Jun 06, 2011
Paying For It
By Chester Brown
Drawn & Quarterly
There is, of course, painful truth in all great autobiography—even the manner that walks that thin tightrope separating itself from fantasy. So, naturally we were all thrilled to death at the prospect of a new Chester Brown book chronicling the cartoonist’s long-term relationship with the sex industry—oddly enough, I can even remember where I was when I’d first heard about the project: in some strange hotel room in Bethesda, Maryland, Drawn & Quarterly’s Tom Devlin teasing the 500-page prostitute-laced memoir from a champion of painful biography. I Never Liked You was something of a masterpiece of awkward truths, and the idea that Brown might be able to channel some of that pulsating adolescent awkwardness into a tome about less youthful indiscretions is the stuff of limitless potential.
But those hoping for a work of deep emotional resonance will no doubt get the picture pretty early on—this is not that kind of book, and Chester Brown is not that kind of artist or person, judging by the available evidence. Paying For It is, in fact, bookended by testaments to the artist’s relatively limited emotion range by two rather esteemed delegates of the art form.
Robert Crumb makes a point of drawing attention to the expressionless lines with which Brown draws his face, comparing him to the offspring of some hapless woman impregnated by the seed of space aliens. The accompanying book jacket photo is also used as evidence of this claim. Seth also devotes a portion of his footnote-based rebuttal of Brown’s ethical stance to this discussion, pointing to his ongoing reference to his close personal friend as “the robot.” “The truth is,” Seth writes, “Chester seems to have a limited emotional range compared to most people.”
It’s through this range, not surprisingly, that Paying For It is framed—the work, one gathers, of some half-alien robot sent to our world to catalog its inhabitants. This isn’t to suggest, of course, that Paying For It is a work devoid of introspection. Brown spends a good deal of time in his own head, particularly as he comes to grips with the end a long-term relationship—one of a very small number in his life—a pivotal moment that ultimately spurs his maiden bike ride into the city in an attempt to find his first prostitute on a street corner.
Read the rest of this entry »