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CREATOR PROFILE:

CHESTER BROWN

Biography:

“I create out of two emotions mainly. Outrage and guilt. Outrage at abuses of power by people in authority and guilt… Well, I had this image of what the perfect Christian child should be, and I was perfectly aware I wasn’t meeting the standard and, I suppose, a certain amount of guilt associated with my mother’s death.”

Chester William David Brown (1960 - ) was raised in the upper middle-class suburbs of Montreal, Canada and he describes his upbringing as very normal despite his very religious parents and as a child he loved comics. His mother was a schizophrenic and died when he was 16. At 19 he moved to Toronto, Ontario, where he lives today. In 1981 Chester received his first important rejection slip when he submitted a 2-page strip called City Swine to Art Spiegelman’s RAW magazine. The rejection note said that the strip had “almost” been published which Chester rightly considered an extraordinary encouragement. In 1983, he began to self publish seven issues of Yummy Fur and by 1994 a further 32 issues had been released by comic publishers.

Yummy Fur began by serializing the story of Ed The Happy Clown and was described by The Comics Journal as “assaulting the eyes and offending the sensibilities of people who considered themselves unshockable,” as a torrent of twisted images spewed forth - masturbating saints, puss-sucking First Ladies, never-ending bowl movements, sewer-dwelling rat-eating pygmies and Ronald Reagan’s head transplanted onto the tip of a penis… to name only a few. Chester later commented, “I started off wanting to do superhero stuff, and Ed was very much rooted in that pulp comic book field, close to the adventure comics I was interested in doing in my late teens and early 20’s… At the beginning of Ed I was totally free; I could do anything; but by the end so many things had been blocked off and the world defined in so many ways that I wasn’t free to create, and I was bored.”

In later issues of Yummy Fur Chester began to tell autobiographical stories, later collected into The Playboy (1992), I Never Liked You (1994) and The Little Man Short Strips (1998). These were named by The Comics Journal as one of the Top 100 Comics of the 20th Century, “Taken together, these stories reveal an abiding interest in the ways people are shaped by their environment. Brown’s powers of observation and his ability to conjure an environment in all its specificity are constant and breathtaking.”

Between 1994 and 1997 Chester produced 11 issues of Underwater, the story of the development from birth of a small child putting the reader in the same confused state as experienced by the child. Unfortunately, Chester felt unable to complete the series. “The main problem was a pacing problem. I had wanted the project to be about 20-30 issues, and I should have written it out as a full script beforehand. That’s what I had originally intended to do, and then I said, Oh, screw it, I was able to wing it with Ed The Happy Clown, I’ll do it again with Underwater, but Underwater was a different type of story, and ‘winging it’ didn’t work with Underwater, because the pacing was very important to Underwater, and to tell the story the way I wanted it to be told, to continue to tell it that way, at the pace that I had been telling it in the first 11 issues meant that telling the whole story would take, like, 300 issues. And I didn’t want to do a 300-issue series, so it meant having to re-think everything.”

Prior to 1995 Chester knew nothing about Louis Riel but coming across a biography about him in a book store, Chester thought “This guy’s supposed to have been a significant figure in our history - I really should know something about him.” So began Chester ‘s exploration of Riel’s life and times and his desire to translate his story into comic-strip format.

Essential Reading:


Louis Riel
Drawn & Quarterly, 2003

Martyr or madman? To some Louis Riel was one of the founding fathers of the Canadian nation, but to others he was a murderer who nearly tore a country apart. A man so charismatic he was elected to government twice while in exile with a price on his head - but so impassioned that his dramatic behavior cast serious doubts on his sanity. Riel took on the army, the government, the queen and even the church in the name of freedom.

 



I Never Liked You
Drawn & Quarterly, 1994

A harrowing memoir about the struggle to connect told with spare, poetic elegance. A self-absorbed teenager strays into the difficult territory of friendship and early love, while at home there is a slowly building crisis over his mother’s mental health. A complex and disturbing true story told with a nuanced, queasy visual style that lingers in the mind long after the book has been put away.

Eddie Campbell says:
“...these autobiographical comics are the most sensitive comics ever made.”



The Playboy
Drawn & Quarterly, 1992

Stark and expressionistic, this is Chester Brown’s frank and unsettling account of his first adolescent and then adult relationship with pornography.

Gilbert Hernandez says:
The Playboy and I Never Liked You are probably the best graphic novels next to Maus.”

Chester Brown says:
“Some women who read The Playboy found it offensive. They felt it glorified pornography. I regretted that, because I really wanted to explain. There’s a belief in parts of the feminist community that pornography can lead men to go out and rape. I wanted to explain how my experience led me to do the opposite - go into a room by myself and shut the door. I wanted to communicate that experience.”



Ed The Happy Clown
Drawn & Quarterly, 1989

Chester Brown’s indispensable first book collects the now-classic absurdist Ed storyline that was originally serialized in the first 18 issues of Yummy Fur. The bizarre range of subject matter is almost impossible to describe in its appropriate context: cannibalism, incest, necrophilia, and the head of a certain former U.S. president attached to another man’s penis. See it to believe it!

 

 

 

Bibliography:

Graphic Novels:
Paying For It (2011)
Louis Riel (2003)
The Little Man Short Strips 1980-1995 (1998)
I Never Liked You (1994)
The Playboy (1992)
Ed The Happy Clown (1989)

Periodicals:
Ed The Happy Clown #1-9 (2005-2006)
Louis Riel #1-10 (1999-2003)
Underwater #1-11 (1994-1997)
Yummy Fur #1-32 (1986-1994)
Yummy Fur #1-7 (Self Published)

Interviews:
The Comics Journal #135, 162

Links:

Online Resources:
Getting Riel with Dave Sim

Publisher:
Drawn & Quarterly