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Paying for It

by Chester Brown

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Paying for It by Chester Brown
© Drawn and Quarterly
Drawn & Quarterly, May 2011

Bald and bespectacled, Chester Brown slouches through the panels of Paying For It, a new graphic memoir about Brown’s experiences paying women for sex. Unflinching and expressionless, his visage seems to be fashioned from the same steps that make the skeletons in a dios de los muertos diorama; physically Chester is little more than a heavily cheek-boned skull and shoulders. At first there seems to be sadness in his rendering but that quickly gives way to a enviable amount of confidence: this is a man who understands exactly the hand he was dealt, a man who knows what he wants and perfectly well how to get it. In a moment of post-breakup self-reflection, Chester decides to venture in to the world of in-call prostitutes and chronicles his exploits call girl by call girl.

It’s fairly obvious to say that Paying For It is a book for mature audiences, but that maturity is needed more for the intellectual discourse the memoir has to offer than the explicit nature of the artwork. While Brown sleeps with a lot of women in Paying For It and details each night, most of the memoir is built around the erudite conversations between Brown and his friends. Fans of alternative comics will enjoy seeing Joe Matt and Seth in various scenes, taking part in many of the book’s weighty debates on the pros and cons of prostitution.
It’s clear that Chester Brown supports prostitution, and his exploration of the trade is so even-headed and human that it’s difficult not to feel some kind of empathetic agreement each time Brown defends his actions. Not only does Brown show that considerate and thoughtful men can be johns, he shows that there are number of seemingly normal women in the sex trade as well. Those readers who can get beyond their preconceived notions about prostitution will find Paying For It an illuminating and thoughtful memoir.

Paying For It is at its best when it feels like a discussion; long dialogues with Joe Matt and Seth provide an easy way to get into the debate due to Chester Brown’s unbiased representation of the argument’s polarities. Yet, there are moments in the memoir where Brown loses sight of his neutrality, causing Paying For It to feel more like a lecture or a manifesto. The final thirty pages are composed of meticulously hand-lettered appendices, detailing an impressive array of supporting historical sources and addendums. Here, Brown slips away from the book’s core dialogue and Paying For It starts to feel more like a treatise:
"Prostitution is just a form of dating. There is no regulatory or legal framework for unpaid dating. Nothing happens during paid dates that doesn’t happen in unpaid dates. From a legal perspective they should be seen as identical. No regulatory or legal framework is necessary for paid dating. What I hope we’re moving toward is a time when giving and receiving money is part of the normal give-and-take of sexual activity. It won’t be what everyone does, but it will become so common that no one will think it odd, disgusting, or unusual..."

Here, the reader is no longer an observer, and the ideas of the book are suddenly presented as statements. As sound as Brown’s argument may be, with such a knee-jerk topic as the merits of prostitution, it's easy to shut down during these moments and remain noncommittal.

This memoir is better suited to ruminate on than to rally behind. While Paying For It may not result in petitions or letters to congressmen, it may be the perfect book to inaugurate an after-hours book club.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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