CHESTER BROWN frankly interviewed by Montreal Gazette about PAYING FOR IT

“Brown Gets Sexual In New Book” / Montreal Gazette / Montreal Gazette / 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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