 9 when you talk about the difference between French and English languages, and the difference between a speaking-balloon and a thought-balloon). Can you elaborate on that, in the way a comic, Louis Riel, tells a story, and who you were thinking about (your audience) when creating this book ?

Chester Brown (CB): I was assuming that the reader would be somewhat familiar with the context of comics. I think that everyone, certainly in our culture is familiar with the form, and also other cultures are too. I’ve seen comics from China, Japan, India, places like that. There are certainly people who don’t read them as children, but I was assuming that people would have a familiarity with the form.

SM: Your notes have lots of important information and add a lot to the story and the historical situation that it is portraying. How does an author decide what to include and what to exclude when writing such a story?

CB: Stories in general revolve around conflict so, you have to focus on scenes involving people and sometimes create conflict, invent something, knowing that there would be a conflict between this person and that person. I wanted to get certain political ideas across and needed to look for scenes that focused on those ideas.
When I was writing the script, I was writing the incidents that I felt would make for an interesting story. I wasn’t trying to think too much of if I had to manufacture a point of attention within the story. When I had my final script, it seemed to work well, without having to add anything. So, it seems to have worked well that way.

SM: Why was it important to tell the story of Louis Riel as a graphic novel?

CB: I think comics are a great medium. In a way, I think they are better for telling history. I read a lot of biographies, but six months after reading them, the details have already faded about that person’s life. If I wanted to quickly refresh myself it wouldn’t be as easy as picking up a comic book and reminding myself about the events that happened because pictures convey the story so quickly. Assuming I didn’t write this (Chester thumbs through a copy of Louis Riel), if I wanted to review the incidents of the story, I can gleam through them pretty quickly, after already having read the book. I think comics are a good way of telling history in that way for conveying information and then making it convenient for a reader after finishing the book.
Even comparing it to film, well, I guess with DVDs it’s easier to review historical information, although Biopics are a bit suspect. They change stuff. I changed stuff, but in Biopics they distort things even further than I did in my Riel book because they have so little time. An hour and a half is really nothing to convey someone’s life. So I think there should be more comics that deal with historical and biographical themes. I think it would be great.

SM: There are many ‘empty’ panels where the reader will have an interpretation of the graphic without included dialogue or narrative/narration. What was your purpose with these parts of the book and what do you hope the reader will interpret from these scenes?

CB: There are lots of comics that don’t use words at all where the picture alone tells the story. Usually, if you’re just using pictures, you have to tell a relatively simple story. I think it’s a great way of telling stories. When I read a comic, I find myself drawn to the scenes that have no words. I have a theory, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I think those sorts of scenes draw a reader into a story. So I try to include at least a few scenes like that in every book I do. But, because I want to tell stories that are somewhat complex I have to also include panels with words too. I think it would have been impossible to tell Louis Riel’s story with just pictures.

SM: Not only did you indicate the difference in languages (among Cree, English and French) but you also show dialect (like when Louis Riel speaks English).

CB: You mean, when Riel speaks English with a French accent?

SM: Yes. Why did you feel it necessary to include dialect in the comic? What were you trying to show by including it?

CB: I was debating about whether or not to do that but there’s one crucial scene at the end of the book.

SM: The court scene?

CB: Yes, the court scene. It had to be emphasized there that Riel was at a linguistic disadvantage. Having the dialect reinforces that I think. But I didn’t want to go to heavy with it. I basically restricted it to just dropping the h’s.

SM: Where and how did you research the type of clothing used at the time this story happened?

CB: I bought a few books related to that: a book of photographs of people that specifically focused on clothing people wore in the 19th century, and another general fashion book on the clothing through the ages, that obviously would have had pictures of people in the 19th Century too.
I remember particularly wondering about buttons because the convention these days is on the right-hand side, at least for men, but a lot of the photographs show buttons on the other side. I wasn’t sure if the negative of the photograph had been flopped in these pictures or if people didn’t worry on what side buttons were on in the past. I phoned up a friend of mine who is really interested in the past but unfortunately he didn’t know the answer. I just went with today’s convention with buttons on the right side but in all other ways I followed the examples in the photographs.

SM: The Thomas Scott character is quite creepy in your drawings and seems influenced by Surrealism. Are there Surrealist influences? Why make Scott incredibly scary?

CB: First thing, is I had to make him look distinctive so he would stand out. For all the major characters that’s something you worry about, is to make them distinctive. I was trying to base him somewhat on actual photographs. Obviously he is a suppose to be a bad person so I wasn’t worried too much to make him look heroic or nice. Rather the opposite. I guess that’s good if that was your reaction.

SM: Yeah, I was really scared.

CB: My fellow cartoonist Seth, when he was reading the particular issue in photocopy form before it was published, because it was originally serialized as a comic book, he didn’t like the character design for Scott. He found it too bizarre, too odd looking. He tried to convince me to make Scott look more normal. But I didn’t follow his advice.

SM: Seth is pretty consistent with the way he draws.

CB: Yeah, I think he thought it just didn’t fit in with the way I usually draw characters. That it was just too odd.

SM: Well, it worked. (I laugh). The two great political figures of the story, Louis Riel and Sir John A. MacDonald, are also both drawn in a distinct way: with a small head and a large body. I know you were influenced by Harold Gray’s work in Little Orphan Annie but what effect were you hoping to achieve with these illustrations of them?

CB: From the point of view of little heads and big bodies?

SM: From the point of view that they are distinct. Thomas Scott is just out there, he’s just a different character all together. For me personally, I guess, I felt that Louis Riel and Sir John A. were on the same level of power even though they both came from a different place.

CB: I guess, although it could be argued that with his big nose I made Sir John A. look sillier.

SM: He does have a big nose!

CB: Exactly!

SM: What do you hope people will take away from reading Louis Riel?

CB: I was an anarchist when I began the book so my initial aim was for people see the government as evil. My politics changed in the process of doing the book, although the final result of the book doesn’t reflect my political change. I still think governments are basically bad, so if people come away with that idea, I’m OK with that.

SM: You’re the writer-in-residence at the North York Public Library. What would be some of the advice you would give to people interested in attending your workshops? In writing and illustrating comic strips (in general)?

CB: Advice as far as breaking into the business?

SM: I know it’s a big question.

CB: The best way to learn is by doing. If you wanted to make a living at it, the way I broke in, which seemed to work well in my case, was by self-publishing in zine form. Eventually a publisher saw those zines, liked what I was doing, and offered to really publish me. That’s one way of doing it and a lot of cartoonists have taken the same path.

SM: Well, that’s kind of what you have to do nowadays.

CB: Sounds like that’s what’s you’re doing.

SM: I try. I just think I don’t fit with certain things and sometimes you can’t wait for things to fit.

CB: Yeah exactly. You gotta make your own opportunities.

SM: Last question. What is it that you hope to teach or assist people about language? Comics? Story-telling?

CB: When I do my comics you mean?

SM: Yeah or being here at the library too.

CB: I don’t know if it’s so much of a matter of really teaching people, I think people teach themselves. It’s more a matter of being in a position where you can encourage people. Of course I can point out little things, little tips or little specific mistakes in work, but the big thing is just encouraging people and giving them the confidence in their own abilities that they should have.

SM: That’s really great. Thanks Chester for the interview.

CB: Thank you.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




LOUIS RIEL as popular as ever!

Updated December 8, 2006


LOUIS RIEL made the bestseller chart in FICTION again**

Edmonton Journal
29 October 2006

Sunday Reader - Books & Authors
Bestsellers / The Charts, D11

EDMONTON TOP 10

This bestseller list has been compiled by Greenwoods' Bookshoppe, Laurie Greenwood's Volume II and Audreys Books, and shows hardcover and paperback titles. Bracketed figures indicate the book's position the previous week. Alberta authors are marked with an asterisk (*).

FICTION

1. (1) The Garneau Block -- Todd Babiak*
2. (3) Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? -- Anita Rau Badami
3. (-) The Memory Keepers Daughter -- Kim Edwards
4. (5) Knights of the Black and White -- Jack Whyte
5. (-) Consumption -- Kevin Patterson
6. (-) The Custodian of Paradise -- Wayne Johnston
7. (2) The Inheritance of Loss -- Kiran Desai
8. (8) For One More Day -- Mitch Albom
9. (-) Louis Riel -- Chester Brown
10. (-) The End -- Lemony Snicket


**despite the fact that LOUIS RIEL is a historical biography.
 

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Chester Brown

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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




  LOUIS RIEL in the Edmonton Journal

Updated October 20, 2006


THE EDMONTON JOURNAL
October 13, 2006

Gilbert A. Bouchard
What's On, G9

Success of Riel graphic novel good news for genre -- Brown

CHESTER BROWN'S EDMONTON READING AND BOOK SIGNING
Where: Greenwoods' Bookshoppe, 7925 104th St.
When: 7:30 p.m., Monday

- - -

The enduring popularity of his graphic novel Louis Riel gratifies cartoonist Chester Brown and bolsters his faith in the art form as a whole.

His groundbreaking, 272-page comic book has had three hardcover printings since its 2003 release and has won praise from critics and readers across the globe.

In quickly earning a berth as a must-read graphic novel and garnering nominations for several industry awards, it's also drawing scores of new readers to the format. The first Canadian-produced graphic novel to crack the bestseller lists, Louis Riel was named one of the top five non-fiction books of the year by Quill and Quire.

"I'm still surprised with how positive the feedback has been," Brown says. "It (Riel's life) is still a very controversial subject matter and many people still hold many things against him."

The Toronto-based artist will be in Edmonton on Monday for a reading and signing of the new soft-cover edition of Louis Riel, published by Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly Press.

"As close as I came to negative feedback about the book was when (Saskatchewan author) Maggie Siggins wrote a review that thought I didn't present Riel in a heroic-enough light, even though she still liked the book. Maybe in this trip out west, I'll get some (negative feedback) now that enough time has passed for the curmudgeons to come out of the woodwork."

Brown, 46, is also thrilled to see his book raise the profile of graphic novels in general, which was one of his stated goals for taking on the daunting five-year project.

"Others had written graphic novels with historical themes before me, but these other books had relied on narrative captions while I relied more on character dialogue, which makes better use of the medium.

"I'm trying to prove that this is a great medium to tell historical stories."

Brown says his book is unique, even among other literary-oriented graphic novels, in that it was "very dry and uncinematic" in its storytelling style, as opposed to the more dramatic superhero comic books.

Eschewing close-ups for detached long-distance compositions, the artist imitated his cartooning hero Harold Gray, who created and drew Little Orphan Annie, and kept the same panel size across the whole work. (Each page of the paperback edition features six panels that are all exactly 51/2 centimetres square.)

For his next major project, he's returning to his alternative graphic novel roots by penning an autobiographical book about his sex life.

"All the cartoonists I know ... are crazy, and so make for great biographical or autobiographical subjects. In fact, when you write about your own life, you normalize things, so, as strange as we come across in the books, we're stranger in real life. (Fellow Canadian cartoonist) Seth is much more of an oddball person than he even is in his books, as is Joe Matt (another Canadian-based cartoonist). The same is true about me."

Photo: Journal Stock / (Chester) Brown; Graphic/Diagram: Supplied / A panel from Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography

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Chester Brown

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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




LOUIS RIEL in the Calgary Herald

Updated October 20, 2006


Entertainment

Brown at forefront of graphic upsurge: Comic book Riel biography posts big sales

Nancy Tousley
Calgary Herald

14 October 2006

D1 / Front
SPOTLIGHT

Chester Brown will appear today at Wordfest's Picture This at 2 p.m. at the Memorial Park Library. Tickets: $12 at Ticketmaster.

Chester Brown launched his brilliant, genre-bending graphic novel, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, at WordFest in 2003, where the book that gathers up his serial bio of a complex, charismatic Canadian hero was eagerly awaited.

Now the great Canadian cartoonist, who is a low-key master of gentle understatement, is back at WordFest with the softcover edition of his magnum opus. Though he might be modest, his book has been hailed widely as one of the most important graphic novels of the past 10 years if not the most important graphic novel ever.

It catapulted Brown into the big leagues of contemporary cartooning. When the New York Times Sunday Magazine published a groundbreaking cover story on the graphic novel in 2004, the cartoonists photographed together for a full-page spread were Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco, AdrianTomine, Seth and Chester Brown, whose art was chosen for the magazine's cover.

At the front of the handsome new softcover edition of Louis Riel, five pages teem with raves from enthusiastic reviewers (including the Calgary Herald) for the original hardcover book. Accolades range from "extraordinary" to "Brown has invented a biographical form unique to his medium."

Readers have taken note and Brown has done his part to keep the graphic novel on track as the fastest growing genre in publishing today.

The Louis Riel hardcover has sold an astonishing 20,000 copies after an initial print run of 6,000.

The typical graphic novel is lucky to sell 1,000, says Selina Rajani, senior publicist at Raincoast Books, the distributor for Brown's Montreal-based publisher, Drawn and Quarterly. After three printings, the Riel hardcover is now out of print and available only in a signed, limited edition for $54.95. The softcover, released in June for $19.95, had a print run of 12,000. D&Q expects it to sell out within a month and is going back to press. So the softcover Riel has potential to reach an even broader audience.

"I hoped I wouldn't have to tour, but they talked me into it," Brown says mildly on the phone from a hotel in Winnipeg. It's the first stop on a seven-city tour that includes literary festivals in Calgary and Vancouver. His new book will reach people like himself, he says, those who wait for the cheaper editions to appear before they buy a book. And, surely, it will wind up in the hands of more young people who might never again have such a vivid or moving encounter with Canadian history.

If Brown was a reluctant touring author at the start, it is because he is at work on his next book. Things were going well and he wasn't happy about an interruption. But such is the life of a famous author. In Manitoba, he was meeting nice people and looking forward to Calgary. Invites to writers festivals is one of the doors Louis Riel's success has opened for the 46-year-old cartoonist, who was born in Montreal, lives in Toronto and describes himself as a "homebody" who likes "staying at home and working and going out and seeing my friends."

Another opened door was an invitation to be a writer-in-residence at Toronto Public Library, where Brown met with cartoonists, did one-on-one critiques of their work and gave workshops on the graphic novel at which one 12-year-old's talent knocked him out. He says, "I've never seen a 12-year-old who could draw like that."

Brown, who grew up in the Montreal suburb of Chateaugay, decided he might become a cartoonist at about 11 or 12, the age he was when he published his first strip in the local newspaper without anyone to nurture or encourage his obvious talent. The strip was influenced by Doug Wright's Family, a Canadian cartoon that appeared on Sundays in Canadian Magazine and the Star Weekly. Wright's strip dealt with the dynamics of everyday life in a nuclear suburban family that, like the Browns, had two boys.

"It was beautifully drawn," Brown says. "It really captured that suburban world, Canadian suburbia."

