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In lieu of a formal review, here are five thoughts about Chester Brown’s Paying For It

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. Continue Reading »


What Are You Reading?

Hello and welcome to another edition of What Are You Reading? Today’s special guest is Shannon Wheeler, New Yorker cartoonist and creator of the Eisner Award-winning comic book Too Much Coffee Man, Oil & Water, the Eisner-nominated I Thought You Would Be Funnier and the upcoming Grandpa Won’t Wake Up.

To see what Shannon and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below …

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Six by 6 | Six noteworthy debut comics

Good-Bye Chunky Rice

Cartoonists rarely produce great work right out of the starting gate. It usually it takes lots of time and lots of effort for an artist to hone their style and storytelling abilities. Debut comics — even those made by the greats — rarely offer any indication of what type of treasures lie ahead. Even Chris Ware had to make Floyd Farland before he could produce Jimmy Corrigan.

Still, sometimes a cartoonist seems to spring out of the sea foam fully formed, producing a work that not only draws attention and great buzz, but also indicates exactly where they’re headed — what direction they plan to take as an artist and what you as a reader can expect from them.

Here then, are six debut comics that made people go “Who the heck is this guy? And why haven’t I heard of him before?” I’m sure I missed someone. I always do. Be a dear and let me know who I forgot in the comments section, won’t you?

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Quote of the day | Sammy Harkham on Chester Brown’s big…dilemma

its a strange thing when the most visually exciting sequence in a chester brown book are of his dick being inspected. not bad, mind you. I think chester brown has a big dick. he keeps saying it’s six inches, but girls keep saying “ow”, so he’s measuring wrong.

–Via Twitter, Sammy Harkham, editor of Kramers Ergot and author of Crickets, asks the hard questions (sorry) about Chester Brown’s new memoir about his life as a patron of prostitutes, Paying For It. I’m enjoying Fear Itself and Flashpoint just fine, but as far as summer buzz books go, they sure don’t spark conversations like this.

On a more serious tip (sorry!), Harkham also echoes an observation I myself had about the book. I won’t spoil it lest I call down the wrath of Drawn & Quarterly (although Harkham does spill the beans in his tweet, so be warned, I guess?), but by far the most interesting aspect of his relationship with prostitutes, one that pretty much turns everything else in the book on its ear, is crammed into the final few pages and barely dealt with at all. “To me, that’s where the book should start,” says Harkham. “That’s a book.”

Have you read it? What did you think?


Food or Comics? | This week’s comics on a budget

Alpha Flight

Welcome to Food or Comics?, where every week we talk about what comics we’d buy on Wednesday based on certain spending limits — $15 and $30 — as well as what we’d get if we had extra money or a gift card to spend on a “Splurge” item.

Check out Diamond’s release list or ComicList if you’d like to play along in our comments section.

Michael May

Even if I didn’t have any money at all, I’d stand on the street corner and beg until I collected three bucks to buy Alpha Flight #0.1 ($2.99). I’ve never not bought an issue of Alpha Flight and I’m not breaking that streak this week. Fortunately I have $15 and can afford to get not only that, but also Rocketeer Adventures #1 ($3.99), which I’m only slightly less excited about. And since I’ve still got some money I’d add Drums #1 ($2.99) – because it’s been a while since I’ve read a voodoo story and this looks like a good one – and Snake Eyes #1 ($3.99). I’m not a GI Joe fan, but ninjas are cool and expect that I’d be entertained by a comic about one who fights an evil spy organization.

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Comics A.M. | Comic sales slide slows; Thor press kit triggers bomb scare

Fear Itself #1

Publishing | The drop in year-over-year sales in the direct market slowed in April, with periodicals slipping 1.75 percent and graphic novels just .84 percent. Overall sales were down 1.46 percent for April and 6.5 percent for the first four months of the year. Marvel topped Diamond’s comics chart with Fear Itself #1, while DC led the graphic novel category with the 15th volume of Fables. [ICv2.com]

