Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Paying For It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John

Paying for It is a provocative book, which may be a given concerning its subject matter, but it presents arguments and stories in a documentary, understated manner. It is at once a memoir and a measured argument in defense of the world's oldest profession. The story follows the author as he breaks up with his girlfriend and then over time realizes he wants to have sex but not be in a relationship. After some paranoid forays into being a john, he finally decides to drop all the pretense and just go straight forward into soliciting prostitutes using his own name. The book questions the relationship between emotional love and biological and economic needs in a serious manner. It contains interviews and explicit scenes as well as numerous footnotes, resources, and back matter.

The book's author, Chester Brown, is a well established and respected graphic novelist who broke into the comics world in the 1980s with his series Yummy Fur. This eclectic comic book contained serial stories, autobiographical material, and adaptations of the New Testament Gospels. These stories have been published individually as Ed, The Happy Clown, The Playboy, and I Never Liked You. He has also delved into nonfiction, creating a graphic biography of Louis Riel, a controversial figure in Canadian history. A multiple Harvey Award winner, Brown speaks about his career and this book extensively in this interview with Tom Spurgeon.

Reviews I have read show respect to Brown's craftsmanship and ambivalence about his arguments but are largely positive. The Comics Journal's Naomi Fry found the book to be complex and well composed, adding that "there is a commendable honesty here, to be sure: a kind of downbeat, detached naturalism. But there is something dispiriting about it too." Activist/artist Annie Sprinkle wrote in The New York Times that this graphic novel is "a valuable resource for academics, a challenge to law enforcement and politicians, and a boon to johns the world over." The Guardian's James Smart cautioned that  "Brown's honesty will put some readers off, " but "whether you agree with his suggestions that marriage is evil, romantic love an impossible dream and deregulated prostitution the way to go, his candid account offers a revealing perspective on an industry that refuses to go away."

A preview is provided by the book's publisher Drawn & Quarterly

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