Two of Brown's earlier graphic novels, The Playboy (1992), the first graphic novel published by D&Q, and I Never Loved You (1994), are autobiographical stories set in Chateaugay. His next book, which as yet is untitled, returns to autobiography as its theme and covers the period in which Brown was working on Louis Riel. But creating the book, which took five years, is not the focus of this next book's story.

The first scene is set in 1996 when Brown broke up with his longtime girlfriend, CBC radio host and former MuchMusic veejay Sook-Yin Lee; the last is set in 2003, the year Louis Riel was published. "I wanted to deal more with the relationship," Brown says, "but she wasn't receptive to it." Like a gentleman, he is leaving it out (they are still good friends). The story is instead about the relationship's aftermath and has a large cast of characters who include his best friend, Canada's other mega cartoonist Seth. The book is set in Toronto, but Brown hasn't decided how detailed a depiction of the city it will be.

He is nearing the end of the first draft and hasn't started drawing yet. This book's style will be simpler and more cartoonish than Riel, he says.
The first draft of the script, all the dialogue of every scene, is nearing completion. The second draft will break the scenes down into panels. Where Louis Riel had six panels to a page, this book will have 12 small panels to a page. He hope it will take only about two years to draw the 200 plus pages he plans; Riel's 272 pages took him four.

"Maybe I'm being wildly optimistic," he says, with a little ironic laugh.

At Wordfest's Picture This, Brown and fellow cartoonists Svetlana Chmakova (Toronto) and Andrew Foley (Calgary) will show images and talk about their work and the creative process of the graphic novel. Afterwards two Calgary stores, Redd Skull and ComicKazi will hold a mini Comics Con, displaying a range of graphic novels and works by the artists, who will do a book signing from 3 to 4:30 p.m. It's a good place to be on Saturday.

ntousley@theherald.canwest.com

Colour Photo: Chester Brown's Louis Riel is considered a landmark book.;
Photo: Courtesy, Raincoast Books / Comic book artist Chester Brown.


 

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Chester Brown

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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




  LOUIS RIEL in Edmonton's Vue Weekly

Updated October 20, 2006


INSIDE BOOKS

HOPSCOTCH

Josef Braun / hopscotch@vueweekly.com

Brown draws an enigmatic Louis Riel

I did this workshop once with Candas Jane Dorsey. The idea was that everyone was working on something that fell under the genre of speculative fiction, yet Dorsey herself noted that any clear definition of this genre would be so inclusive as to almost negate its purpose.

“All fiction is speculative fiction,” Dorsey told us, “because it didn’t happen. Someone had to make it up.”

A similar logic could be applied to the genre of creative non-fiction: all non-fiction is creative, in that someone had to decide how to tell the story, which facts to select and in what order, and in what manner events are to be contextualized.

I’m not trying to be merely contrary, or even to devalue either genre as a perfectly good way to analyze process and style or to instruct readers on what perspectives might best be considered when approaching a particular text. But I do think that once we acknowledge a certain genre as being particularly malleable, we can shift our focus from trying to define it to trying to see just how far it can open up.

From Friday through Sunday, this year’s LitFest will gather a number of diverse authors to celebrate the genre of creative non-fiction. But on Monday, in an event completely outside of the LitFest umbrella, another author will be visiting Edmonton to promote the trade paperback publication of a work that might just be one of the most adventurous forays into creative non-fiction this country has seen.
For more than 20 years, Chester Brown’s been making comics frequently inspired by real events, such as his mother’s struggles with schizophrenia or Brown’s own addiction to girly magazines. But it was only three years ago that he found a readership of unprecedented breadth with the publishing of a work devoted to exploring one of the most contentious icons in Canadian history.

Louis Riel: A Comic-strip Biography (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95) is laid out in stark uniformity, a clean, evenly spaced, six panels-per-page set-up that induces a steady rhythm. Action is often presented against blank, wintry landscapes or total darkness. Its figures are distinguished by a bare minimum of personal characteristics, and what’s more, Brown gives them only tiny, doll-like outlines for eyes. As a way of dealing with history, it’s so unusual as to be more akin to cave drawing than conventional biography.

I spoke with Brown on Thanksgiving morning. He agreed that, while categorization has always been an issue with Louis Riel, examining the work as creative non-fiction most accurately reflects the peculiar liberties and constrictions of Brown’s method.

“Obviously, it’s highly creative,” Brown says. “I’ve had to make up dialogue, and in my drawings imagine would have happened in a particular moment. This pulls us into the realm of fiction. But on the other hand, I don’t think my concerns are those of conventional fiction, which often has more to do with getting into the emotional life of the characters. I wasn’t interested in that. I wanted to present the events in a way that would offer some rough approximation of what really happened.”

In the world of historical comics, Louis Riel probably plays more straight with the facts than, say, Alan Moore’s From Hell, which uses Jack the Ripper’s London as a springboard for conjecture into Victorian conspiracy. Then again, Brown doesn’t shy away from stoking conspiratorial suspicions himself: his John A MacDonald is drawn with a long, bulbous Pinocchio nose and shown to be baldly exploiting tensions between the Canadian government and the Métis to push a private agenda of railway expansion.

Brown’s Riel is compelling, dynamic but opaque. Riel’s sense of religious vocation is rendered completely from Riel’s point of view, replete with fire, flight and the voice of an unseen God instructing him. Riel is often depicted in a Christ-like manner, with crucifixes hovering overhead. Yet for all the subjectivity, there’s something distinctly sober in Brown’s approach. His Riel remains to the very last enigmatic, his actions speaking for themselves, leaving interpretations to the reader.

“I think Riel was deliberately setting himself up in a martyr role,” Brown says. “I don’t think he was intending to die when he did, but in every other way he was playing the role of a religious prophet.”

Brown’s attraction to the mystical elements in Riel’s story are probably linked to his hugely ambitious ongoing project of adapting the Christian Gospels into comic form. Now try and categorize that one.

Chester Brown will be at Greenwoods’’ Bookshoppe (7925 - 104 Street) on Mon, Oct 16 at 7:30 pm.
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Chester Brown

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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




Comics Reporter on CHESTER BROWN'S Louis Riel, paperback edition

Updated August 7, 2006


Louis Riel
posted April 14, 2006

Creator: Chester Brown
Publishing Information: Drawn and Quarterly, softcover, 296 pages, 2006, $17.95
Ordering Numbers: 1894937899 (ISBN)

Chester Brown's Louis Riel has certainly become one of the handful of must-have graphic novels released in the last ten years. More than any of his peers, Brown employs narrative and storytelling strategies that seem to come straight from some unknown place. A cartoonist that used to place panels on the page like most people hang pictures, Louis Riel settles into a six-panel grid that almost never lets go. In an era where comics' treatment of historical figure exaggerates the mythic and fantastic, Brown sometimes declines to portray dramatic moments in favor of inexplicable instances of dark wit.

Louis Riel invites return visits, with multiple interpretations possible on everything from how Brown portrays the government to a extended rumination on fate to the role of the otherworldly vision in self-identity and decision-making. On my reading of this affordable, beautiful and dense paperback the Harold Gray influences loomed larges. Gray was a master of space, and turned Little Orphan Annie into a symphony of psychological needling depending on whether the characters spent most of their time inside or outside, how they employed what was available to them and how those choices related to a sense of the wider world. Brown achives much of that same effect here, but his work is even wilder for not having Gray's tendency to play to front row in staged setting. His view careers overhead, or plunges into a wood. I think the value each artist communicates feel roughly the same, too. Gray's strip came alive when the characters hit the road or otherwise entered into the great outdoors; there's not only the use of space as an ideal in Riel but there's occasional discussion of land and air and space as well. Riel's darkest moment comes when he's locked into an asylum cell, and here Brown stabs his reader with Riel's fear and discomfit by having bodies crowd out of the borders, or by simply showing a closed door. His end comes after climbing out a window.

Louis Riel lies beyond my ability to nail down in a single essay, but I think I prefer it that way. As befits an historical figure that has become emblematic of multiple causes and feelings, Chester Brown has given us a book that never says the same thing twice.
 
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Chester Brown

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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




  Baltimore City Paper Spotlights I Never Liked You & Perfect Example!

Updated July 19, 2006


Comics Feature
by Tim Kreider

October 2005.

[excerpts]

If you’re reading City Paper, you probably already know about cartoonists like R. Crumb, Harvey Pekar, and Dan Clowes because you saw Crumb or American Splendor or Ghost World at the Charles; you may have heard of Alan Moore as the author or co-author of books adapted for the films From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the upcoming V for Vendetta. You may know the names Art Spiegelman (the Maus guy) or Chris Ware from their New Yorker covers. We won’t be talking about them here because 1) they’ve gotten enough publicity already, and 2) frankly, with the exception of Moore, none of them really floats my boat. Whether they like it or not, many of these artists are still too mired in the insular, self-referential subculture of comics (reacting against something doesn’t mean you’re free of it) to have much crossover appeal to mainstream readers. I want to recommend some books that you’ll like if you’re the kind of reader I described above—someone whose reading life is as integral to their personality and sanity as their dream lives or sex lives. This list takes something of a shotgun approach, partly because I don’t know you and your tastes, and also, I’m afraid, because there are so few truly good comics being drawn that any list of the best ones will unavoidably be eclectic. However, I can promise you that in none of these books will you see even one man in tights.


I Never Liked You (Drawn and Quarterly Publications, 1994) and Ed the Happy Clown (Vortex, 1989) by Chester Brown
I Never Liked You, about the author’s adolescence, is an understated and dispassionate recollection of his first bungled, hurtful flirtations with girls and his mother’s gradual dissolution into schizophrenia. It’s generally considered the best of the glut of autobiographical comics, which, like the memoir in mainstream literature, is currently suffering from an oversupply of quantity and an emergency-level shortage of quality. Me, though, I prefer Ed the Happy Clown, collecting stories that appeared in Brown’s comic Yummy Fur in the ‘80s. The plot, such as it is, follows the increasingly bizarre and humiliating misadventures of Ed, a hapless innocent, involving vampires, vampire hunters, pygmies, Frankenstein’s monster, cattle-mutilating aliens, and angels, culminating in the head of an alternate-universe Ronald Reagan being transplanted onto the end of Ed’s penis via a transdimensional waste-disposal duct. There is a strain of something distinctly unfunny underlying all this absurdity, a cruel morality that was reinforced by the straightforward, unironic adaptations of the gospels that originally backed every episode of Ed in Yummy Fur. Government scientists turn out to be hysterical homophobes with concealed handguns; the brutal, porcine police wear domino masks; doctors smoke cigarettes over their surgeries and beat patients with pipes in bare cinder-block rooms in hospitals that look like Central American prisons. Even divine justice turns out to be as arbitrary, unfair, and indifferent as any MVA bureaucrat.


Perfect Example (Highwater Books, 2000) and Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man (La Mano, 2005) by John Porcellino
Punk rock was a revelation to the young John Porcellino, showing him that anyone could make art without formal education or technical virtuosity. However, unlike many people who have taken this lesson to heart, Porcellino is a born artist, someone whose nerve endings seem more sensitive to both the pain and the mystery at the center of this existence. Anyone who was ever moved to tears by “the loveliest saddest landscape in the world” as drawn by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in The Little Prince will understand the quiet power of Porcellino’s deceptively childlike drawings. Perfect Example is one of the best novels ever written about adolescence—yes, up there with The Catcher in the Rye. I hesitate to describe it as a story about a depressed teenager, because I know this sounds like the last thing in the world you’d want to read. Even though it clearly evokes what it was like to grow up in suburban Illinois circa 1985, it also, unlike most bildungsromans, transcends those incidentals and grapples with ageless problems that adults still have to contend with: figuring out how to be a person in the world, how to love and let yourself be loved by others. A second collection, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, is a more episodic chronicle of Porcellino’s days as an exterminator that documents his growing reverence for the natural world. It includes some passages that make the hairs rise on your arms and the air around you seem to stand still; like Denis Johnson’s stories in Jesus’ Son, whose subjects are often mundane or tawdry, they always point beyond themselves to something ineffable.
 

Doubtlessly connoisseurs of comics will despise this list for its prejudices and omissions. Fuck them. These are people who think Craig Thompson’s Blankets is a good graphic novel because it was well drawn and very, very long. Really good graphic novels are still too few, but superb new work is being written and drawn all the time. I’m still waiting for the second volume of Jason Lutes’ complex and ambitious historical novel Berlin, and I’m told the new book Epileptic, by one David B., is extremely good.

It’s not yet clear where comics are in their history—whether the current spate of serious, literary comics is just the autumnal blaze of an obsolete medium in its decadence, or the spazzy, pretentious, and gorgeous adolescence of a new, unexplored art form. The difference may depend on the ambitions and talents of a handful of individual creators—and on the adventurousness, curiosity, and discernment of you, the reader.
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Chester Brown
John Porcellino

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I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition
Perfect Example




Chester Brown Graphic Novel Work-shop ! June 17th!

Updated June 16, 2006


As part of his writer-in-residency at the Toronto Public Library, LOUIS RIEL author/cartoonist Chester Brown will be offering a graphic novel clinic on Saturday, June 17th from 1:00-4:00 PM.

Don’t miss this chance to meet Brown and receive the ultimate comics tutorial!

For more information:

The Art Of The Graphic Novel Hands-on workshop with Chester Brown. Saturday
(June 17), 1 to 4 pm. Free. North York Library, 5120 Yonge. Pre-register
416-395-5639.

http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/pro_wir.jsp

http://www.nowtoronto.com/issues/2006-06-15/art_story.php

 

Featured artist

Chester Brown

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I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition
The Little Man: Short Strips 1980-1995 (PB)
Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography softcover




  Chester Brown does Wonder Woman!!

Updated June 12, 2006


Award-winning Canadian Graphic Novelist
Donates Original Artwork to Benefit
The Doug Wright Awards

The organizers of The Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning are delighted to announce their second charity auction: a one-of-a-kind piece of original art by groundbreaking Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown.

Considered a pioneer of the 1980s alternative comic renaissance, and undeniably one of the form’s most original and refreshing talents, Toronto's Chester Brown agreed to lend his distinctive style to the superhero genre as a gesture of support to the 2nd Annual Wright Awards. The result is a stunning interpretation of the comics' first female superhero: the Amazonian princess known as Wonder Woman.

Inspired by a page from one of Wonder Woman's earliest appearances, this remarkable 12”x16 ” artwork marks the Montreal-born artist’s first-ever piece of superhero art ever - a fact that makes it both historically significant, and a guaranteed collector’s item.

The Doug Wright Awards were established in 2005 to recognize and spotlight the wide array of talented cartoonists working across Canada. The premiere award event recognizing the art of graphic novels and comics, The Wrights are named in honour of Doug Wright (1917-1983) whose humourous strip Doug Wright’s Family graced newspapers and magazines across Canada for nearly 35 years.

