Thursday, November 27, 2014

Paying for It: written and illustrated by Chester Brown (2011)

Paying for It: written and illustrated by Chester Brown (2011): This autobiographical comic from Toronto's own Chester Brown (Yummy Fur, Ed the Clown, Louis Riel) details more than a decade of Brown paying for 'it' -- 'it' being sex. Paying for It is  certainly not salacious: Brown strips his style down to near-minimalism, limiting the eroticism. We observe meetings with more than 25 prostitutes over the years. Worried about 'outing' any of the women, Brown neither shows faces nor, as he notes in the introduction, gets too specific with the details of what they talked about. The conversations with the assorted prostitutes are therefore more of a representative amalgamation of more general observations and opinions offered in different encounters.

The book is really more of a philosophical exploration of Brown's libertarian-based views on prostitution, offered to the reader through both Brown's internal monologues and his conversations with friends that include fellow cartoonists Joe Matt and Seth and former Bob's Your Uncle frontwoman and Muchmusic VJ Sook-Yin Lee, Brown's girlfriend at the beginning of the book, which starts in 1997.

As noted, the graphics are minimalist, and represent some of Brown's cleanest linework. They're also quite funny at times. As Robert Crumb notes in his introduction, Chester Brown the cartoon character has a face that never changes expression regardless of the situation. Over the course of the book this becomes quite droll even as it offers a commentary on Brown's own apparent emotional reserve. 

Complete with lengthy notes and an appendix, Paying for It offers a pretty convincing argument for decriminalizing prostitution in Canada without legalizing it (which is to say, without the government regulating it). Brown's sweeping generalizations can become exhausting every once in awhile (he really, really hates romantic love) as certain elements, especially his arguments against romantic love, get stated and re-stated over the course of 300 pages. 

The strongest element of Paying for It remains Brown's depictions of the encounters with the prostitutes, all of which have the absolute and minutely observed status of engaging and rewarding verisimilitude regardless of the edits and conflations and omissions Brown chose to make to protect the identity of the women. Highly recommended.

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