“Before I did I Never Liked You I would think about those high school bullies and I would get angry about them. After doing that book, I was no longer angry. I was able to put them in context and see them as just kids. . . . I think you do see things in your life differently when you’re forced to sit down and write it out and draw it out.”
Chester Brown has carved a singular path in the cartooning world, starting more than 30 years ago with his groundbreaking mini-comic, Yummy Fur. We got together during the Toronto Comic Arts Festival to talk about the evolution of his work, the response to his 2011 book, Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John, the many reasons sex workers love him, the perfect Venn diagram of his next book, how he learned to abandon the negative aspects of religion and embrace the good stuff, and more! Give it a listen!
“Ultimately I think we should be working to do away with government as much as possible, and if that means we can do away with government completely, that’d be great. I’m just not sure we can get that far.”
More importantly, this episode features the Paying For It Players! Past pod-guest Nina Bunjevac joins Chester to perform a segment from Paying for It! This may be the funniest thing that’s ever happened on the Virtual Memories Show; of course, it wasn’t my idea. If we’re lucky, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
About our Guest
Chester Brown is best known for two non-fiction graphic novels, Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (2003) and Paying for It: A Comic-Strip Memoir About Being a John (2011). The former won widespread critical acclaim for its compelling, meticulously researched portrayal of Riel, the charismatic nineteenth century Métis leader, a crucial figure in Canadian history. The book won Harvey Awards for Best Writer and Best Graphic Album and was featured on Quill and Quire‘s list of the five best Canadian non-fiction books of the year, as well as The Globe and Mail‘s list of the 100 best books of the year. Paying for It was also cited by The Globe and Mail as one of the best books of the year.
Chester Brown was born in Montreal, Canada, in May 1960, and grew up in a nearby suburb . At nineteen he moved to Toronto where, in 1983, he began self-publishing his work in photocopied mini-comics under the title Yummy Fur. Those pamphlets attracted the attention of comic book publishers and, in 1986, he began began writing and drawing for the Toronto-based Vortex Comics. The first Vortex issue of Yummy Fur sold well and Brown quit his day job and began working full time as a cartoonist. In the pages of Yummy Fur he serialized a bleakly humorous story called Ed the Happy Clown, which was published as a graphic novel in 1989. It went on to become a cult classic and established his reputation as a prominent cartoonist.
In 1991, Chester signed with the new comic book company Drawn & Quarterly. His The Playboy was released the next year. That was followed by I Never Liked You (1994), an elegant, widely respected memoir about his adolescence. Four years later, his shorter pieces were collected in The Little Man: Short Strips, 1980-1995, which covers his transition from surrealism to autobiographical work.
During the course of his research for Louis Riel, Brown became interested in property rights and libertarianism. In the 2008 and 2011 federal elections, he ran for Parliament as a member of the Libertarian Party of Canada in the downtown Toronto riding of Trinity-Spadina. He lost to incumbent Olivia Chow.
Credits: This episode’s music is Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division. The conversation was recorded at the Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom H5 digital recorder. I recorded the intro and outro on a Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Logic Pro. Photos of Mr. Brown and Ms. Bunjevac by me.