Crime | Police evacuated the bus terminal in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan, Friday afternoon after a suspicious package was discovered across the street. The Michigan State Police bomb squad was called in, and it was determined the mysterious package was merely a briefcase-shaped media kit promoting Acura’s involvement with Marvel’s Thor. A writer for Automobile, whose offices are next to the terminal, had discarded the “S.H.I.E.L.D. Assessment Test” kit in the recycling bin, but it wasn’t picked up — apparently because it isn’t recyclable. [WXYZ, Jalopnik]

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Comics A.M. | Batman busted; Go! Comi web domain used in scam

Mark Wayne Williams is ... Batman

Crime | Police in Petoskey, Michigan, arrested a 31-year-old man early Wednesday morning after he allegedly climbed to the roof of a downtown hardware store dressed as Batman. Mark Wayne Williams of Harbor Springs — yes, his middle name is Wayne — has been charged with trespassing, disturbing the peace and possession of dangerous weapons, as he reportedly carried a folding steel baton, weighted (sand-filled) gloves, and a can of chemical irritant spray.

Williams said at his arraignment that he didn’t realize the items were illegal, but didn’t offer an explanation as to why he was hanging off the roof of Meyer Ace Hardware dressed as the Dark Knight. The incident apparently isn’t Williams’ first encounter with police: The city’s public safety director said he had previously dressed as the Crow, but didn’t give any further details. [Petoskey News]

Crime | The expired website domain of defunct manga publisher Go! Comi is being used in a scam by an unknown party to solicit donations under the guise of resurrecting the company. “It is not real,” Audry Taylor, Go! Comi’s former creative director, warned last night on Twitter. “Do not donate. Gonna my lawyers on them.” [Anime News Network]

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Comics A.M. | Spider-Man musical returns Thursday; Noveck lands at Syfy Films

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark

Broadway | The $70-million musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark will emerge Thursday from its three-week hiatus a vastly changed production, featuring five additional flying sequences, expanded roles for Aunt May, Uncle Ben and Mary Jane, a scaled back (and transformed) Arachne, new songs and a lighter tone. “There is still a ton of emotional complexity in the musical, and some of that original darkness,” says playwright and comics writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who was hired to help rework the script. “But we all also wanted a show that would honor the rich legacy and history of the Spider-Man story: the high school love story, the pretty girl next door, the science geek who is coping with new powers.” The new opening night is set for June 14. [The New York Times]

Publishing | Gregory Noveck, former senior vice president-creative affairs at DC Entertainment, has been hired as senior vice president of production for Syfy Films, a joint venture of Syfy and Universal. Noveck, who oversaw DC’s film and television ventures, left the company in August amid a massive restructuring. [Heat Vision]

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Comics A.M. | Green Lantern light-up displays pose fire hazard

Green Lantern Animated Light Up Display

Retailing | DC Comics has advised retailers to immediately unplug the $150 Green Lantern Animated Light Up Display after one of the signs caused a small electrical fire Saturday at Rick’s Comic City in Nashville. Other retailers have reported the smell of burning plastic coming from the displays. The publisher will notify stores in the next few days how it will rectify the problem.[ICv2.com]

Retailing | Borders Group lost more than $50 million in February and March as it sought bankruptcy protection and began liquidating 226 stores, a new court filing shows. [The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly]

Publishing | Mike Searle, former editor of Wizard Entertainment’s defunct InQuest Gamer magazine, reportedly will replace Mike Cotton at Wizard World Digital. Cotton, who had been co-chief pop culture editor, left the company on Friday. [Bleeding Cool]

Conventions | Forces of Geek rounds up news from last weekend’s Boston Comic Con. [Forces of Geek]

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Your video of the day | Toronto Comic Arts Festival

Toronto Comic Arts Festival: Pencil it In from Toronto Comic Arts Festival on Vimeo.

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival, or TCAF, is coming up May 7-8, and to promote it some friends of the organizers have created this nifty video featuring many of Toronto’s talented comics folks — Chester Brown, Michael Comeau, Steve Charles Manale, Vicki Nerino, Michael Cho, Michael DeForge, Seth, Fiona Smyth and Britt Wilson.