The first-ever Doug Wright Awards charity auction, which featured a piece of original X-Men artwork by Canadian cartoonist Seth, was held in April 2006 and raised over $1,500.

Chester Brown is one of the pioneers of the 1980s comic renaissance and one of the art form’s most acclaimed talents. He began self-publishing his critically regarded comic-book series Yummy Fur in 1983. In it, Brown serialized his first four graphic novels: Ed the Happy Clown (1989), The Playboy (1992), I Never Liked You (1994), and The Little Man (1998). His Louis Riel: A Comic-strip Biography was published as a graphic novel in 2003 and was the first graphic novel to make it to the Canadian national bestseller list as well as bestseller lists worldwide.

This Doug Wright Awards Fundraising Auction will go live on the online auction site eBay on June 19th, 2006. All proceeds will benefit the 2006 edition of The Doug Wright Awards for Canadian Cartooning, which will be handed out this fall in Toronto.

For more information:

contact Brad Mackay
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

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I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition




Chester Brown featured on the Goethe-Institut website

Updated April 20, 2006


Chester Brown and Louis Riel

Chester Brown’s "Louis Riel" is something of a departure for one of Canada’s leading independent comics artists. Brown made his reputation with the off-colour dark humour of "Yummy Fur" and with autobiographical comics such as "I Never Liked You," but "Riel" is different: an excursion into a key episode in Canadian history, an exploration of the possibilities of the graphic novel format, and a tour-de-force of restrained, minimal and profoundly effective artwork.

The Riel Rebellion 1885
"Louis Riel" retells the story of the Riel Rebellion and the events that led to it for an anglophone Canadian audience, and there is much in it that’s provocative for its target audience. The figure of Sir John A. MacDonald – the Father of Confederation, and in much of popular mythology a driven and diplomatically-skilled man of vision – reveals a different side in Brown’s work. He appears here as a schemer of surpassing ruthlessness who would eventually hound Riel the political activist into a mental state portrayed as a kind of prophetic madness.

Brown grapples with all sides of Riel as a controversial and even polarizing figure– a man who in Canadian history has alternately been portrayed by different parties as a hero and villain, visionary and madman – and steers clear of the furthest poles of the perennial debate by presenting Riel as an irreducibly human and flawed character. This willingness to engage the controversial is a key part of the book’s appeal, allowing a fresh treatment of a well-worn part of Canada’s national story.

History in pictures
Brown’s means of backing up his various historical contentions is where the exploration of format becomes most interesting. Almost every panel of the book is footnoted, allowing the reader to see where the artist drew his assumptions from and, perhaps, to argue with him. In this respect "Louis Riel" is a serious contribution not just to the field of “graphica,” but to historical writing more generally – combining the filmic logic of the documentary and the immediate power of visuals with the scholarly advantages of print.

The political camera eye
The elegant and understated art treats a potentially lurid subject with a restraint that makes it easier to focus on the developing narrative and the historical arguments underlying it. The artist’s “camera” turns away at moments of extreme violence such as the fateful slaying of Thomas Scott, and moments of high drama (such as Riel’s divine revelation) are played close to the vest, which has the paradoxical effect of making the realities of conflict, desperation and madness that run through the story more immediate rather than less. Brown’s use of pauses and “silent” panels brings out the weirdness and sometime banality of “great” historical moments as they are lived, and to accentuate the human, un-iconic qualities of most of his characters – especially the Métis rebels and Riel, whose strange course through life comes to seem by turns near-inevitable and tragically preventable.

Anne Green, Produzentin, and Ian Sammuels, Artistic Associate, organise Wordfest, Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival.
 
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  EVENT: CHESTER BROWN WILL HELP YOU CREATE A COMIC!

Updated March 8, 2006


From April through June, Chester Brown (Louis Riel) is the Writer-in-Residence at the Toronto Public Library's North York Central Library. Until June 23rd, Chester Brown will be critiquing manuscripts and meeting individually with aspiring authors to discuss their work.

To talk/work with Chester Brown about/on your graphic novel, all you need to do is submit a manuscript to the library. Maximum of 20 photocopied pages (no originals), include your contact info, and get your manuscript in before April 30th, 2006. For details on other Writer-In-Residence events, and for more information on how to submit, check out:

http://www.torontopubliclibrary.ca/pro_wir.jsp
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



D&Q artists reviewed in the CANADIAN BOOK REVIEW ANNUAL

Updated February 16, 2006


Reviews of D&Q books from the 30th-anniversary volume of the CANADIAN BOOK REVIEW ANNUAL

Brown, Chester. Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2003. 272p. illus. biblio. index. $34.95. ISBN 1–896597–63–7. CCIP. DDC 741.5'971.

Was Louis Riel a madman or a messiah? The story of this charismatic Metis leader continues to vex Canadians more than 120 years after his death. His struggle with the fledgling and ambitious Canadian government inspired a Metis nation — the part Native, part white, mostly French-speaking Catholics who were held in contempt, if not outright hostility, by English Canadians. While hundreds of books have been written about Louis Riel, only a handful of comic strips have attempted to tell his story in a graphic form. Chester Brown’s exquisite and compelling version fills that gap.
Brown points out that for the sake of brevity he skipped long periods of time and ignored some aspects of Riel’s life. However, these judicious omissions only add to the superb narrative. Although it is evident where Brown’s sympathies lie, he doesn’t create one-dimensional portraits of any of the characters. His depiction of Sir John A. Macdonald shows a flawed politician who was willing to do almost anything to unite the country and who justified his actions with the belief that he was acting for the greater glory of Canada and the country’s future. Riel is portrayed as someone who was charismatic, passionate, conflicted, and obstinate. Both players acted in accordance with their inner values and vision.
Brown’s storytelling and exquisite drawing make Louis Riel a jam-packed action adventure story that both teens and adults will enjoy. An added bonus is the unusual inclusion of a short index, extensive notes, and a list of recommended reading.
Tami Oliphant


Gallant, John. Bannock Beans and Black Tea: Memories of a Prince Edward Island Childhood in the Great Depression. Illustrated by Seth. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2004. 168p. $24.95. ISBN 1–896597–78–5. CCIP. DDC 971.7'7.

A lifetime of bitterness and resentment poison this slim collection of memories of a childhood in Prince Edward Island during the 1930s.
The spokesperson — the author’s father — grew up in extreme poverty. The basics of life, such as food, clothing, shoes, and adequate heat in the home, were missing. He left school after Grade 2 because he did not have shoes to wear or enough to eat. When he was able to obtain work in a fish processing plant, he had to wear his grandmother’s Victorian high-button boots to work.
The book is a litany of constantly scrambling for food or to earn a few cents by gathering wild berries, fishing, or doing odd jobs. He blames his father for the family’s destitute state and expresses his resentment toward the village priest, from whom he had to beg a dollar to save the family from starvation.
The book is an eye-opener in that few readers today realize the depth of poverty that existed in Canada at the time. But it is too narrow in scope to be either local history or even a family history. While not a social history, either, it makes some very strong comments on life in Eastern Canada during the Great Depression.
Janet Arnett


Mayerovitch, Harry. Way to Go. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2004. 96p. illus. $12.95pa. ISBN 1–896597–82–3pa. CCIP. DDC 741.5'971.

This entertaining collection of drawings by Harry Mayerovitch, a Renaissance man who has worked as an architect, teacher, graphic designer, town planner, cartoonist, and painter for the last seven decades, is divided into three sections. The first section, “The Other One,” explores the intriguing subject of shadows. They can’t exist without us; they confirm our physical existence; they can appear menacing at times by being larger than the person they are attached to; and they can startle their owner when they appear unexpectedly. Mayerovitch playfully draws on these contradictions by sketching shadows that are defiant or contradictory. For example, one man’s shadow is actually a woman, another is a judge condemning the defendant, and another is an appalled shadow of a proudly naked man. These drawings are delightful; they show how all human beings are multiples and how one never knows what lurks in the shadows of their own psyche.
Section 2, “Pot Pour Rire,” is a set of random drawings. Many of them are surreal and feature two-headed men and removed body parts. Others include a perfectly contented polygamist hugging his four wives while their facial expressions reflect their placement in line, and an angry bull looking at Picasso’s painting of it.
The final section, “Way to Go,” encourages the reader to exit this mortal coil in style. These drawings show caskets that reflect the occupiers’ personality, such as a cat with eight coffins in front of him, a beauty queen with a huge sash jauntily hanging around her curvaceous casket, a coffin as a bar, and a magician sawing his coffin in half.
Mayerovitch’s drawings are simple, witty, and effective. This collection reveals an artist who is not afraid to explore all aspects of life.
Tami Oliphant


Doucet, Julie. My New York Diary. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2004. 110p. illus. $21.95pa. ISBN 1–896597–83–1pa. CCIP. DDC 741.5'971.

Julie Doucet, creator of Dirty Plotte, has laid bare her most intimate and painful moments in My New York Diary. The autobiographical graphic novel is infused with grim realism from its opening story, “My First Time,” in which the Catholic schoolgirl loses her virginity to an aging hippie. From there the reader follows Doucet to art school, where Julie dates a pitiful suicidal artist, then on to New York, where she lives with another pathetic and emotionally needy boyfriend.
Her move from Montreal to New York unnerves Julie. Her apartment is infested with cockroaches, and she spends her days and nights doing drugs, binge drinking, worrying about her work, and having alarmingly intense epileptic seizures. At the same time, she is gaining recognition and success in the comics world (Art Spiegelman makes a cameo appearance and congratulates her on her work) while her boyfriend, who is also a cartoonist, languishes. His envy of Julie’s success is palpable, yet as time passes he becomes more and more reliant on her. Julie realizes that she needs to get out of New York and secretly plans her escape while trying to deal with an increasingly needy and unstable partner.
Though all this sounds grim, Doucet brings humour and hope to her story. She deals with the hassles of being female in a humane, bittersweet, and hopelessly honest way. All of the characters have been drawn with bubbleheads, making them appear cute even when they aren’t acting cute. Each panel is heavy with detail and contains unexpectedly funny or touching backgrounds.
Tami Oliphant


Rabagliati, Michel. Paul Has a Summer Job. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2003. 140p. illus. $26.95pa. ISBN 1–896597–54–8pa. CCIP. DDC 741.5'971.

This charming graphic novel captures one young man’s passage into adulthood over the course of a summer. Paul is a typical teenager — he resists doing things he doesn’t like (e.g., school work), and is passionate about things he does like (e.g., art). When Paul is kicked off a school art project he spearheaded because of his less-than-stellar grades, he resentfully quits school to find a job in the “real world.” He quickly finds work in a printer’s shop, but soon becomes disillusioned with the life of a working stiff.
Paul is rescued from his burgeoning depression by a friend who offers him a summer job as a camp counsellor. Despite thinking he is psychologically and physically ill-equipped for the job, Paul eagerly accepts and heads out to the Quebec woods. However, this is no ordinary summer camp — it is run by a footloose Catholic priest for underprivileged kids. From living in primitive conditions and digging latrines to fighting his teammate, Paul’s first few weeks are difficult. Eventually he finds small successes in mastering mountain climbing, connecting with the kids and his co-counsellors (by showing his sensitive side), and falling in love.
Even though the novel takes place in 1979, readers will be engrossed by the author’s simple, yet quirky and effective, storyline. There isn’t a single false note in this graphic novel — the story is nostalgic, but not sentimental. The characters, including both the camp counsellors and the kids, and their relationships with each other are richly drawn. Rabagliati gracefully and effortlessly portrays Paul’s tentative steps into adulthood.
Tami Oliphant
 

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Julie Doucet
Michel Rabagliati

           Featured products

Paul Has a Summer Job
My New York Diary




  CHESTER BROWN on CBC radio!!

Updated August 8, 2005


Chester Brown will be on the CBC Radio show "Sounds Like Canada" tomorrow (August 9) sometime between 10:30 and 11:30 EST.

To listen live (based on region) go to:
http://www.cbc.ca/listen/index.html

And if you've missed it, check the archives at:
http://www.cbc.ca/soundslikecanada/

Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



CBC features Brown's ED THE HAPPY CLOWN!

Updated July 18, 2005


BOOKS


Years before he eulogized Louis Riel in comic form, Chester Brown scandalized the publishing industry with Ed the Happy Clown

By Brad Mackay
July 18, 2005


Feeling blue: Ed the Clown, from the cover of Yummy Fur, issue 18. Courtesy Chester Brown.

Since its publication in the fall of 2003, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography has sold more than 17,000 copies, snagged numerous industry awards and helped solidify Chester Brown’s standing as a pillar of Canadian cartooning. Librarians and teachers now line up for Brown’s public readings and traditional book critics clamour to offer their approval. (The U.S. trade paper Publisher’s Weekly was so smitten that they hailed Riel “a strong contender for the best graphic novel ever.”)

But there was a time, long before the mainstream pile-on, when Brown’s work was feared and excoriated by everyone from women’s rights groups to die-hard comic nerds. The indignation came courtesy of Ed The Happy Clown, his 1989 story about the problem-plagued life of an ill-fated children’s entertainer.

If you thought Louis Riel got a bum deal, consider what Ed was faced with: subterranean pygmies, cow-thieving aliens, dismembered hands, Frankenstein’s monster, never-ending bowel movements and the pièce de résistance: the head of then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan transplanted onto the tip of his penis. This queasy combination of gleeful scatology and cutting-edge humour left readers dazzled and/or scratching their heads, and propelled many alternative cartoonists — including a little-known cartoonist named Seth — back to their drawing boards.

Now, Montreal-based publisher Drawn & Quarterly is reprinting the unexpurgated Ed in a nine-issue series that comes complete with new covers and endnotes from Brown. Two issues in, the slim black-and-white pamphlets offer an opportunity to revisit a time when the gentle genius behind Louis Riel was the reigning enfant térrible of the comic world.

For those unfamiliar with Brown’s dark hero, Ed is a cheery fellow with a big head who is forced to endure one blackly humorous indignity after another. The story begins when the children’s hospital he’s bound for burns to the ground — with all the kiddies in it. The plot gets grimmer from there. Reading like a profane version of Voltaire’ s Candide, Ed battles flesh-eating rats, befriends a band of pygmies, is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit and falls in love with a vampire.


The artist as art: Chester Brown, a self-portrait. Courtesy Drawn and Quarterly Publications.
As Brown recalls in his notes, the book had its genesis in a creative rut he was experiencing during the early 1980s. After a chance reading of a book about surrealism, Brown decided to throw caution to the wind and draw a completely improvised comic, foregoing many traditional cartooning processes like pencilling or ruling out panel borders.

