Federal election candidate publishes comic book memoir about prostitutes

Marc Weisblott
Daily BrewApril 14, 2011

A new graphic novel about being a client of the world's oldest profession, supported by a $16,000 grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, will be published next month.

Yet, those who take issue with a government agency helping to pay for "Paying For It" needn't argue with the author.

Chester Brown will appear on a second consecutive federal election ballot as a Toronto candidate for the Libertarian party, which would rather all Canadian artists fend for themselves.

Nonetheless, the acclaim for Brown's "Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography," published in 2003, helped make the case for the kind of creativity that arguably wouldn't reach a wider audience without the Canada Council.

When the cartoonist appeared on the ballot in the Trinity-Spadina riding held by the NDP's Olivia Chow in the 2008 federal election, he acknowledged the hypocrisy.

Still, the bid made Brown the best-known fringe candidate in Canada with autobiographical illustrated accounts of his campaign experience published in the National Post and Toronto Star.

The autobiographical style has long been familiar to fans of first-person graphic novels, dating back to when Brown first self-published a comic book called Yummy Fur, in 1983.

Subsequent works focused on his personal experiences, on topics like pornography and schizophrenia, although Brown broke into the mainstream with his biography of Métis leader Riel, which exposed readers around the world to a uniquely Canadian tale.

Brown's new memoir, focused on his own transactions with sex workers, was viewed as a return to his roots.

Reviews in the Canadian media are bound to be mixed, though.

So far, its self-indulgence earned him a critical drubbing in trade magazine Quill & Quire, but an appreciation in The Walrus.

The detailed appendixes and notes that accompany the graphic novel, in which Brown spelled out a case for the decriminalization of prostitution, have been cited as excessive.

Maybe that's just the politician in him talking.