Comics A.M. | Kindle to offer library lending; familiar faces at DC Entertainment

Amazon Kindle

E-books | Amazon announced it will allow Kindle users to read e-books from more than 11,000 libraries, marking a reversal of the company’s policy. Previously library users who borrowed e-books could read them on Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the Sony Reader and other devices, but not the Kindle. “We’re excited that millions of Kindle customers will be able to borrow Kindle books from their local libraries,” Jay Marine, Amazon’s director of Kindle, said in a statement. The Kindle Library Lending will debut later this year. [The New York Times, press release]

Publishing | Several DC Comics staff members laid off as part of the sweeping corporate restructuring — among them, editors Mike Carlin and Pornsak Pichetshote — have been hired by DC Entertainment’s newly formed Burbank-based Creative Affairs division, which operates alongside Creative Services. [Bleeding Cool]

Legal | Japanese police have arrested a 25-year-old man suspected of using Share file-sharing software to upload about 28,000 manga and anime files without the copyright holders’ permission. [Anime News Network]

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Robot reviews: Paying for It

Paying for It

Paying for It
by Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly, 272 pages, $24.95.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Paying for It, Chester Brown’s latest graphic novel, is an autobiographical work in the same vein as his seminal books The Playboy and I Never Liked You. You’d be forgiven but you’d be wrong. Despite what surface appearances might suggest, the book’s autobiographical and personal elements are in service to its larger goals, which is to serve a polemic. A polemic whose ultimate message is: “Prostitution is really, really awesome.”

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A sneak peek at Drawn & Quarterly’s spring line-up

Excerpt from 'Paying for It'

With the end of the year approaching, book publishers are sending out their preview catalogs to book buyers and the media. One of those publishers, Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, just happens to represent the Canadian comics company Drawn & Quarterly, which means we can get a sneak peek of sorts at their plans for the spring and summer months. Most of these titles won’t be too surprising to those who follow the company’s output, but there are a few books of note that readers may not be expecting. Click on the link to find out what they are.

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Straight for the art | 2010 Doug Wright Awards art auction

Catwoman by Jillian Tamaki

Catwoman by Jillian Tamaki

Since my repertoire of Canada-based witticisms is entirely derived from half-remembered viewings of Strange Brew, I’m just gonna skip the clever opening and point you straight to this rather amazing gallery of (mostly) DC Comics superheroes drawn by (mostly) alternative comics artists (entirely) from Canada. It’s The Doug Wright Awards 2010 All-Star All-Canadian Art Auction, in which these pieces are being sold on eBay to help fund the annual award program. That’s Jillian Tamaki’s gorgeous take on Catwoman above (DC editors, are you paying attention?); click here to see Kate Beaton’s Wonder Woman, Chester Brown’s Batman, Jeff Lemire’s Hawkman & Atom, Matt Forsythe’s Hawkman, Marc Bell’s Iron Man (guess he didn’t get the “DC Comics characters” memo), original art from Bryan Lee O’Malley and more, and click here to start bidding.

(via Tom Spurgeon)

Talking Comics with Tim: Nate Powell

Swallow Me Whole

Swallow Me Whole

Nate Powell‘s Swallow Me Whole is a graphic novel that demands and warrants repeated readings. Released by Top Shelf last year, the publisher describes it as “a love story carried by rolling fog, terminal illness, hallucination, apophenia, insect armies, secrets held, unshakeable faith, and the search for a master pattern to make sense of one’s unraveling.” My thanks to Powell for this email interview and his level of candor.

Tim O’Shea: What motivated you to start self-publishing mini-comics at the age of 14?

Nate Powell: Well, I’d been drawing comics with a few friends for a couple of years already. We had many issues of a comic series mapped out, and a friend’s uncle suggested that we finish up each issue and self-publish it. We didn’t really know what that entailed, but soon discovered a few neglected copy machines around town and in my dad’s office. We made 100 copies of the first comic, and they all sold in about two months; we’d never anticipated recovering our expenses, or anyone actually BUYING the books, to be honest. We just wanted to have a comic too, and found the most accessible way to make them. At this time I was already into the punk subculture and had been exposed to people who made zines and released records in much the same manner, but it was not until a few years later when I started writing zines and putting out records that I saw the inherent connections between these two realms of DIY entrepreneurship.

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