“Embracing surrealistic spontaneous creation,” as he now refers to it, gave Brown, then in his 20s, a much-needed artistic direction. It allowed him to indulge all his cultural and political interests, from his skepticism of politicians to his childhood love of vampires and werewolves. But the real achievement was the way Ed managed to be both hopeless and funny, a trick moviemakers like Tim Burton and Todd Solondz wish they could pull off more regularly.

Despite being out of print for more than a decade, Ed still has the power to both inspire and offend. In a recent interview in The Comics Journal, American cartoonist Craig Thompson (Blankets) recalled his initial encounter with Brown’s first graphic novel. “I remember flipping through it and being totally repulsed. I was still a prudish, post-Christian kid, and just seeing that book on the stands gave me the creeps.” After exhausting the alt-comics shelf of his local store, Thompson finally caved in. “The day I brought home Ed the Happy Clown, I felt I had stooped to new lows.” In fact, he was won over and has been a fan of Brown ever since.

The book vaulted Brown into the indie spotlight, eventually catching the eye of Rolling Stone, which placed Brown on its “Hot List” in the early 1990s. Bruce McDonald, director of Highway 61 and Roadkill, bought the film rights to Ed in 1995 and got Don McKellar to write a screenplay. The film, which McDonald hoped to cast with Macaulay Culkin as Ed and Rip Torn as the president, failed to find financial backing. All that remains of the venture is a swell promo poster.

Of course, along with the comic’s acclaim came the detractors. Early on in its run, Ed managed to pull off a trifecta of outrage, freaking out distributors, printers and feminists. Brown’s cocktail of violence, nudity, profanity and scatological humour was taken by many outside of the comic world as snot-nosed juvenilia — which on some level it was. But the kicker must have been his choice to depict the wildly popular and staunchly conservative Republican president as a belligerent phallus. That couldn’t have gone over too well in the U.S. heartland.

Brown can’t recall whether it was ever banned from any bookstores, but Ed was dropped by at least one distributor and experienced a memorable run-in with a feminist publisher. The problems began after an Ontario printing house finished the fourth issue of Brown’s Yummy Fur, which featured the female lead Josie — a vampire — getting stabbed by a character named Chet. “Once they had done my issue, the next job they had lined up was for a feminist magazine or something,” Brown told me recently. “When that job was done, they packed it up in boxes and used cast-off pages from my comic as packing material. So when the company got their order, they unpacked it and uncrumpled the pages — one of which featured Josie getting stabbed. They called up the printer and complained... then we were told that they wouldn’t be printing Yummy Fur anymore.” Despite this setback, when the story was finally collected in a graphic novel in 1989, the raves quickly followed. The Village Voice urged its readers to “[get] it while it's still legal; it may be the most extreme art you’ll ever encounter,” while the Comics Journal praised it for “assaulting the eyes and offending the sensibilities of people who considered themselves unshockable.”


Issue three of Ed the Happy Clown. Courtesy Drawn and Quarterly Publications.
While the critical praise for Ed never translated into huge sales, its influence within the comic community is undisputed. Ed turned the heads of many cartoonists — from Chris Ware to Dan Clowes and Cerebus creator Dave Sim — and forced them to reconsider the direction of their own work. One cartoonist profoundly affected was Seth, who is now a close friend of Brown’s.

Seth remembers reading the early Ed stories on a Toronto streetcar in the 1980s and being unable to control his laughter. “The book was very funny and the humour felt very cutting edge,” Seth says via e-mail. But it was Brown’s ambitious storytelling that left the biggest impression. “Those brilliant sequences where he would show a situation and then return to it later from a different perspective, like the death of Josie, really blew me away.

“I was sure, in those days, that Chester was a genius. His natural understanding of comics storytelling and his marvellous, iconoclastic humour was just amazing. Next to [Love & Rockets creators] the Hernandez brothers, Ed was the most affecting comic I read at that time in my life. And it’s still groundbreaking work today.”

The book continues to inspire a whole new generation, including up-and-coming Canadian cartoonists Alex Fellows and Bryan Lee O’Malley, a 26-year-old Halifax cartoonist whose graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim Vol. 1, has been optioned for a Hollywood movie. O'Malley recently won an inaugural Doug Wright Award for Canadian cartooning. He considers Brown “a golden god.”

“I read Ed The Happy Clown only once [in Dec. 2002],” he said. “But it basically blew my mind. The way something so obviously scattered in the early pages could come together into that bizarre, dystopian, cohesive world amazed me. I loved the large-headed, childlike figures and those beautiful facial expressions.”  O’Malley says his own first book, Lost At Sea, was heavily influenced by his initial reading of Ed.

Montrealer Fellows remembers coming across Ed the Happy Clown as a teenager. There are surreal echoes of Ed in Fellows’ impressive 2004 debut graphic novel Canvas, particularly the lead character’s mother and father, who appear as human-like pig and frog creatures.

“I first noticed [Ed] at my local comic shop, wrapped in a plastic bag with an adults-only label on it. I was only 15 or so at the time, but thankfully the owner let me have it.

“Everything, from the brown cover with the harsh fluorescent colours to the bad newsprint it was printed on, seemed to fit perfectly... It's a rare graphic novel that shows so much growth from the beginning to the end.” 

Plus, Fellows says, “Chester really is one of the best penis-drawers out there. He gets the squishiness and wrinkles just right.” High praise, indeed.
Brad Mackay is a Toronto-based writer.


 
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Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

Ed The Happy Clown #2




  How "Ed The Happy Clown" influenced a generation of cartoonists

Updated July 18, 2005


Years before he eulogized Louis Riel in comic form, Chester Brown scandalized the publishing industry with Ed the Happy Clown

Full story on CBC.ca Arts
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

Ed The Happy Clown #2




D+Q Congratulates Chester Brown for his New Yorker Illo!

Updated June 29, 2005


In the June 27th issue of the New Yorker, Chester Brown contributes his first illustration for the magazine's article "The Crossing" by writer Alec Wilkinson.

 
click here to download the PDF (337.22 KB)


Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition




  Ed The Happy Clown #1 Reviewed in the Nashville City Paper!

Updated May 26, 2005


• Ed the Happy Clown No. 1 (Drawn & Quarterly Publications) begins, to quote the cover, “a serialized reprinting of Chester Brown’s first graphic novel.” Brown, who has since produced notable works like Louis Riel and I Never Liked You, offers a warts-and-all look at some of his earliest comics, a collection of absurd strips sometimes centering around a pathetic clown, and usually involving limbs falling off for no good reason. It’s an amusing work, a sign of things to come from the unique and fertile mind of Brown. But what’s most interesting about the comic are the notes in the back where Brown goes over the genesis of each strip. It’s like a master filmmaker doing a detailed commentary track on his debut film, but way less pretentious and apologetic.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



Rick Moody Reviews David B. in the NYTBR

Updated January 25, 2005


Novelist Rick Moody reviews David B's new full-length EPILEPTIC release by Pantheon. In the review, Moody spotlights other D+Q cartoonists including Chris Ware, Julie Doucet, Joe Matt, Joe Sacco and Chester Brown.
 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Julie Doucet
David B.

           Featured products

I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition
My New York Diary
Babel #1




  D+Q in Maclean's!

Updated October 6, 2004


D+Q in Maclean's!

This week's issue of the Canadian news weekly Macleans spotlights Drawn & Quarterly, Chester Brown, Adrian Tomine and Seth in a feature story about graphic novels.

The article can be found here:
http://www.macleans.ca/culture/books/article.jsp?content=20041011_90428_90428

For more information contact:

Peggy Burns
Drawn & Quarterly
Marketing & Publicity Director
PO Box 48056
Montreal, QC H2V 4S8
514 279 0691
peggy@drawnandquarterly.com

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Adrian Tomine

           Featured products

Clyde Fans; Book One
Scrapbook




D+Q at Toronto's Word on the Street 9/26!

Updated September 24, 2004



This Sunday, September 26th at Toronto's WORD ON THE STREET FESTIVAL, Chester Brown and David Collier will both be at the D+Q booth in Queen's Park right next to the Beguiling. David Collier will be signing his brand new graphic novel THE FRANK RITZA PAPERS, Chester will be signing the third printing of LOUIS RIEL: A COMIC STRIP BIOGRAPHY, and we will be selling three new comics! Seth's PALOOKAVILLE 17, Kevin Huizenga's OR ELSE#1, and Ander Nilsen's DOGS & WATER!




 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
David Collier

           Featured product

The Frank Ritza Papers




  NY Times Magazine Cover Feature on Graphic Novels; Cover art by Chester Brown, Spotlight on D+Q

Updated July 13, 2004


The July 11th 2004 issue of the New York Times Magazine features an in-depth cover story on the graphic novel medium by former New York Times Book Review Editor Charles McGrath, prominently featuring D+Q and titled How Cool Is Comics Lit?. At the New York Times online, audio interviews with Joe Sacco, Chester Brown, Seth and Chris Ware are available.

In perhaps the most seminal piece of journalism ever devoted to graphic novels, McGrath notes that the movement of literary graphic novels has much better distribution "thanks in part to two enterprising publishers, Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal and Fantagraphics in Seattle."

Chester Brown (LOUIS RIEL) provides the cover and inside comic strip. A page from Seth's new graphic novel CLYDE FANS is also reprinted. D+Q publisher Chris Oliveros as well as D+Q cartoonists Seth (CLYDE FANS, IT'S A GOOD LIFE), Adrian Tomine (SCRAPBOOK, SUMMER BLONDE), Chester Brown, Joe Sacco (THE FIXER), Chris Ware (THE ACME NOVELTY DATEBOOK), Julie Doucet (MY NY DIARY), Debbie Drechsler (SUMMER OF LOVE), and Joe Matt (POOR BASTARD) are all included. There is full-page photo of Seth, Tomine, Brown and Sacco, along with Art Spiegelman.


click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
Adrian Tomine

           Featured products

The Fixer
ACME Novelty Datebook Volume 1: 1986-1995
My New York Diary




D+Q Wins 5 Harvey Awards

Updated June 29, 2004


Drawn & Quarterly's whirlwind visit to the Big Apple last week was capped with five Harvey wins at the MoCCA Arts Festival at the Puck Building Saturday evening, the most of any nominated publisher and the most wins the company has ever received at one time. Chester Brown, who was in attendance to accept his awards, won for "Best Writer" and "Best Graphic Album-Previously Published Work" for his critically acclaimed, bestselling graphic novel of the Canadian Folk Hero LOUIS RIEL; A COMIC STRIP BIOGRAPHY. Chris Ware also received "Special Award for Excellence in Presentation" and "Best Colorist" for his sketchbook THE ACME NOVELTY DATEBOOK. Publisher & Editor Chris Oliveros took home "Best Anthology" for the latest edition of the company's flagship series, DRAWN & QUARTERLY 5. The Harveys are named for Harvey Kurtzman, the co-founder of the seminal humor and pop culture magazine MAD Magazine, and they recognize excellence in the comic book industry. All nominations and winners are voted by the creative members of the comic book medium.
 

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly
Chris Ware

           Featured products

Drawn & Quarterly (NEW series) Volume 5
ACME Novelty Datebook Volume 1: 1986-1995




  TIME MAGAZINE CANADA FEATURES D+Q, SETH & CHESTER

Updated June 21, 2004


TIME Magazine Canada profiles Chris Oliveros and how he "created the most elegant comics publisher in North America" in a two-page spread with photos as well as a sidebar article on Chester Brown and LOUIS RIEL. Journalist Andrew Arnold notes that Oliveros is "blessed with a sharp eye, a strong sense of what he likes and a commitment to making beautiful if unconventional, books."
click here to read more

click here to download the PDF (941.7 KB)


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly
Seth

           Featured products

Drawn & Quarterly (NEW series) Volume 5
Clyde Fans; Book One




Chicago New City Raves About Louis Riel

Updated June 16, 2004


In indie comics, Drawn & Quarterly has proven itself as one of the best publishing houses in business... Chester Brown's "Louis Riel" is the biography (with a few liberties taken) of the man who led a rebellion in protest of Canada's annexation of Manitoba. Riel is an often-misunderstood character whose hallucinations of being a prophet are mentioned more often than the stand he took. Brown's writing and artwork have never been better, and "Louis Riel" is a must-have for comics lovers.
 

Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  The Comics Journal features 5 D+Q titles in "2003 Year In Review"

Updated May 20, 2004


The scholarly magazine of comics criticism, THE COMICS JOUNRAL, has selected four D+Q titles - Chester Brown's LOUIS RIEL , DRAWN & QUARTERLY 5, Joe Sacco's THE FIXER and Chris Ware's ACME NOVELTY DATEBOOK - on a list of only featured 13 titles from the year 2003. Igort's 5 IS THE PERFECT NUMBER received an honorable mention.
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Igort
Chris Ware

           Featured products

Drawn & Quarterly (NEW series) Volume 5
The Fixer




Booklist Reviews Brown's Louis Riel

Updated April 19, 2004


Louis Riel
Flagg, Gordon
227 words
1 February 2004
Booklist
958
Volume 100; Issue 11; ISSN: 00067385
English
Copyright (c) 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Brown, Chester. Louis Riel. 2003. 272p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly; dist. by Chronicle, $24.95 (1-896597-63-7). 971

Brown, better known for such outre projects as his scatologically surreal Ed the Happy Clown (1989), now tells the story of a controversial nineteenth-century Canadian political figure in comics. A charismatic leader who championed the cause of the half-French, half-Native Canadian metis community in their rebellion against the English Canadian government, Riel was hounded into religious fanaticism and madness before being hanged for treason. For his nonsensationalistic treatment of this momentous life, Brown adopts an intentionally flat drawing style reminiscent of 1930s comics (Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie was a key visual influence) and a straightforward storytelling approach based on six square panels per page. These prove perfectly suited to his heavily researched, extensively footnoted subject matter. Although a folk hero in Canada, Riel is largely unknown by Americans, many of whom will be fascinated to learn that their northern neighbor country also cheated and exploited native peoples. Comics artists have tackled history before (see Larry Gonick's Cartoon History series) but seldom as artfully and intelligently as Brown does here. -Gordon Flagg

Brown, Chester. Louis Riel. 2003. 272p. illus. Drawn & Quarterly; dist. by Chronicle, $24.95 (1-896597-63-7). 971

 

Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Bookslut reviews Chester's Louis Riel

Updated April 12, 2004


"Somewhere between the rigours of the scholarly biography and the accessibility of the movie biopic lies Chester Brown’s Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography. It’s an elegant, visually spare work, thoroughly researched and annotated, and it tells a compelling story."

Visit the link provided for the complete review.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



Time.com interviews Chester Brown about Louis Riel

Updated April 12, 2004


Time.com's intrepid comics beat reporter, Andrew Arnold, speaks to Chester Brown about the ongoing success of LOUIS RIEL.
 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  D+Q Nominated for Six Eisner Awards!

