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.


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.

Comics College reveals Essential Reading of Comic Book Masters

One of my favorite regular columns is the monthly Comics College by Chris Mautner at Robot 6, hosted by Comic Book Resources. Each entry is a great introductory overview of what’s best to read from the great comic book masters and why they are so good, making this a fantastic source for newcomers or people who’ve always wanted to expand their reading. It also covers their lesser known work and stuff that maybe should be avoided.

The great part of the column is that it is looking at masters from all over the art form of comics. It’s not just superhero creators, or just alternative comics creators. It’s both those, as well as manga, newspaper strips, underground comics, euro-comics, comics journalism and more.

This month’s subject is the Norwegian cartoonist simply known as Jason. This prolific creator tells funny genre mash-ups with a deadpan economy of dialogue and understated emotion with characters struggling over love and guilt. Next month, George Herriman will be featured. His classic comic strip Krazy Kat is among the most highly regarded in the history of comics.

The Comics College column debuted in August 2009 and has covered the following comics masters past and present (click on the link to be taken to the column):

  1. Los Bros. Hernandez (Love and Rockets)
  2. Jack Kirby (The Fantastic Four, Jack Kirby’s Fourth World)
  3. Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Phoenix)
  4. R. Crumb (Zap Comix, Book of Genesis)
  5. Neil Gaiman (Sandman, Mr. Punch)
  6. Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, Acme Novelty Library)
  7. Lewis Trondheim (Dungeon, Little Nothings)
  8. Harvey Kurtzman (Mad Magazine, Frontline Combat)
  9. art spiegelman (Maus, In the Shadow of No Towers)
  10. Eddie Campbell (Alec: The Years Have Pants, The Fate of the Artist)
  11. Harvey Pekar (American Splendor, Our Cancer Year)
  12. Kim Deitch (The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Shadowland)
  13. Kevin Huizenga (Ganges, Curses)
  14. Hergé (Tintin)
  15. Charles M. Schulz (Peanuts)
  16. John Stanley (Little Lulu, Melvin Monster)
  17. Seth (George Sprott: 1894-1975, Wimbledon Green, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken)
  18. Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns, Sin City)
  19. Joe Sacco (Safe Area Gorazde, Palestine)
  20. Jason (I Killed Adolf Hitler, Hey Wait…)
  21. George Herriman (Krazy Kat)
  22. Jack Cole (Plastic Man, Betsy and Me)
  23. Adrian Tomine (Summer Blonde, Scenes from an Impending Marriage)
  24. Grant Morrison (All-Star Superman, We3)
  25. Jessica Abel (La Perdida, Artbabe)

UPDATE: I’ll keep updating the list over at The Comics Observer as Robot 6 posts new entries.

New to Comics? New Comics for You! 6/3/09

Never read a graphic novel before? Haven’t read a comic book in years?

Here’s some brand new stuff coming out this week that I think is worth a look-see for someone with little to no history with comics. That means you should be able to pick any of these up cold without having read anything else. So take a look and see if something doesn’t grab your fancy. If so, follow the publisher links or links to buy yourself a copy. Or, head to your local friendly comic book shop.

Disclaimer: While it may seem like it, I do not live in the future. For the most part, I have not read these yet, so I can’t vouch for their quality. But, from what I’ve heard and seen, odds are good they just might appeal to you.

Love Is A Peculiar Type Of Thing – $10.00
By Box Brown
96 pages; published by Box Brown Comics

The recipient of a Winter 2009 Xeric Grant, Love Is A Peculiar Type of Thing is a collection of short comics, ranging from 3 to 12 pages in length, focusing on the plight of an average twentysomething named Ben and his girlfriend Ellen. Themes of love, fear, questioning religion, depression, anxiety, and sex are all explored with humor, insight, and understanding.

The Xeric Grant is given by the Xeric Foundation (what are the odds?) created by Peter Laird, co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles of all things, to provide financial assistance to comic book creators in their self-publishing efforts. It’s probably the only grant of its kind. Certainly the only one I know about specifically geared to independent comic creators. Recipients are selected on the basis of “originality, literary and artistic merit, and a sense of commitment to the work” they wish to self-publish. While the Mutant Turtles are primarily known for their toys, cartoons and movies, they started as a self-published comic book completely owned by the two creators, extremely unheard of for the time. It’s great that Peter Laird has quietly been giving back by providing opportunities for new voices in comics twice a year since 1992. I’d say it’s always worth checking out one of the Xeric recipients. You can also sample this one in its web-comic form at Top Shelf Comix 2.0. It appears to be a sappy little comic about first love. That probably sounds condescending but I mean that as a compliment.

Werewolves on the Moon: Versus Vampires #1 – $3.50
By Dave Land & Matt and Shawn Fillbach
32 pages; published by Dark Horse Comics

Through all of history, on the night of the full moon, the bloodcurdling cries of werewolves have pierced the night sky. For centuries, werewolves have had to content themselves with shortened forays of feral change as dictated by the source of their power — the moon! But all that is about to change as three werewolf friends — Ted, Jeff, and Stan, leave Earth and travel to the lunar surface in a quest to become kings of the moon! Unfortunately, Moon Patrol captain Maggie Pilgrim has other plans . . . as does the hive of vampires living on the dark side!

