I just picked up Chester Brown’s new graphic novel, Paying For It – A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John. My eyes virtually consumed this 280 pp. Drawn & Quarterly publication in one sitting last night. Brown’s compelling autobiographical narrative about his relationships with prostitutes is told with a frank honesty about the world’s oldest profession that I found both refreshing and illuminating.
I became fascinated with the subject of prostitution many years ago (around the late 1970s/early 1980s) when my girlfriend at the time got a job manning the phones for an escort (call girl) service owned by an enterprising straight-laced young Republican. I joined her at her job occasionally and got to meet many of the women who worked as escorts. All of my preconceived notions about prostitutes and prostitution were turned upside down and inside out by my conversations with them.
The escorts consisted of all kinds of gals, including at least one exotic dancer (stripper). Most of these women, though, were single moms with no education, nor the time or money to get one. Being a call girl gave them a chance to make decent wages and avoid being trapped in minimum wage Hell until they could get married or get back on their own financial feet and apply themselves to some other form of work.
In addition to the new “clients” who would call in response to carefully-worded ads placed in the local free newspapers, most of the gals had regular customers as well. A lot of these women loved their work. Many had formed pretty close relationships with their regular guys, most of whom were just lonely men aching for female companionship (a lot of the johns would not have sex with the girls; they just wanted to chat with a kind, pretty female listener — an experience for which they were more than willing to pay).
Several of these guys had physical issues (ugliness, weight problems, etc.) that, coupled with their defeatist attitude of resignation to their physical lot in life, practically guaranteed they were never going to have a girlfriend. I recall one gal, a single mom, who had several of these kinds of guys as regulars. She felt very protective (and rather motherly) toward them.
When she asked, “Who says that good looking people are the only ones in our society allowed to have sex?” it stopped me in my tracks. Being a decent enough looking guy with a few social skills (and being in a band), I rarely had trouble finding a bed mate. It never occurred to me that there was a substantial and overlooked part of the male population for whom this was a near impossibility — unless they hired a hooker.
Now, getting back to the main topic here (this wonderful new book), I have to say I was extremely impressed by nearly everything about this volume. The simple, easy-to-read drawings have a reportorial elegance to them that I found instantly appealing, their subdued quality perfectly appropriate for the sensitive subject matter described within the book’s pages. Mr. Brown maintained thorough documentation of his encounters during the time period covered in this book (1996-2004). I appreciated that he was very protective of his ladies in the telling of their tales. There is also a well-documented section in the back of the book regarding the different public attitudes toward prostitution as well as Brown’s own thoughtful personal responses to each of those attitudes, all of which I found totally fascinating.
Chester Brown is close friends to two other cartoonists I admire, Joe Matt (to whom the book is dedicated) and Seth. They often include each other in their comics and this book is no exception. In the substantial Appendices section there is a carefully considered response by Seth to his “scenes” and conversations in the book that is also well worth reading.
Paying For It is a valuable addition to those folks like me who consider comic books a powerful and worthy art form. Anyone interested in reading truly adult comics or a personal and considerably thoughtful analysis of the world of prostitutes and the guys who employ them will not be disappointed in this fine, heartfelt tome.
Thanks, Chester Brown, for a great book.