Updated April 12, 2004


D+Q is up for six different Eisner Awards for the publishing year 2003.

Best Short Story: "Monsieur Jean," by Philippe Dupuy and Charles
Berberian, in Drawn & Quarterly 5

Best Anthology: Drawn & Quarterly 5

Best Graphic Album-New: The Fixer by Joe Sacco

Best Graphic Album-Reprint: Louis Riel by Chester Brown

Best Publication Design: Louis Riel by Chester Brown

Best Comics-Related Book: The Acme Novelty Library Datebook by Chris Ware

The Eisners, along with the Harveys and the Ignatzes, are the comic book industry's most distinguished Awards. The winners are announced at San Diego Comic-con in July.

click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Chris Ware
Dupuy & Berberian

           Featured products

Drawn & Quarterly (NEW series) Volume 5
The Fixer




Philly City Paper features Sacco's The Fixer & Brown's Louis Riel

Updated March 15, 2004


Sam Adams of the Philly City Paper does a grpahic novel round up and raves about two D+Q books:

On Louis Riel:

"Brown tells the story with evenhanded naturalism...the lengthy book is drawn with grace and solidity new to his work."

On The Fixer:
"Even by Sacco's elevated standards, The Fixer is strong stuff."
 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Joe Sacco

           Featured product

The Fixer




  Publishers Weekly Gives Louis Riel a "Starred" Review

Updated March 15, 2004


The 3/15/04 issue of the American trade "Publishers Weekly" gives Chester Brown's LOUIS RIEL a starred review.
 

LOUIS RIEL: A Comic-Strip Biography
Chester Brown. Drawn and Quarterly, $24.95 (276p) ISBN 1-896597-63-7


* Brown’s exploration of the life of a fictional 19th-century Canadian revolutionary Riel is a strong contender for the best graphic novel ever. Over five years in the making, Brown’s work is completely realized here, from the strikingly designed two-color cover to the cream-colored paper and pristinely clear drawings. The story begins in 1869, with the sale of the independent Red River Settlement area of what’s now Canada to the Canadian government. The area is inhabited by the French-speaking Métis, of mixed Indian and white ancestry, who are looked down upon by the Canadians. Riel is bilingual and becomes a de facto leader for the Red River Settlement, demanding the right for them to govern themselves within Canada. Not surprisingly, this request is denied, and the conflict is set in motion that ultimately consumes Riel’s life. Brown doesn’t deviate from a six-panel grid for the entire book, telling his story in a cartoon realism style reminiscent of Little Orphan Annie. And while the book concerns imperialism, empire, nationalism and the chaos that results, Brown maintains a still, almost silent atmosphere. He brilliantly renders a lengthy courtroom sequence by setting figures against a black background, heightening the tension of the events by employing minimal effects. Even the battle scenes are subdued. All of this will hook readers’ minds and eyes, but never tell them what to think or feel. Instead, Brown calmly lets his story unfold, making the reading process deeply affecting. This is an ingenious comic and a major achievement. (Nov. 2003)
 




Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



L'Actualite features Chester Brown's LOUIS RIEL

Updated March 8, 2004


The French Canadian news weekly L'Actualite spotlights the success of LOUIS RIEL and the growing genre of nonfiction graphic novels.

click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Toronto Book Launch for Seth on 3/31/04 With Chester Brown At The Rivoli

Updated March 3, 2004


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

For more info contact Peggy Burns at telephone 514.279.0691 or e-mail peggy@drawnandquarterly.com

D+Q TO LAUNCH SETH’S “CLYDE FANS” & “BANNOCK, BEANS & BLACK TEA” AT “THIS IS NOT A READING SERIES” PRESENTED BY PAGES BOOKS and MAGAZINES & NOW MAGAZINE CO-SPONSORED BY THE BEGUILING
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 31st 6:30 PM-8:30 PM

WHO/WHAT:
D+Q cartoonist SETH will launch his long-awaited graphic novel CLYDE FANS and his father’s memoir BANNOCK, BEANS & BLACK TEA with a visual presentation “20 Short Stories About Cartooning” Fellow D+Q cartoonist CHESTER BROWN will present his own visual presentation about Louis Riel in conjunction with the critically acclaimed graphic novel LOUIS RIEL; A COMIC-STRIP BIOGRAPHY

WHERE:
The Rivoli, 332 Queen Street West, Toronto

WHEN:
Wednesday, March 31st 2004 6:30 PM (Doors open at 6PM)
FREE!

ABOUT SETH, CLYDE FANS & BANNOCK BEANS & BLACK TEA:
“Seth inks and letters [Clyde Fans] with fluid brushwork whose grace invites the reader to linger cozily in his ruminative, patient stories...[Clyde Fans] tells the story of what past was, and its ripe possibilites that were never borne out.” –Daniel Raeburn, The Village Voice

Seth was born Gregory Gallant in 1962 in Clinton, Ontario and lives in Guelph with his wife, their five cats, and a huge collection of vintage records, comic books and 20th Century Canadiana. His books include the Palookaville series, It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken and Clyde Fans. His distinctive illustrations have appeared in The Vinyl Cafe Diaries, The Washington Post, Details, National Post, Spin, The New York Times, Saturday Night, The New Yorker and McSweeney's. CLYDE FANS is a fascinating, beautiful and quietly charming exploration of the complex relationship of two brothers based on an actual dilapidated storefront of the same name on Toronto’s King Street East. Seth provided illustrations for his father’s Great Depression memoir of Prince Edward Island BANNOCK, BEANS & BLACK TEA.

ABOUT CHESTER BROWN & LOUIS RIEL; A COMIC-STRIP BIOGRAPHY:
“if you love to read a gripping story, if you are awed by the talent of an artist, then look no further: Chester Brown’s Louis Riel is comix history in the making, and with it, history never looked so good." –Bernice Eisentein, The Globe & Mail Book Review

Chester Brown is one of the pioneers of the 1980s comix renaissance. He is the author of the critically acclaimed graphic novels I Never Liked You in which he documented his adolescence and his mother’s schizophrenia, The Playboy, The Little Man and Ed The Happy Clown as well as the comic book series Yummy Fur and Underwater. In 2003, D+Q published Chester’s LOUIS RIEL: A COMIC STRIP BIOGRAPHY, the story of the Canadian folk hero, which landed on Quill & Quire’s national bestseller charts. Brown lives in Toronto.


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth

           Featured products

Clyde Fans; Book One
Bannock, Beans & Black Tea




Chester Brown on Northeast Public Radio on 2/23

Updated February 19, 2004


Alan David Doane kindly interviewed Chester Brown about LOUIS RIEL. The interview will air Monday, February 23rd at about 10:35 AM on The Roundtable, WAMC's three-hour daily talk show focusing on politics, art and culture.

The interview will be streamed live on their website at www.wamc.org

WAMC/Northeast Public Radio is a regional public radio network serving parts of seven northeastern United States. These include New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Stations and translators are in ten locations thoughout the region. More information is available here: http://www.wamc.org/station.html .
 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Daily Oklahoman features The Fixer & Louis Riel

Updated February 1, 2004


WEEKEND I
WORD BALLOONS

Graphic novels portray adventures during wartime
Matthew Price
Staff Writer
571 words
16 January 2004
The Daily Oklahoman
City
21D
English
Copyright 2004 The Oklahoman Publishing Company. All Rights Reserved.

Two graphic novels from publisher Drawn and Quarterly look at extraordinary individuals who lived in trying, war-filled times.

In Joe Sacco's "Fixer," Sacco relates the true story of Neven, a "fixer" who leads journalists to stories in and around Sarajevo during the Balkan conflict. Neven worked for Sacco as Sacco compiled "Safe Area Goradze," his history of the war in Bosnia. Sacco returned years later to find out what had happened to this "fixer" who had become his friend.

In the graphic novel, Sacco explores Neven's history: A lifelong Sarajevan, the half-Muslim, half-Serb Neven joined the warlords defending the city and the Bosnian Republic. After being injured in battle, Neven becomes a fixer, trying to make a living from his knowledge of the conflict.

Sacco, who graduated from the University of Oregon with a journalism degree in 1981, has chronicled conflicts in Bosnia and the Mideast in cartoon format.

Sacco received the American Book Award in 1996 for "Palestine," his book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Sacco is the only major journalist working in a cartoon format. His books bring conflicts that are abstract for many Americans down to a human level. Readers get a better understanding of the overall issues and their human cost through Sacco's work.

"The Fixer" is a $24.95 black-and-white hardcover.

Chester Brown's "Louis Riel" explores the controversial tale of this Canadian historical figure thought of as martyr by some and madman by others.

Brown ("Yummy Fur," "I Never Liked You") worked for more than five years on this biographical story. Riel was the head of the provincial government during the Red River Rebellion of 1869. Riel was the passionate and popular leader of the French-speaking Metis people of what would become Manitoba. He spent almost 15 years in exile after the Red River Rebellion. Though he was elected to two terms in the House of Commons in that time, he couldn't take office without being arrested.

Riel returned to Canada in 1884 to help with another rebellion — though many believed he was mad. Riel claimed to have received special instruction from God and that the Metis would be His new chosen people.

Brown's cartoony style draws only what is needed without superfluity, a style well-suited for a historical tale. Brown has immaculately researched this story; a bibliography relates where and how he changed historical facts for dramatic purposes. "Louis Riel" is an educational, moving, challenging graphic novel that shows a talented cartoonist at the peak of his storytelling.

Chester Brown was born in 1960 in Montreal and lives in Toronto.

"Louis Riel" is a $24.95 black-and-white hardcover.

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Joe Sacco

           Featured product

The Fixer




Louis Riel: Best of 2003 according to Quill & Quire

Updated January 25, 2004


Canadian book publishing broadsheet Quill & Quire chose the best books of 2003, with Chester Brown's Louis Riel listed as one of the top 5 non-fiction titles of the year. The selection comes on the heels of QQ's Canadian best-seller lists in January, with Louis Riel starting out at #7 on the non-fiction list, right behind Michael Moore! According to QQ, this may be the first time a graphic novel has made it to a best-seller list in Canada.
click here to download the PDF (321.04 KB)


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Chester Brown on CBC: Richardson's Roundup

Updated January 15, 2004


Chester Brown is interviewed by Kevin Sylvester about LOUIS RIEL. They discuss the book, religion, money, Joe Matt and more!
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



TimeOut London features Louis Riel & 5

Updated January 15, 2004


The 1/7-14 issue of TimeOut London, the weekly glossy, features a large two-page spread on graphic novels and spotlights two D+Q graphic novels LOUIS RIEL and 5 IS THE PERFECT NUMBER.
 

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Igort

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5 is the Perfect Number




  Ottawa Citizen Declares 2003 "Year of the Graphic Novel"

Updated January 15, 2004


The Citizen's Weekly: Reading

Endnotes: Dare to get graphic: From bestsellers to Hollywood adaptations, this was the year of the graphic novel. Of course 'popular' doesn't always mean 'good.' PETER DARBYSHIRE considers a list of the year's critical hits

The Ottawa Citizen
1,014 words
7 December 2003
Ottawa Citizen
Final
C14
English
Copyright © 2003 Ottawa Citizen

The Fixer

By Joe Sacco

Joe Sacco pioneered "comic book journalism" with Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde, harrowing documentaries of life in war zones. Here Sacco tells the story of Sarajevo that the media couldn't -- or wouldn't -- tell about the siege of the city. In this Pulitzer-worthy book, he uses the accounts of Neven, a footsoldier, to reveal a complex reality in which allies preyed upon each other and fact became indistinguishable from fiction. (Drawn & Quarterly/Raincoast, $36.95)

The Sandman: Endless Nights

By Neil Gaiman

Returning to the critically acclaimed comic series that made him famous, Neil Gaiman presents seven new tales of the Endless, immortal beings who personify such concepts as Destiny, Dream and Desire. A different artist illustrates each tale -- assignments that were perfectly matched to story and character. Endless Nights lacks the complexity and breadth of the original series, but Gaiman fans will love it anyway. (DC Comics, Little Brown, $37.95)

The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist

By Michael Chabon

Michael Chabon teams up with Dark Horse comics to present The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist, a comic anthology series featuring characters from his Pulitzer-winning novel The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Presented in the style of comic book eras from the '40s to the present, the series pays homage to the forgotten pioneers of the form. (Dark Horse, $8.95 U.S.)

Quimby the Mouse

By Chris Ware

Thanks to Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, graphic novels are being taken seriously as an art form. Quimby the Mouse is a collection of comic strips featuring the misadventures of a cartoon mouse who endures a Beckettian existence of suffering and despair. Ware infuses Quimby's tales with fake ads and animation iconography, deconstructing the very medium of comics and reassembling it as a hybrid art form that is part autobiography, part existentialist tract and part meditation on the creative process. Ware is the James Joyce of comic artists. (Fantagraphics Books, $24.95 U.S.)

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

By Mariane Satrapi

Persepolis tells the story of the Iranian Revolution and its aftermath from the perspective of six-year-old Mariane Satrapi. Part autobiography, part history of Iran, Satrapi reveals the human impact of the revolution by focusing on the struggle of her family, wealthy secularists, to adapt. The story is beautifully complemented by the artwork, a simple but elegant mix of western and Middle Eastern art styles. Persepolis is simultaneously an elegy for Iran and a celebration of the spirit of the Iranian people, especially those who continue to resist the rule of the mullahs today. A must-read for all members of the Bush administration. (Pantheon, $26.95)

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

By Alan Moore

While the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is an older book, it deserves a mention because of its recent re-release and film adaptation. Moore creates a bridge between the literary and comic book worlds by casting characters from classic novels -- Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo, Allan Quatermain -- as the equivalent of superheroes. The plot follows the quest of the League to thwart the destruction of London, but this is just an excuse for Moore to explore his favourite subjects: the responsibility of power, the human side of myths, the perils of conformity. Along the way, Moore throws in nods to comics history and enough literary allusions to keep even Harold Bloom happy. A modern classic. (DC Comics, Little Brown, $37.95)

The Boulevard of Broken Dreams

By Kim Deitch

Destined to become one of the canonical texts of the genre, Boulevard follows the growth and decline of an animation studio, whose employees are driven mad by a hallucinatory cat that is kind of a composite of Mickey Mouse and his countercultural opposite, Felix the Cat. Equal parts history, allegory and artistic romp, Boulevard is both an exploration of the role of the artist and a sharp critique of the ways animation has been drained of artistic merit and social value by the entertainment industry. (Pantheon, $32)

Summer Blonde

By Adrian Tomine

Adrian Tomine is the Raymond Carver of comics. Summer Blonde collects eerie tales of urban life, despair and isolation. While Carver identified the failures of the American Dream, Tomine charts its transformation into nightmare. Tomine's characters, all damaged in some way by society, explore the casual brutality of teenagers growing up in the media bombardment of the first Gulf War and the alienating effects of office life. A chronicle of the CNN generation. (Drawn & Quarterly, $26.95)

Nufonia Must Fall

By Kid Koala

A 21st-century love story and a musical novel, Nufonia is created by Montreal DJ Kid Koala. The story, which comes with a CD to be played while reading, follows a near-obsolete robot who falls in love with a human office worker in a world where everything is on the brink of a breakdown. Only daydreams offer solace. The story is told in black and white and without dialogue, but it has all the tenderness of a Charlie Chaplin silent film. Encore. (ECW Press, $29.95)

Louis Riel: A Comic-strip Biography

By Chester Brown

Chester Brown depicts the story of Louis Riel in spare black-and-white panels with a minimum of nuance -- the characters are mainly ciphers -- but the result is anything but simple. Brown takes Canadian history and manages to make it (a) entertaining and (b) a bit more complicated thanks to the attention he pays to construction of the Riel myth. Brown explores Riel's lesser-known characteristics. A "comic book" that should be required reading in history classes. (Drawn & Quarterly, $36.95)

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Joe Sacco
Adrian Tomine

           Featured products

The Fixer
Summer Blonde (PB)




Ottawa Citizen Features Chester Brown & Louis Riel

Updated January 14, 2004


Arts

It's a bird, it's a plane ... it's Canadian history: Montreal-born artist Chester Brown's adult comic-strip book adds fresh images to the Louis Riel debate, writes Matt Radz.
Matt Radz
The Montreal Gazette
879 words
27 October 2003
Ottawa Citizen
Final
C1 / Front
English
Copyright © 2003 Ottawa Citizen

'He shall hang though every dog in Quebec bark in his favour."

