I love graphic novels and of course, like most people, I yearn to possess the likes of Watchmen and Sin City, and even V for Vendetta. But when I came across this particular graphic novel, with an absolutely unexpected storyline, I knew I had to reach into my bag and ‘pay for it’.
Paying For It by Chester Brown is, as the cover describes, a comic-strip memoir about being a john. For those who are a little confused like I was, a ‘john’ means a prostitute’s client, someone with whom they open up their soul.
The story starts with Joe in June 1996, whose live-in girlfriend decides to move on while they continue to stay in the same apartment. Joe, who lacks the necessary skills to converse and ‘pick-up women’, spends almost three long years without a sexual partner. And all this while, he ruminates over the negative aspects of romantic love. His ex, meanwhile, brings her lover over to their apartment, who eventually moves in with them, and Joe gets to hear everything, be it fights or raunchy lovemaking. Joe’s friends keep asking him if he’s bothered by all this hoopla, but strangely, he isn’t. In the process, he gets stuck between “two competing desires – the desire to have sex, versus the desire to NOT have a girlfriend.”
And so it begins. It’s not as easy as we’d think it is to pick up the phone and ask for someone, or even to agree to meet at a particular clandestine spot. Joe has a tough time working up the courage to call, checking all the police cars on the road that seem to be out just to bust in on him and streetwalkers, and even if a bunch of guys were to mug him at the pre-decided apartment. Of course, it takes guts. At least, that’s what I think.
Over thirty-three chapters, Joe visits over a score of women, describing their physical appearances but always fudging their faces. Being a memoir, Joe creates this artwork and storyline from reality, and gives them false names, while he too moves around as a certain Steve McDougal. He meets from various ethnic backgrounds, but decides not to portray them as such in the book. Though he may have been paying for sex, the story notes how Joe befriends some, if not all, of the women he met and how he gets more involved with them, emotionally.
The sexual encounters at first seemed a tad eye-popping for the prude in me, but the way Chester handles the situations and delivers it in a ‘matter-of-fact’ manner, makes me wonder why we create such brouhaha over this. The novel is definitely not a triple x-rated copy, as every scene is dealt with a neutral and impassive manner, but this is a serious body of work that raises and addresses a lot of interesting and pertinent questions. Definitely a must have.
This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.