Here’s a silly high concept. Werewolves versus Vampires… on the MOON! The pitch meeting for this must’ve been ridiculous. Only in comics, people, would this actually get made. Here’s a preview. “You can shut your talk-hole before I bite your head off”. “Talk-hole”. I’m totally stealing that.

Ocean – $19.99
By Warren Ellis, Chris Sprouse & Karl Story
168 pages; published by DC Comics’ WildStorm; available at

Warren Ellis’s galaxy-spanning tale of mystery and murder is back in a new edition collecting the entire 6-issue miniseries!

U.N. Weapons inspector Nathan Kane must untangle a web of mystery on Jupiter’s moon Europa to learn what sort of beings lie under an icy dome. But he’s about to encounter resistance of the violent kind from the staff manning Earth’s outpost — and he’ll like what happens when the long-slumbering aliens begin to awaken even less.

These are some pretty high profile and skilled creators in mainstream comics, Chris Sprouse in particular, although Warren Ellis has garnered quite the cult following. This comic was recently optioned for a movie, so that’s probably why it’s being re-released in this new edition. I read the original issues and can see why it’s headed for the big screen. It’s very cinematic. A great sci-fi yarn. I remember the ending kind of losing me, but I suspect it holds together read in one package like this. Preview here (PDF download).

George Sprott: 1894-1975 – $24.95
By Seth
96 pages; published by Drawn & Quarterly; available at

Celebrated cartoonist and New Yorker cover artist Seth gives us the fictional life of George Sprott. On the surface, George seems a charming, foolish old man –but who is he? And who was he? Told as a patchwork tale, we come to know George, piece by piece, in a series of “interviews”, flashbacks and personal reminiscences. It is a story about time, identity, loss, and the pervasiveness of memory. Though ultimately this is the story of a man’s death, Seth leavens it with humor, restraint and a light touch.

Originally serialized in the New York Times magazine, this greatly expanded and “re-mastered” version is its first publication as a complete work.

Seth is one of the masters, and this will likely be a big release for him. I can’t wait to read it. George Sprott is the fictional host of a long-running local TV show whose life is recounted by a peculiar, somewhat less-than-omniscient narrator. The way this is executed, again, it’s something that could only be done in comics, but for completely different reasons. For a preview, here’s the comic as it ran in the New York Times in PDF format. 

Jungle Journal – $5.99
Roberto Totaro
64 pages; published by IDW Publishing’s Worthwhile Books; available at

It’s not all fun and games in the jungle… but it sure is in Jungle Journal! This adorable collection of color stories shows a slice of off-beat life in the jungle where monkeys, rhinos, elephants, birds, and more all share wacky moments thanks to the steady hand of Italian writer/artist Roberto Totaro. It’s The Far Side meets Jungle Book!

This week’s all-ages recommendation. Come on, look at that elephant! How can you resist that? (Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a preview.)

Chew #1 – $2.99
By John Layman & Rob Guillory
32 pages; published by Image Comics

Tony Chu is a cop with a secret. A weird secret. Tony Chu is Cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. It also means he’s a hell of a detective, as long as he doesn’t mind nibbling on the corpse of a murder victim to figure out whodunit, and why. It’s a dirty job, and Tony has to eat terrible things in the name of justice. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the government has figured out Tony Chu’s secret. They have plans for him… whether he likes it or not. 

Presenting a twisted new series about cops, crooks, cooks, cannibals and clairvoyants, written by JOHN LAYMAN (Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness, House of M: Fantastic Four and PUFFED) with mind-blowing art by astonishing comics newcomer ROB GUILLORY. 

Great concept and great art. (Chu? Get it? ‘Cause he chews food? I don’t know, I thought it was kind of funny.) Bit of a dark comedy. Here’s a preview.

Rotten #1 – $5.99
By Mark Rahner, Robert Horton & Dan Doughtery
48 pages; published by Moonstone Books

A new twist on Zombies with action, horror, and the uncomfortably recognizable in the old West! A stop-lossed Army vet. A president in office without the popular vote. A terror crisis gripping the nation! Meet William Wade, newly minted – and seriously resentful – secret agent for President Rutherford B. Hayes. His mission with cerebral partner J.J. Flynn: travel the West and investigate outbreaks of the living dead – each one more horrifyingly advanced than the last. For Wade, 1877 is turning out to be one rotten year. Captain America’s Ed Brubaker calls Rotten ‘One of the strongest and strangest concepts I’ve ever heard, executed with horrific precision,’ and Kingdom Come’s Mark Waid says ‘It’s Deadwood by way of Stephen King. It’s Undeadwood. It’s witty, it’s disturbing, and it’s a must-read.’

I know, zombies are getting kind of played out. But this looks pretty cool. Probably creepy, gross and not for the faint of heart. Preview here (scroll past a bunch of junk; it’s about halfway down the page).

After Chew and Rotten, I’m suddenly hungry.