If you happen to know the condemned man was Louis Riel and remember that it was prime minister Sir John A. Macdonald who spat out those hateful words on the eve of the Metis leader's execution for treason, you have to see Chester Brown's new book.

For those less familiar with the leading political actors in this blood-spattered chapter of early Canadian history, Brown's just-published Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, is a thrilling way to catch up with a decisive moment from our nation's past -- the birth of Manitoba and the "Half-breed Rebellion" of the late 1800s.

Issued by Montreal's Drawn and Quarterly Publications, the bio is an impressive work of art that delivers the narrative goods with a cinematic punch.

Dubbed "a brilliant maverick" by Time magazine, Brown is the Canadian superhero of the not so new, but suddenly hot, adult comic-strip phenomenon.

An underground DIY graphic-art movement dating back to the late 1960s, the adult comic is enjoying a new round of mainstream attention, thanks in part to the hit movies Ghost World and American Splendor. The form won literary respect in 1986, when Art Spiegelman's Maus won the Pulitzer as best novel.

Brown, born in Montreal and now living in Toronto, addresses the all-Canadian question: Riel, folk hero prophet or demented terrorist?

The question has not been settled since Riel's execution in 1885, and Brown's bio adds fresh images -- nearly 1,500 comic-strip panels -- to keep the debate going.

"It's not a black and white thing," Brown says -- without a trace of irony.

"But Riel certainly had heroic qualities and he was certainly not a villain. He was a flawed man who made a lot of mistakes. Those heroic qualities make for an interesting story. Obviously, he was someone willing to make sacrifices for his people."

Each black and white panel in the book -- there are six per page -- began as a blank slab of posterboard on plywood the artist holds on his knees. After five years of drawing Canadian history, Brown said he is not convinced the Metis leader was quite the heroic figure Maggie Siggins writes about in Riel: A Life of Revolution.

He credits the landmark 1994 biography with inspiring his own 272-page book and triggering research that allowed him to append an impressive bibliography and nearly two dozen pages of meticulously hand-written footnotes.

Brown draws Sir John A. as a free-swigging backroom operative with a bulbous nose roughly the size of Hideki Matsui's bat. And the notes tell us that the famous "barking-dogs" riposte was our first PM's way of dismissing Roderique Masson, the lieutenant-governor of Quebec, begging for the French-speaking Metis chief's life.

Sir John A. would have none of it. Riel had to hang to signal the end of the threat from the West.

Putting down the Metis uprising was all part of a stratagem Macdonald had devised to transform the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway from a crass commercial venture into a patriotic act, by persuading the public mind the link was necessary to carry troops West to restore peace along the Red River.

Brown admits he was an anarchist when he started his Riel project, but in all the years it took to ink it, his politics changed. "I am a libertarian now. I believe that some form of minimal government is necessary."

And he cautions he might have over-dramatized Sir John A.'s political perfidy.

"Macdonald was not as villainous as he is in my book," Brown said.

Riel was a 41-year-old father of three children, one yet unborn, when he fell through the trap door and Canada's nascent language/culture wars had their first francophone martyr outside Quebec.

As irony would have it, knowing how to parlez in English put Riel on the road to the gallows and the journey of doom began in Montreal.

By most accounts, including Brown's, Gabriel Dumont was a more combative and decisive Metis chieftain, but Riel spoke English and was drafted to represent the "half-breed French savages" in their land dispute with the Crown.

When, at the beginning of Brown's book, Canadian survey teams arrive in Rupert's Land, the French-speaking inhabitants circle their ponies and cast about for someone to negotiate with the new arrivals, in their own language.

"There's that young fellow -- Riel," one of the mounted community leaders remembers.

"He just got back from studying in Montreal -- he knows English."
 

Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Novelist Lee Henderson Praises Chester Brown in The National Post

Updated January 14, 2004


Books

A few of their favourite things
National Post
1,807 words
27 December 2003
National Post
National
RB09
English
(c) 2003 National Post . All Rights Reserved.

We asked some of Canada's best writers to tell us which book they enjoyed the most this year. Here's what they had to say......

LEE HENDERSON

Chester Brown's graphic novel Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (Drawn and Quarterly) is an overwhelming, eye-boggling achievement, my favourite book of the year. What you have here is Brown at the height of his abilities as an artist, his handling of line and composition is absolutely beautiful, and he's made a fascinating and intelligent portrait of one of Canada's most controversial historical figures. To me, this isn't just the best book of the year, it's one of the most important graphic novels ever published.

Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

The Fixer




Vancouver Sun Features Louis Riel

Updated January 14, 2004


Comics for the literati: TRENDS I The graphic novel is a genre to watch

Shawn Conner

Special to the Sun
1,600 words
27 December 2003
Vancouver Sun
Final
D13
English
Copyright © 2003 Vancouver Sun

The first years of the 21st century have been boom years for comics. In multiplexes from here to Krypton, X2: X-Men United, The Hulk, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Daredevil made it nearly impossible for a movie-goer not to see at least one comic-based character fly across the screen. Box-office records weren't smashed in each case, but with the success of X2 and Spider-Man, rest assured there'll be plenty more film adaptations of costumed crime-fighters before the trend dies out.

Meanwhile, in an alternate universe where cartoonists strive to make deeper statements, American Splendor topped many critics' best-of-2003 lists. While it's unlikely to lead to more big-screen versions of autobiographical, non-superhero comics, the film's small-scale success bodes well for cartoonists who are producing serious, intelligent work on the fringes of a fringe medium.

As for the source material, comic books remain a pleasure of the brave, devoted few. However, the graphic novel -- comics' more acceptable sibling, available at mainstream bookstores -- is inching forward. Chris Ware's wonderfully designed story of pathetic loserdom, Jimmy Corrigan, topped many critics' best-of-2002 lists.

This year, Chester Brown's Louis Riel and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis have emerged as the two graphic novels you can safely recommend, even to unbelievers and prose snobs.

Of the two, Persepolis is both more unrefined and more affecting. Told in stark black-and-white, the graphic-novel debut by the Paris-based Satrapi (who has also written several children's books) is a memoir about her Iranian childhood and the persecution of her family following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Her style is cartoonish and blunt, but the freedom and expressiveness of her awkward, graceless figures, with their simply delineated facial features, adds to the feeling of childhood experiences being recollected by an adult. Although the story-telling is sometimes confusing, the subject matter and art combine in a devastatingly real way. The end is heart-breaking.

Cartooonist Chester Brown is unafraid to follow his obsessions, whether in the adaptations of Bible stories that mark some of his earliest work or the exploration of language and meaning in his ambitious, short-lived Underwater series. He remains one of the medium's most intriguing talents.

In Louis Riel, the Toronto creator turns his eye to this country's foundation with a scrupulously researched retelling of the Metis Rebellion. He begins the story with the 1869 land negotiations that resulted in the Red River Settlement being sold to the Canadian government. He makes clear his opinion that the settlers never had a chance against the cunning and more powerful John A. Macdonald (here drawn with an exaggerated, almost comical proboscis).

Brown is sympathetic to Riel but, by emphasizing Riel's belief that he is in direct communication with God, allows that the Metis leader might have been a little crazy, too.

Canadian history has a bad reputation, and many of the early panels of Louis Riel are formed by talking heads and static figures.Even the most uneventful drawings have a curious kind of power, due to Brown's ability to express character in a few brief, economical lines. When the panels do get busy, as in the latter stages of the rebellion, the effect is that much more powerful.

The pages depicting Riel's final days are particularly exquisite in their evocation of the inexorable forces of history closing in. For those interested in such things, a section at the end of the book cites the author's sources, panel by panel. Here you can see where fact and fiction deviate, and what liberties and prejudices Brown brings to the story.

Will Eisner performs a little revisionist history of his own in Fagin the Jew. As the veteran cartoonist explains in the book's foreword, his depiction of the young black sidekick Ebony in his most famous creation, The Spirit comic strip of the 1940s and '50s, may have been true to its time, but it did nothing to break Stepin Fetchit stereotypes about African-Americans.

In Fagin the Jew, Eisner attempts a moral reckoning by explaining, and finding sympathy for, the exploiter of young men in Oliver Twist. He benefits from being able to draw on Charles Dickens' novel for much of his tale, but the cartoonist also gives us a back story and a researched look at the conditions that gave rise to the prejudices against Jews in England.

As for the art -- well, it almost goes without saying that Eisner is practically unmatched, not only as a master of naturalistic body language and facial expression but also as an inventor of much of the language of comics. His experience and love for the form is apparent in every sepia-toned panel.

-

Nearly two decades ago, The Sandman was one of the first titles to bridge the gap between superhero comics and the more intriguing material in the then-emerging alternative black-and-white scene. Guys would give their girlfriends a copy of The Sandman in an attempt to justify another trip to the comic-book store.

Nevertheless, in comparison to the substance of the Eisner, Brown and Satrapi books, the Sandman spinoff Endless Nights looks like pretty -- and pretty thin -- escapism.

For this lavish tome, Sandman creator Neil Gaiman (the series that jump-started his reputation pursues him the way the tag "ex-Beatle" sticks to Paul McCartney) has written seven short stories, each illustrated by a different artist about a different member of the Endless, a family of gods invented for the series.

But the premise of immortal personifications of Desire, Destruction, Despair, Delirium, Dream (a.k.a. the Sandman himself), Death and Destiny, kept alive only by people's belief in them, allows Gaiman the freedom to venture wherever his imagination takes him.

In Death, the inhabitants of a debauched island hold time and mortality at bay. A series of one-page portraits illustrate various manifestations of Despair, while the alternating perspectives by a group of deranged outcasts and mental cases tell of an attempt to rescue one little girl's psyche.

This last story features art by Bill Sienkiewicz, one of comics' most gifted stylists and a man who can't seem to draw a page that isn't innovative in its layout and technique.

Also worth mentioning are the poetry of artist Craig Russell's lines in the opening story and Italian erotic comics icon Milo Manara's gorgeous Desire. The latter is definitely a case of the right man for the job. As Gaiman notes in his introduction, "The notion that Manara would draw me a tale of desire was one of the things that carried me into the book . . . ."

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Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, the well-known tale of a man who wakes up to find that he has turned into a cockroach, seems a natural for a graphic adaptation. Peter Kuper's black-and-white (mostly black) woodcut-style art imbues the story's mood of claustrophobia and paranoia with just the right amount of dread.

Seeing the story in graphic-novel form is a nice twist on the whole superhero genre. Interestingly, when Gregor Samsa wakes up with the body of a cockroach, his first impulse is not to don a cape and fight crime. Instead, he tries to hide from his family and the rest of the world, and Kuper's adaptation highlights Samsa's relationship to his dysfunctional relatives.

While the above books are evidence of the graphic novel's continued health and near-limitless artistic possibilities, A Right to Be Hostile shows just what a dead end the traditional newspaper comic strip has painted itself into. One of the earliest examples of "sequential art" (Eisner's preferred term), the form is in truly benighted shape if we are to believe, as some critics tell us, that Aaron McGruder's Boondocks is one of the last remaining alternatives to piffle like Cathy.

On the basis of this third collection, I suspect the raves are more the result of political correctness and the novelty of a strip featuring African-American characters than of any intrinsic value. With its formula of fast-talking, mischievous kids and cantankerous grandparents, the strip offers little that is innovative, and the jokes are painfully unfunny.

As Doonesbury begat the less insightful, less caustic Bloom County, so does Bloom County beget an even more pedantic and obvious offspring. It's enough to make you long for the return of Bill the Cat.

Vancouver entertainment writer Shawn Conner still has a stuffed Bill the Cat given to him for Christmas years ago.

PERSEPOLIS

BY MARJANE SATRAPI

Random House of Canada, 153 pages ($26.95)

LOUIS RIEL

BY CHESTER BROWN

Raincoast Books, 272 pages ($34.95)

FAGIN THE JEW

BY WILL EISNER

Doubleday, 128 pages ($23.95)

ENDLESS NIGHTS

BY NEIL GAIMAN et al.

Vertigo/DC Comics, 160 pages ($37.95)

THE METAMORPHOSIS

BY FRANZ KAFKA

Adapted by PETER KUPER

Three Rivers Press, 80 pages ($27)

A RIGHT TO BE HOSTILE

The Boondocks Treasury

BY AARON McGRUDER

Three Rivers Press, 256 pages ($25.95)
 

Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

The Fixer




  Ottawa Citizen Reprints Time.com's "Best Comics of 2003"

Updated January 14, 2004


The best comics of the year, according to Time magazine:

The Ottawa Citizen
581 words
4 January 2004
Ottawa Citizen
Final
D2
English
Copyright © 2004 Ottawa Citizen

1. Blankets

By Craig Thompson

This semi-autobiographical novel, set in the snowy hinterlands of Wisconsin, tells the story of a lonely, artistic young man who struggles with his fundamentalist Christian upbringing when he falls in love. Fluidly told over 582 pages, Blankets magically re-creates the high emotional stakes of adolescence. Thompson has set new bars for the medium not just in length, but breadth.

