The Comics Journal | Sean Rogers | May 9, 2011
CHESTER BROWN forthcoming about PAYING FOR IT in Comics Journal interview
There's a scene in I Never Liked You, Chester Brown's ethereal memoir of adolescence, where his younger self greets a friend by saying, "I shit it was you!" I wonder if this isn't what Brown does in all his work: like dropping a cuss into an otherwise normal sentence, the cartoonist often says what's forbidden but phrases it in familiar ways.
His early Ed the Happy Clown delights in excesses of castration and scatology, while his autobio work like The Playboy trades in masturbation, pornography, racism, and snot-eating. Why, the artist wonders, are such topics off-limits? When young Brown swears in I Never Liked You, his mother erupts into hysterics - and though the child is silenced, his older self will devote his work to asking why the authorities in our lives restrict both our expression and our behavior.
Brown's latest book, Paying for It, renews such concerns. This account of his experiences in the demimonde of prostitution both depicts and picks apart the cartoonist's own sexual proclivities and peculiarities. At the same time, it questions why prostitution has been vilified, and why we define both call-girl and john in terms of criminality rather than commerce.
As I found in the course of this Journal interview, Brown is just as forthcoming and unstinting in his conversation as he is in his comics. Brown was happy to discuss the issues raised by his book, but he also indulged my questions about his process, his influences, and the evolution of his work. So, while Paying for It remains the occasion for our conversation, Brown's willingness to discuss both Louis Riel, his biography of the Canadian rebel hero, as well as the rebellious Jesus he portrays in the now-defunct Underwater, should illuminate what the cartoonist is up to in his latest venture.