Joe Matt

Comics Can Be Anything: Chester Brown outs self as john for prostitutes in graphic novel Paying For It

Paying For It by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly)

One of the major releases of the year is the graphic novel Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being A John by Chester Brown. Yes, that’s right. It’s a comic book about prostitutes, sex workers, hookers. You get the idea. But don’t expect lurid sex scenes and locker room bragging of sexual conquests. Like his acclaimed Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, which methodically tracked Canada’s history and the controversial revolutionary’s life in the mid-1800s with cool detachment, so too in Paying For It does Brown logically and almost mathematically examine romantic love. And as you might guess, he comes to the conclusion that paying for sex instead of having a girlfriend is the life for him. At least for a while.

The book has been getting almost universally praised: “incredibly engrossing” – Carlton Hargro, Creative Loafing; “required reading for anyone who seeks to better comprehend the limits of romantic love” – Morgan Davis, Comics Bulletin; “revealing” – James Smart, The Guardian; “insightful and fascinating,” “5 stars” – Kelly Thompson, Comic Book Resources; “There is a commendable honesty here, to be sure: a kind of downbeat, detached naturalism. But there is something dispiriting about it too.” – Naomi Fry, The Comics Journal; “amusing and revealing” – Chris Randle, The National Post; “remains compelling” – Sean Rogers, The Walrus; “a defiant work of truth-telling and a welcome return to autobiographical comics from one of the medium’s incontrovertible masters” – Brad Mackay, The Globe and Mail.

And that was just the first couple pages of Google. But perhaps the most intriguing review was posted last week. The website Tits and Sass is a group blog by and for sex workers. Yes, that’s right. Chester Brown’s graphic novel about prostitution gets reviewed by a prostitute. Charlotte Shane turns in an excellent review, smartly written. She hilariously claims that she wouldn’t want Chester Brown as a client.

But I think I was most relieved that she didn’t treat the medium of comics as any sort of special case. The graphic novel form isn’t derided, it’s not a novelty, it’s just the piece of entertainment that’s being reviewed. And scanning through the site, I don’t see a lot of comics or graphic novel coverage. In fact, in all of the reviewed from the mainstream press linked to above, they all appear to be comfortable enough with the form.

However…

While a great interview, I get the impression from Fanny Keifer that she’s kind of surprised comics could be about this. Yes, yes they can. In fact, they can be about anything.