2. The Fixer

By Joe Sacco

Sacco continues his pioneering work in comix journalism with this profile of a shady Sarajevo native and his stories of the city's siege during the early 90s. Combining detailed artwork with dynamic layouts and a grasp of the relativeness of truth, The Fixer is a vital pure comix

experience.

3. Persepolis

By Marjane Satrapi

It couldn't be more prescient or unexpected: a comix-style memoir by a woman who grew up during the Iranian revolution. Totally unique and utterly fascinating, Satrapi's simple style reveals the complexities of this veiled-off world.

4. Buddha, Vols. 1 & 2

By Osamu Tezuka

Japanese comix master Tezuka adds his own characters and stories to the life of the Buddha in these first two books of a projected eight. While always playful and entertaining, the central themes -- the cycles of karma and respect for all living creatures -- never stray from the tenets of the faith.

5. Nightmare Alley

Adapted by Spain

Spain, a veteran of the underground era of adult comix, adapts William Lindsay Gresham's 1946 novel of the midway. The perfect "comix noir" of a colourless world, Nightmare Alley churns your guts and loins with its nihilism, sex and freaks.

6. Louis Riel

By Chester Brown

Drawing the characters in a style more akin to daily cartoon gag strips, Brown tells the true story of a Metis mystic who led a rebellion against the Canadian government during the late 19th century. It's a compelling package that uses history to explore the nature of belief, madness and power.

7. Paul has a Summer Job

By Michael Rabagliati

Rabagliati's thinly veiled autobiography tells a genuinely moving coming-of-age story of a summer as a camp counsellor. Charmingly illustrated, the book follows Paul as he moves from self-pity to self-confidence, learning to live outside of himself through falling in love and helping others.

8. Palomar

By Gilbert Hernandez

At last all of Hernandez' stories located in Palomar, the small town "somewhere south of the U.S. border," have been collected into one volume. First appearing in the '80s and '90s, these deeply influential tales, a sort of Archie-comics-meets-Marquez melange of complicated pan-American inter-relationships, are a comix epic.

9. League of Extra Ordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2

By Alan Moore & Kevin O'Neill

Forget the movie, if you haven't already. Writer Moore and penciller O'Neill take their cast of fictional 19th-century characters, including the Invisible Man, Mr. Hyde and Alan Quatermain and pit them against H.G. Wells' invaders from Mars. It's pure entertainment that also involves topical themes of foreign threats, WMDs and gene-splicing.

10. The Yellow Jar

By Patrick Atagnan

The never-before-published Atagnan turns traditional Japanese folk tales into gorgeous, full-colour comix told in a style reminiscent of ancient Japanese prints. Beautiful to look at and a delight to read, The Yellow Jar made for a knockout debut.

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Joe Sacco
Michel Rabagliati

           Featured products

The Fixer
Paul Has a Summer Job




Books In Canada spotlights "I Never Liked You"

Updated January 7, 2004


Jeet Heer writes about graphic novels for the publishing trade "Books In Canada" and includes "I Never Liked You."

"When you read Brown's work, however, it quickly becomes apparent that this visual frugality is evidence of a powerfullly concentrated storytelling ability."
 

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Chester Brown

           Featured product

I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition




  Ho Che Anderson interviews Chester Brown for the Toronto Star

Updated January 5, 2004


Ho Che Anderson (King Volumes I, II & III - Fantagraphics) interviews fellow cartoonist Chester Brown for the Toronto Star's entertainment section. Anderson provides an in-depth, career spanning overview of Chester's work.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



The Onion AV Club reviews The Fixer & Louis Riel

Updated December 22, 2003


"Both Louis Riel and The Fixer explore the common quandary of how patriotism gets reinterpreted as treason when regimes change. In that context, Brown and Sacco's careful illustrations have a subversive power: They scratch onto paper what had previously been a matter of rumor and vague perception."
 
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Featured artists

Chester Brown
Joe Sacco

           Featured product

The Fixer




  Vancouver's Georgia Straight Reviews Louis Riel & Acme Novelty Datebook

Updated December 22, 2003


The Vancouver Weekly The Georgia Straight reviews two D+Q graphic novels in their 2003 Holiday books round-up.

John Byrne states that LOUIS RIEL is told with "masterful pacing" and that "Canada's history unfolds here with an orderly inevitability, engrossing and...enriching."

Byrne notes that the ACME NOVELTY DATEBOOK has "first appearances by the entire Jimmy Corrrigan cast, and a persistent drift toward the flat architectural drawing style and desaturated palette that helped give Corrigan its emotional heft."

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Chris Ware

           Featured product

ACME Novelty Datebook Volume 1: 1986-1995




Boston Phoenix Reviews Louis Riel & Acme Novelty Datebook

Updated December 17, 2003


From the Boston weekly the Phoenix, reviewer Mike Milliard takes an in-depth look at this year's graphic novels including Chester Brown's LOUIS RIEL and Chris Ware's ACME NOVELTY DATEBOOK.

an excerpt:

"For a more intimate look at Ware’s thought processes and raw emotion, flip through the Acme Novelty Datebook: Sketches and Diary Pages in Facsimile, 1986-1995 (Drawn & Quarterly; $39.95). It is, quite literally, his sketchbook. Reproducing the febrile scribblings and manic marginalia he churned out between the ages of 19 and 28, the book leaves no doubt why Ware is one of the best artists of his generation. First, he draws anything. Sad sacks sitting in diners, household appliances, austere architecture, grotesque cartoon characters whom he subjects to gruesome demises. And he seems at home with any medium: pen and ink, gouache, watercolor, crayon, marker, colored pencil — sometimes all on the same page. Most important, he has an intuitive grasp of the vernacular of comic books. Showing the influence of Dick Tracy, Krazy Kat, and Robert Crumb, he’s synthesized them all in his own inimitable style. (And after page 28, you’ll never again look at Nancy and Sluggo the same way.)

After the neurotic, fastidious precision of Jimmy Corrigan and Quimby, it’s a surprise to see the messy, try-anything quality of these pages. No coincidence that some look like Technicolor guts were spilled on the paper; Ware’s sketchbook doubles as a diary, a window on his hang-ups and insecurities — from his troubles with women (see several self-loathing, sexually explicit cartoons) to his sadness over the death of his grandmother to his insecurities about making art. It feels voyeuristic, in a way, but it’s so visually stimulating that it’s hard to put down. As one fan wrote on Amazon.com, Ware "seems unafraid to show us his most private moments of self-doubt and insecurity. It was surprising to me that someone this talented could be such a harsh critic of his own work."

Another new title from Montreal’s Drawn & Quarterly comes from Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown. Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography ($24.95) is exactly what it says it is: the starkly told story (originally serialized over 10 issues into a book) of a crucial figure in Canada’s history — yet one whom most Americans have probably never heard of. It’s a credit to Brown’s plainspoken artistry and flair for narrative that it’s a page-turner till the end.

Riel was a Métis (of mixed French and native blood) who lived in the Red River Settlement, north of Minnesota — which at that time (the mid-19th century) was not yet a part of Canada, but governed by the Hudson Bay Trading Company. To protect against further French influence in Canada, the government tried to foist an English Protestant governor on the province (soon to be Manitoba). But the Métis, resentful of this impingement on their land, turned to Riel as their leader. His journey from seminarian to community leader to member of Parliament to treasonous revolutionary to condemned man is one that Brown tells slowly and deliberately, in plain square panels and a spare understated style (influenced by the subtle caricatures of Hergé’s Tintin and Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie). His clean line and keen eye for mise en scène are perfectly suited to this bleak cipher of a story. Riel meant different things to different people. Beloved by his Métis, despised by the Protestant ascendancy, a mystic convinced he was spoken to by God and the chosen savior of his people, he was a singular and enigmatic figure. Brown makes you care. And he’s an honest historian; wherever a story’s facts are tweaked for the sake of narrative, he makes note of it. Indeed, it’s a rare comic book that comes with end notes, an index, and a bibliography."


click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Chris Ware

           Featured product

ACME Novelty Datebook Volume 1: 1986-1995




  Montreal Hour Loves D+Q Graphic Novels

Updated December 4, 2003


Dimitri Katadotis of The Montreal Weekly THE HOUR spotlights one of the "finest publishers around" D+Q and states that everyone of our titles is an "extremely worthy" purchase. Thanks! We agree!
click here to download the PDF (1.86 MB)


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Igort
Chris Ware

           Featured products

5 is the Perfect Number
ACME Novelty Datebook Volume 1: 1986-1995




The Globe & Mail features Louis Riel as one of 2003's best books

Updated November 24, 2003


In Chester Brown's comic-strip life of Louis Riel, history never looked so good. Quebec native Brown began drawing comics in the mid-1980s, and in his early graphic works, The Playboy and I Never Liked You, he mined a personal universe that documented the difficulties of adolescence and his mother's schizophrenia. In his portrayal of Riel , Brown has found the perfect embodiment of his interests -- politics, religion, madness, the outsider.

 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Halifax's The Coast spotlights Chester Brown & Louis Riel

Updated November 24, 2003


The Halifax Weekly THE COAST featured Chester Brown and LOUIS RIEL to promote Chester's 11/22 appearance, stating "the art is beautifully detailed."

click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



National Post Features Chester Brown & LOUIS RIEL

Updated November 6, 2003


"Louis Riel is one of the most resonant names in Canadian history; Little Orphan Annie is an icon of American popular culture. Although both Riel and Orphan Annie are famous, few would discuss these renowned figures in the same breath. It is part of the peculiar genius of Chester Brown's new book, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (Drawn & Quarterly), that it fuses a historical subject with a pop-cultural approach, using the visual language of an Orphan Annie adventure to dramatize a pivotal event in our nation's past."

 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Exclaim! Features Chester Brown & Louis Riel

Updated November 3, 2003


Canada's national free weekly EXCLAIM! features an article on Chester Brown and Louis Riel.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



Louis Riel reviewed in Quill & Quire

Updated October 29, 2003


The November issue of the Canadian publishing bible QUILL & QUIRE has a featured review of LOUIS RIEL with artwork.

"...the book is a wonderful combination of factual resources and powerful art and storytelling."
 

Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Montreal Mirror features Chester Brown & Louis Riel

Updated October 25, 2003


Promoting Chester's Montreal appearance, the weekly newspaper The Mirror comments about LOUIS RIEL: "rarely is Canadian history delivered in a package as absorbing as Chester Brown's latest ouevre."
click here to download the PDF (291.78 KB)


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



Globe & Mail features LOUIS RIEL on cover of Book Review

Updated October 22, 2003


Chester Brown’s new graphic novel LOUIS RIEL was the cover review of the venerable Canadian national newspaper THE GLOBE & MAIL BOOK REVIEW on Saturday, October 18, 2003. Lavishing the book with non-stop accolades, reviewer Bernice Eisenstein states "if you love to read a gripping story, if you are awed by the talent of an artist, then look no further: Chester Brown’s LOUIS RIEL is comix history in the making, and with it, history never looked so good."

Review Excerpt:
"Riel’s story of injustice and intrigue and the machinations of an expanding nation are stylishly written, but Brown’s well-paced schematic unfolding knows when to pull back the word and release the artistic arsenal of cinematic techniques, frame by frame. Thus, battle scenes are pure image, capturing the close-up tensions and movement of action, and Riel’s isolation is revealed in silence. Word and pen unite together, near the end, when Riel is tried for treason."

Along with featuring LOUIS RIEL on the cover of the Book Review and the front page of the newspaper, the GLOBE & MAIL ran two full pages of art alongside the review.

 
click here to download the PDF (1.45 MB)


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Chester Brown Tour Update & Instore Date

Updated October 2, 2003


Chester Brown's LOUIS RIEL is due in stores on 10/22.

Chester’s upcoming appearances are:

OTTAWA, ONTARIO

Ottawa International Writers Festival with JOE SACCO for THE FIXER
Saturday, October 11th at 4pm
National Library of Canada
395 Wellington Street Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N4
http://www.writersfest.com/


CALGARY & BANFF, Alberta

WORDFEST Banff, Alberta
Thursday, October 16tth from7:30 - 8:30 pm
Get the Picture
The Club, The Banff Centre 107 Tunnel Mountain Drive Banff, Alberta
http://www.wordfest.com/festival_authors.html/Chester+Brown

WORDFEST Calgary, Alberta
Saturday, October 18th from 3 - 4 pm
Graffic Jam
Art Gallery of Calgary 117 8th Avenue SW Calgary, Alberta
http://www.wordfest.com/festival_authors.html/Chester+Brown

REDD SKULL SIGNING Calgary, Alberta
Sunday, October 19th, 1 - 3 pm
Redd Skull Comics & CD's
720A Edmonton Trail North East, Calgary, AB T2E 3J4
403.230.2716

MONTREAL

PUBLIC LIBRARY WEEK SLIDE LECTURE
Saturday, October 25th at 1:00 pm
Town of Mount Royal Library (Reginald J. P. Dawson Library)
1967 Graham Blvd., Montreal, QC H3R 1H5
514 734 2967
http://www.bpim.qc.ca/mtroyal/opening.htm

PARAGRAPHE BOOKSTORE SIGNING
Saturday, October 25th at 3:00 pm
2220 McGill College Avenue Montreal, QC
514 845 5811
http://www.paragraphbooks.com




Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



Chester Brown Interviewed By the National Post 9/27/03

Updated October 2, 2003


Chester Brown was interviewed by Canada’s national newspaper THE NATIONAL POST on 9/27/03 about his new graphic novel LOUIS RIEL. Subsequently, D+Q ran out of LOUIS RIEL at Toronto’s Word on the Street Fest on Sunday 9/28.


 
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



  Chester Brown and Seth audio interview on September 20th

Updated September 18, 2003


Chester Brown and Seth will be interviewed on Saturday, September 20th on the CBC radio show Definitely Not The Opera, between 3 and 4 pm EST. Those of you outside Canada can still listen to it live on the internet by clicking below.
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth

           Featured products

It's A Good Life If You Don't Weaken (PB)
Vernacular Drawings




Chester Brown launches Louis Riel across Canada throughout September

Updated September 8, 2003


Chester Brown's new eagerly-anticipated Louis Riel hardcover book will be officially launched across Canada in September and October with several dates at author festivals, libraries, art galleries, and book stores. Events will be held in Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary, and Montreal (sorry, no U.S. or international events). The book will debut exclusively at these events and will not be available in other stores until October 15th. Here's the listing for September events:

REGINA, Saskatchewan
[4 separate events]
—Saturday, September 13 at 1:00 pm World exclusive of Louis Riel book with a book signing by Chester at Reader’s Book Shop, 2104B Grant Road. Telephone: 306.586.1414

—Sunday, September 14, 2003, the Dunlop Art Gallery is inviting Chester Brown and six other individuals to Batoche, the site of the Northwest Rebellion, for a tour. This day-long excursion into rural Saskatchewan should provide an interesting examination of the history of Saskatchewan and the Métis peoples.

