Vue Weekly | Vue Weekly | May 12, 2011
Vue Weekly discusses PAYING FOR IT with CHESTER BROWN
Paying For It begins with a depiction of the author's amicable break-up with his third and what turned out to be final girlfriend, the actress and former VJ Sook-Yin Lee. The year is 1996. Chester Brown was only in his mid-30s. In the subsequent decade and a half, Brown neither became a monk nor decided he preferred his own gender. Rather, after some hesitation, he started visiting sex workers, very gradually arrived at the conviction that what we conventionally call romantic love is bullshit, and that the world's oldest profession is not only acceptable but that its decriminalization was a cause worth fighting for. Brown, who previously authored a celebrated comic-strip biography of the contentious 19th-century MÃ©tis leader Louis Riel, is an intelligent, even-tempered artist whose work is consistently engaged in issues of individual freedom. Paying For It is an overtly politicized memoir. It's not incidental that Brown has twice run as the Libertarian Party candidate for Toronto's Trinity-Spadina riding. (Monday's election earned him 454 votes, placing him fifth.)
Paying For It is a fairly unusual graphical novel. An emblematic panel features Brown, rendered as rail-thin, his opaque spectacles obscuring his eyes, laying on his side, ding-dong dangling, in post-coital conversation. "My stuff's quite different from Archie," he explains to a sex worker curious about his profession. There's much humour in the book, often arising from Brown's politeness and uncertainty regarding etiquette. One chapter finds him visiting a prostitute that continues to watch soaps during the entirety of their transaction. A not atypical line: "She began to lick and suck my balls. Not this again ... " Brown is endearing in his attempts to communicate his needs with respect and clarity, but he insists that he's a fairly typical john, and that the dangers associated with prostitution are grossly exaggerated or misunderstood. While compelling and entertaining, Paying For It, which features a number of sometimes heated conversations between Brown and his friends about prostitution, as well as a series of exhaustive, informative appendices, is very much a didactic book. That's not a slanderâ€”its didacticism is one of the book's strongest attributes. And, once read, I can't think of a single reason why any thoughtful person would dismiss it, regardless of how firm their feelings are on the subject.