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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: Paying For It (May 2011)

 Paying For It 
(A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John)
Written and Illustrated by Chester Brown
 Published by Drawn and Quarterly

Few autobiographical novels have made an impact on me mainly because of their boring stories full of self-justification. But Chester Brown's autobiographical novel "Paying For It" is one of those many exceptions.

His intelligent, excuse-free, brutally honest, and thought-provoking defense on the subject of "prostitution" as a viable replacement for romantic love - which he describes as "possessive monogamy" - is certainly going to raise some eyebrows, but at the same time, will make others do a double-take on the very subject of "paid sex" and the people who engage in such arrangements, and maybe, even persuade them to agree with his writing genius.

Brown long-time partner Sook-Yin breaks up with his him in the summer of 1996 (and thus making Sook-Yin, his last gf), and within 3 years of not having a girlfriend, he develops a kind of cynicism towards "romantic love", believing that it only makes life complicated and will eventually make people miserable in the end. He then mulls over the idea of hiring a prostitute and after mustering all the courage he needed, he then goes on to have paid sex with for the very first time.

As years went by, Brown continued to have paid sex with multiple prostitutes - completely shunning the prospect of having another girlfriend  - until by the end of the book he finds one sex-worker who agrees to have a monogamous - but still paid - sexual relationship with him.

Like I mentioned on the first few paragraphs, the novel was intended to be a defense towards the profession of prostitution and the women who work secretly under this type of job. In many ways Brown succeeds in providing very reasonable explanations that backs up his theories - theories that I'm sure would sound offending to some. He even goes as far as saying  that prostitution is just one of the many forms of dating and that "paid sex" is just as MORAL as "unpaid casual sex". 
Though those controversial statements indeed makes cash, I think the true appeal of this book lies on how honest and transparent Brown wanted this to be, and really, this has to be one of the most personal works that I have ever read in any medium.

Nothing is sugarcoated, and Brown isn't afraid to portray himself in a very bad light. Even his art (that shows none of the prostitute's faces) - which is simple, non-erotic, stark black and white emotionless, but still visually appealing - definitely shows his daredevil approach to this project.

I could understand Brown's decision to block all the faces of the women he had sex with, maybe out of respect for those people and their identities, so that wasn't a real big turn off for me, though it wouldn't hurt if Brown included them just to make the whole experience a little bit more lively.

All things considered, "Paying For It" is a graphic novel worth reading whether you are FOR or AGAINST the concept of "paying-for-sex". Truth is, it doesn't really matter where you stand, because the only thing that matters is how you - the reader - interprets Brown' [sex]periences and all of his arguments.

A fair warning here: one might be surprised on how powerfully persuasive this book is, because even the narrow-minded ones for sure wouldn't be able to resist weighing all of Chester Brown's statements after flipping the last pages.


"Paying For It" is now available onsale at or at your nearest comic book shop.

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