Sunday, July 31, 2011


Cartoonist Chester Brown stood in front of a room full of people at Comic-Con and described his sex with prostitutes.  As he went through the details, he displayed drawings from his new book, Paying For It:

Brown belongs to that class of oddballs and misfits with a fierce compulsion to share the most scatological, sexual and personal details of their lives.  After Brown showed us drawings of his penis and described how he paid women for sex because he could not obtain sex as part of a well rounded relationship,  I asked whether he considered any part of his life too personal to put in a book.  He responded, "Not as long as it makes for a good story."

The extreme candor of such artists, combined with their vantage point on the outskirts of society, sometimes makes for interesting reading (and occasionally provides insights we couldn't get from more conventional sources).

However,  I don't think Brown's large audiences are lured by his artistic talent.  Most of the time, he draws just well enough to satisfy prurient gawkers looking for unearned intimacy.  Brown is at his best when he is channeling the work of the more talented Harold Gray (in work such as Louis Riel).  

His writing is only a little better-- he manages some nice touches-- but his treatment of sex in Paying For It  has all of the depth, profundity and imagination of a 1970s Playboy Advisor column.

 If you want a sense for how truly insubstantial Brown's work is, compare his treatment of visiting prostitutes with the writings of Henry Miller or Arthur Koestler.  If you want to see vastly superior explicit drawings of the dark side of the soul, check out the work of George Grosz, R. Crumb or John Cuneo.  For me, Brown remains squalor lite.

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