—Wednesday, September 17, 2003, Chester Brown will be participating in a workshop with students from both Winston Knoll Collegiate and Michael A. Riffel High School. This workshop will cover both aspects of Saskatchewan History and the Northwest Rebellion, and the art of comic book making.

—Thursday, September 18, 2003 at 7:00 pm the Dunlop Art Gallery will be having an opening reception for Louis Riel: Selected Panels by Chester Brown. This exhibition features original works by Chester Brown depicting the celebrated Métis leader. Location:
The Central Library Gallery
[The Dunlop Art Gallery]
2311 12th Avenue
Regina, Saskatchewan
S4P 3Z5
Tel: 306-777-6040
For more information about the Regina events contact:
Felipe Diaz at: fdiaz@rpl.regina.sk.ca

WINNIPEG, Manitoba
[1 event]
— Friday, September 19
Winnipeg Writers Festival
"Writing Fact, Writing Fiction" panel at the Univeresity of Winnipeg on Friday, Sept 19, 2:30-4:00, at Eckhart-Gramatte Hall. Here's the blurb from our program:

"How do writers negotiate their obligation to historical accuracy when it collides with the demands of story? Today's panellists have all wrestled with that question. Chester Brown's serial comic, a graphic biography of Louis Riel, has been recently published in book form. Margaret Sweatman has located two of her novels in specific historical moments in our local past; Louis Riel appears several times in When Alice Lay Down with Peter. Armin Wiebe's new novel, Tatsea, is set in the 1760s subarctic; his characters and their conflicts emerge partly from history and partly from his imagination. Join these three as they talk about writing history at a slant."
http://www.winnipegwords.com/

TORONTO, Ontario
[2 events, with more to come in October]
— Word on The Street writers festival
Sunday, September 28 at the Drawn & Quarterly booth, Queen Steet West.
Chester will be joined by fellow D+Q cartoonists Seth, Adrian Tomine, and David Collier.

—Monday, September 29th, 7:30 to 9:30 pm.
Chester will be giving a talk at the Toronto Children's Literature Roundtable:
Graphic Novels: author/illustrator discussion and hands on displays
with Chester Brown and Publishers Group Canada
Dian Borek, convenor
at the Canadian Children's Book Centre, 40 Orchard View Blvd., Suite 101, Toronto, ON M4R 1B9 (416) 975-0010.

http://members.rogers.com/borek/homepage/2003.htm

For more information on the October events planned for Ottawa, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal visit our website later this month.
click here to download the PDF (761.47 KB)


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



Chester Brown profile in The Globe and Mail today

Updated August 15, 2003


The Globe and Mail, one of Canada's national newspapers, published a major profile of Chester Brown today, with a particular focus on his upcoming book, Louis Riel.
click here to read more

click here to download the PDF (761.47 KB)


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



D+Q at MOCCA in NYC and Library convention in Toronto this weekend

Updated July 1, 2003


Although D+Q is temporarily a one man operation once again the company will still manage to be in two different cities at the same time this weekend. Amazing! In Toronto on Saturday and Sunday The American and Canadian Library Associations join forces for the first time since 1960 to host the biggest library convention on the continent. Publisher Chris Oliveros will be representing D+Q at the Chronicle Books booth. Meanwhile in New York City, D+Q will be in attendence at the MOCCA comic art show, with Peter Birkemoe (the owner of The Beguiling, one of the world's best comic stores), representing the company. MOCCA runs all day Sunday at the Puck building on Lafayette street.

In person at the Toronto Library convention: Seth and Chester Brown signing at 3:30 pm, Sunday June 22nd in the Chronicle Books booth.

At MOCCA, in New York, James Sturm and R. Sikoryak will be signing at the D+Q booth in the early afternoon.
 

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Seth
James Sturm

          



  Really "Riel" History: Time.comix

Updated June 5, 2003


A Canadian History Lesson
TIME.comix on Chester Brown's "Louis Riel" 

Friday, May. 30, 2003
by Andrew Arnold

Chester Brown doesn't need your love. Part of the second generation of "underground" comix artists of the mid 1980s, Brown has gone from absurdist humor ("Ed the Happy Clown") to confessional autobiography ("I Never Liked You") to adapting the Gospels, to a fictional series with all-gibberish dialogue. His latest project, "Louis Riel," (Drawn and Quarterly; 24 pp; $2.95) the tenth and final issue of which has just arrived, was yet another radical shift in subject. Although choosing to do a biography of a 19th century mystic and rabble rouser known primarily in Canada is another test of his audience's loyalty, those who have remained with Chester Brown can see that it fits perfectly into his oeuvre. "Louis Riel" contains all of Chester Brown's favorite themes in a superb example of historical storytelling.

Riel belonged to the community known as the Métis, a mixture of Native Americans and French settlers who lived along the Red River just north of Minnesota. In 1869 the land was ostensibly owned by the Hudson's Bay Company, who sold it to Canada. Fearful of having another French influence in Parliament, the Canadian government attempted to install an English Protestant governor. Angry that they were left out of the deal and determined to have elected representatives the Métis prevented the governor from entering the territory. Riel's knowledge of English, Montreal education, and overall charisma made him a natural leader. Democratically inclined, he organized a provisional government that included the minority English settlers. Yet his efforts would be repeatedly undermined by the Canadian establishment until eventually he became a wanted outlaw.

At this point, around issue five, things take a strange turn. While in exile in the United States Riel has a vision from God, appointing him as a new prophet. Thus divined he returns to Canada to lead the Métis from bondage as Moses led the Jews. By now, many of the them have moved further west where they continue to rankle against the Canadian government. In the story, the Prime Minister takes advantage of Riel's return to deliberately provoke a rebellion, then sends in troops on the Canadian-Pacific Railway. Declaring that God doesn't want the Métis to use guerrilla tactics, Riel disastrously waits for the soldiers who promptly end the Métis rebellion. The final issues recreate Riel's trial for treason where he must reluctantly submit to being defended on an insanity plea. Found guilty, he dies at the gallows in 1885.

Chester Brown takes admitted liberties with some aspects of the story. Some are as small as combining Riel's several defense councils into one character. Bigger leaps include the theory that the Canadian government actually conspired to cause the last Métis rebellion. In a remarkable move that lets Brown tell the best story and tell the truth, every deviance from recorded history is meticulously footnoted at the end. Deeply researched yet carefully manipulated, the final result goes past history and into literature. "Louis Riel" ties together all the ideas Chester Brown has explored before in disparate ways: the capriciousness and injustice of authority, the relationship between religious fervor and madness and the relative "truth" of nonfiction. "Louis Riel," as told by Chester Brown becomes a deeply personal, utterly compelling page-turner in the guise of a 19th-century history book.

Being a smart comix artist, Chester Brown makes the design of "Louis Riel" match its concept of history as viewed through a personal lens. He strives for historical accuracy in every way except the characters, who are deliberately cartoonish — sometimes absurdly so. Canada's Prime Minister, Sir. John McDonald has a comically gigantic gibbous nose. Riel himself starts out rather normal in scale but after his enlightenment becomes huge, like the Hulk in a wool suit. In the final issue, Brown cites Harold Gray's "Little Orphan Annie" as a major influence, and the comparison is dead on. From the thin, uniformly weighted pen lines right down to the circles for eyes, Brown has updated Gray's technique to tell a true adventure.

Though very different from his previous work, "Louis Riel" fits perfectly into Chester Brown's oeuvre. Part of his artistry has always been to challenge himself and his readers with the new. That may make him tough on his fans but it makes him one of the medium's brilliant mavericks.

All ten issues of "Louis Riel" remain in print and can be found at superior comic shops. The are scheduled to be collected into a book in the fall.

Copyright © 2003 Time Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.

click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



The D+Q fashion line: the Louis Riel T shirt

Updated May 21, 2003


It's handsome and soft and cream- colored and it's only available through our web site.







Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



Louis Riel in The Beaver: Canada's History Mag

Updated May 21, 2003


The Beaver, April/May 2003

Well you can't say Louis Riel isn't a protean figure. Which may be why the nineteenth century politicain, mystic, and maverick has inspired twentieth-century poems, novels, opera, film and --for all we know--needle point samplers. Lately, here in the twenty-first century, it's comic books: Toronto illustrator Chester Brown began drawing and writing his series Louis Riel in 1999. This spring, ten issues later, he's done. The hero of the tale has posed in uncountable panels and stood beneath innumerable word balloons, moving from leading role in the provisional government at Red River in 1869 to doom on a Regina gibbet in 1885. While comic books bespeak the lightweight and easy-to-read, Brown's series--which is scheduled for collection in one volume in September--maintains a thoughtful, mature sensibility and a respect for historicity, though he does make a point of saying that he believes the Metis cause was just and the Canadian government of the day was wrong. To further dispell any notions this is history lite, each twenty-four-page volume contains end notes and a bibliography of respected sources.
You could almost use it to cram for an exam.
click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

          



Previews Solicitations for September Shipping

Updated May 8, 2003


September Shipping

Product Information Sheet

Title: Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography
Writers’ and Artists’ Names: Chester Brown

Intended Audience: Mature audiences

Format: Cloth, B/W, 260 pages, 6 x 9
Retail Price: $24.95

Ship Date: September 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-896597-63-7

Synopsis:

Nominated for 2 Harveys and 2 Eisners for Best Continuing Series and Best Artist! This is one of the most hotly anticipated graphic novels of 2003. Now a gorgeous hardcover graphic novel with extensive notes, maps, and annotations by the author.

Chester Brown reveals in the dusty closet of Canadian history there are some skeletons that won’t stop rattling. Was Louis Riel one of the founding fathers of a nation, or a murderer who nearly tore a country apart? He was so charismatic he was elected to government twice while in exile with a prize on his head--but also impassioned his erratic behavior cast serious doubts on his sanity.

Title: I Never Liked You
Writers’ and Artists’ Names: Chester Brown

Intended Audience: Mature audiences

Format: Paper, B/W, 185 pages, 6 x 9
Retail Price: $15.95

Ship Date: September 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-896597-14-0

Synopsis:
This is essential graphic novel reading, according to the New York Times and Library Journal. Make sure you have the classic memoir that Brown calls "in my humble opinion my best book ever." Brown’s haunting story of withdrawn adolescence and family mental illness is told with a stark, poetic elegance and urgency. Find out why The Onion declared Chester Brown "should be declared a national treasure."

Title: The Little Man
Writers’ and Artists’ Names: Chester Brown

Intended Audience: Mature audiences

Format: Cloth, B/W, 172 pages, 6 x 9
Retail Price: $24.95

Ship Date: September 1st, 2003
ISBN: 1-896597-16-5

Synopsis:
A handsome, hardcover book and a smart companion volume to Louis Riel, featuring Chester Brown’s signature design sensibility. A comprehensive fifteen year overview of short stories from one of today’s best cartoonists. Many of these strips originally appeared in Brown’s original comic book series, Yummy Fur. A cult classic from one of comics legends.

Title: The Playboy
Writers’ and Artists’ Names: Chester Brown

Intended Audience: Mature audiences

Format: Paper, B/W, 170 pages, 6 x 9
Retail Price: $12.95

Ship Date: September 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-9696701-1-7

Synopsis:
D+Q’s first graphic novel, The Playboy is Chester Brown's courageous, frank and deeply unsettling account of his relationship with pornography. It begins in 1975 with an abandoned copy of Playboy. Guilt shadows Chester for the next 15 years as he tracks the influence of pornography on his relationships with women. A graphic novel collected from the pages of his classic comic book series Yummy Fur.






click here to read more


Featured artist

Chester Brown

           Featured product

I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition




2003 Harvey Award Nominees Announced!

Updated April 23, 2003


Among the very fine 2003 Harvey Award Nominees are the following D&Q artists and their books.

Congratulations to Chester and Debbie!

Best Cartoonist:
Chester Brown

Best Continuing Series:
Louis Riel

Best Graphic Album:
Summer of Love
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Debbie Drechsler

          



Two new D&Q comics in May

Updated April 22, 2003


The last issue of Louis Riel.
By Chester Brown.

Riveting courtroom drama in a comic book. Louis Riel, the 19th century rebel leader from the prairies, is on trial for the crime of treason against the Canadian government and his life is on the line. Chester Brown concludes his series on one of the most violent and unstable periods in Canadian history. With the final issue of Louis Riel, he depicts one of the most controversial acts ever brought down by the Canadian government, one that shaped the country and still provokes the fiercest debate today.
Find out why Canadians still quarrel whether Louis Riel is a founding father.
Look for the T-shirt this Fall!

Berlin #10 by Jason Lutes

The demonstration has left the streets of Berlin running with accusations, paranoia and blood.
Some people withdraw into the shadows and others become martyrs.

Kurt begins investigating the massacre while the unsuspecting American jazz band the Cocoa Kids begin making a name for themselves among the cabarets and dancing girls that made the glittering city famous.
 

Featured artists

Chester Brown
Jason Lutes

           Featured product

Berlin #10




  2003 Eisner Nominations: 2 D&Q faves

Updated April 14, 2003


Congratulations to long time D&Q friends and artists Chester Brown and Joe Matt.

Chester Brown was nominated for Louis Riel for Best Continuing Series.

Joe Matt's graphic novel Fair Weather was nominated for best graphic album (reprint)
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Joe Matt

           Featured product

Fair Weather (PB)




Time.comix Best of 2000

Updated March 17, 2003


Time.comix, Friday, Dec. 08, 2000
With four different top-tier, trade-published books, the year 2000 has been the best for comics in a very long time. And now we have made it easier to find those books as well — publisher information and availability are at the end of this article.

"Berlin: City of Stones," by Jason Lutes
This paperback collects the first eight issues of a projected 25-issue series that takes place in Weimar Berlin. If it reaches completion, this will be the longest, most sophisticated work of historical fiction in the medium. Lutes has a natural, clean, European drawing style, much like Hergé's "Tintin." This first volume follows a young woman art student who meets a weary leftist journalist against a background of boiling politics and decadence. Only eight issues in, and already this book has the density of the best novels.

6. "Louis Riel," by Chester Brown
How does a history of a real 19th-century Quebecois rebel mystic become fun to read? When he is drawn with the clownish proportions of a tiny head and a giant's body. Chester Brown makes history his own by rewriting it just slightly, while annotating every altered detail, and presenting it all in his spare, almost goofy drawing style. When the series reaches its end in 2001, it will be collected. Now if only he would finish his version of the Gospels!
 
click here to read more


Featured artists

Chester Brown
Jason Lutes

           Featured product

Berlin, Book One: City of Stones





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