Paying For It
In a lengthy and fascinating article in the Indian magazine Open, Devika Bakshi explains why the close-ups of penises were pixelated in the Indian version of Chester Brown’s Paying For It, while the long-shots, and other body parts, were left alone.
Indian law says a work is obscene “if it is lascivious or appeals to the prurient interest” or if its effect is to “deprave and corrupt” anyone who sees it. There are exceptions, though, for works with redeeming features (I’m paraphrasing here; the full text is at the link), works that are used for religious purposes and “any representation sculptured, engraved, painted or otherwise represented on or in (i) any ancient monument within the meaning of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (24 of 1958).”
I don’t mind the jokes at my expense. I’m used to it. Seth and Joe [Matt] have teased me about paying for sex for years. I’m used to it.
—Chester Brown tells Tom Spurgeon that people can crack all the jokes they want about him and his patron-of-prostitution memoir Paying For It. I guess it stands to reason: “Gets emotional about things” isn’t high on a list of ways to describe Chester Brown, if that book is any indication. What’s more interesting to me is that Brown’s fellow Drawn and Quarterly-published Canadian cartoonists Joe Matt and Seth are the tough customers who hazed Brown into developing this hardened exterior. It’s a dog-eat-dog world up there.
In all seriousness, please read Spurgeon’s excellent interview with Brown, which largely eschews discussion of the book’s central topic/argument and focuses on the impeccable craft with which that topic/argument was deployed. And check out Spurgeon’s entire run of Holiday Interviews, featuring creators ranging from Colleen Coover to Stephen Bissette to Art Spiegelman to Jeff Parker to Jeff Smith, plus critics, journalists, activists and more. His comics-related New Year’s resolutions are worth considering as well.
“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.”
–Cartoonist and (ironically monogamous) prostitution enthusiast Chester Brown, on the prospect of seeing a big-screen version of his memoir of life as a john, Paying For It, in an event report and interview from CBR’s James Gartler. It’s just as well, really: Based on Brown’s gaunt, vacant-eyed self-portraiture in that book, the only actor I can think of who could convincingly play the role is Jack Skellington, and I’m pretty sure that since The Nightmare Before Christmas he’s been concentrating primarily on live theater.
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 »
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 …
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?
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.
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.
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]