Ed the Happy Clown

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Ed the Happy Clown
Ed the Happy Clown: the Definitive Ed Book cover (Vortex, 1992)
Publication information
First appearance Yummy Fur minicomic #2[1]
Created by Chester Brown
Ed the Happy Clown
Ed the Happy Clown #4 cover (Drawn and Quarterly, 2005)
Series publication information
Schedule irregular
Genre Alternative comics
Publication date (Yummy Fur (minicomic))
1983 – 1985
(Yummy Fur)
December 1986 – October 1989
(Ed the Happy Clown)
2004 – 2006
Collected editions
Ed the Happy Clown: A Yummy Fur Book ISBN 978-0-921451-04-4
Ed the Happy Clown: The Definitive Ed Book ISBN 978-0-921451-08-2
Ed the Happy Clown: A Graphic Novel ISBN 978-1-77046-075-1

Ed the Happy Clown is a comics character by Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown. Ed is a large-headed, childlike children's clown who undergoes one horrifying affliction after another. The story is a dark, humorous mix of genres. Prominent in the story are scatological humour, nudity, sex, body horror, extreme graphic violence, and blasphemous religious imagery. Central to the plot are a man who cannot stop defecating; the head of a miniature, other-dimensional Ronald Reagan attached to the head of Ed's penis; and a female vampire who seeks revenge on her adulterous lover who had murdered her to escape his sins.

The dark, surreal, and largely improvised story started with a series of unrelated short strips that Brown went on to tie together in a single narrative. Originally serialized in Brown's comic book Yummy Fur, Ed the Happy Clown was first collected in an incomplete volume by Vortex Comics in 1989. Brown became unsatisfied with the direction of the serial and brought it to an abrupt end in the eighteenth issue of Yummy Fur; most of the later parts of the series remain uncollected, and a second edition of 1992 appeared with an altered ending. The contents of the second edition were re-serialized in 2005–2006 as a nine-issue Ed the Happy Clown series from Drawn and Quarterly with extensive endnotes, and collected by the same publisher in 2012.

The story has had substantial influence on alternative cartoonists, and has a Harvey and other awards. Canadian film director Bruce McDonald has had the rights since 1991 to make an Ed movie, but the project has struggled to get financial backing.


In the early 1980s, Brown was in a creative rut when he came across a book on surrealism: The Age of Surrealism by Wallace Fowley.[2] "Embracing surrealistic spontaneous creation", Brown started work on an improvised comic book which he called Yummy Fur, in which Ed was originally serialized. The story spanned a range of Brown's interests, from political skepticism to scatological humour to Brown's childhood interest in vampires and werewolves. The story was dark and surreal, desperate and humorous.[3]

Ed suffers one indignity after another as the plot gets grimmer and more surreal. His bizarre misfortunes include being chased by cannibalistic pygmies and having the tip of his penis replaced by the head of a miniature, talking Ronald Reagan from another universe. Ed's adventures featured encounters with flesh-eating rats, Martians, the Frankenstein monster and other characters out of traditional genre fiction, but presented with Brown's own twisted, blackly funny sensibility and topped with some dark Christian symbolism. Despite his ordeals—being imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, falling in love with a vampire—Ed remained a gentle, childlike innocent, with a Candide-like optimism.[3]

The story has had more than one ending[4] and according to Canadian comics historian John Bell "defies easy summation".[5]


Ed begins with the children's hospital he was on his way to visit burning down with all the children in it.[3] A number of short gag strips occur one after the other, having no apparent relation to each other.[4] After about 30 pages Brown attempts to tie the narrative together into one grand plot.[6]

Ed is imprisoned when he finds hospital janitor Chet Doodley's severed hand and the police assume Ed had taken it. In prison a man finds himself unable to stop defecating; his faeces fill the jail, engulfing Ed. When Ed emerges he finds the head of his penis replaced with the head of a miniature Ronald Reagan from Dimension X—a world much like Ed's but whose people are tiny. Dimension X has dumped its waste into a trans-dimensional portal, which turns out out to be the anus of the man who could not stop defecating. Reagan's headless body remains in Dimension X, and the professor who discovered the portal travels to Ed's dimension to find the head, making contact with that world's authorities.

Chet Doodley believes the loss of his hand is due to his unfaithfulness to his wife;[6] as a child his mother reads Chet the story of a Saint Justin who cuts off his right hand to avoid sinning. Chet assumes his lost hand is a like punishment from God.[7] He attempts to atone for it[6] by killing his girlfriend, Josie.[7] Along with the body of Josie, Ed is dragged into the sewers by penis-worshipping, rat-eating pygmy cannibals. Josie reanimates in time to save Ed from having his penis cut off. The two attempt to escape from the sewers when they are accidentally shot by a mother-daughter team of pygmy hunters. Josie dies again, and her disembodied spirit learns from the ghost of Chet's sister that she has become a vampire.[8]

The professor from Dimension X and members of the staff of the popular Adventures in Science TV show find Ed and the President and bring them to the TV studio. The discovery is big news, and the professor and President make a TV appearance. When it is discovered that the people of Dimension X are homosexual or bisexual[a] the professor is violently killed,[8] and Ed and the body of Josie are put in confinement. The studio is invaded by the pygmies when they recognize their "Penis God" on television. Josie's spirit returns to her body, and she and Ed escape and make their way to the hospital where Chet works. Josie gets her revenge by seducing Chet and killing him before he is able to repent, thus sending him to Hell.[10]

Ed is one of a number of men secretly kidnapped to provide a man, Bick Backman, with a penis transplant—a larger one to please his wife. Out of the lineup of unconscious men, Ed's penis with the President's head on it stands out and is chosen for Backman. After the operation, Mounties raid the hospital and, finding Reagan, take Backman and leave Ed, who has had a larger penis sewn on in the President's place. The hospital hands Ed over to Mrs Backman, claiming he is her husband. Though suspicious, she accepts Ed—and his newly transplanted penis—as her husband.[7]

Original ending[edit]

This ending appeared in the version of the story serialized in Yummy Fur and has never been reprinted.

Mrs Backman takes her "husband" home, but her children are not convinced that he is their father. However, after he has spent some time in the house, they decide "he's way better than the other one".[11] There is a striking resemblance between Ed and Mrs Backman's large, round heads, and eventually it is revealed by her mother that they were twins separated at birth.

While at church, the Backman children are kidnapped by stone aliens, but the children are saved by Frankenstein's monster, who lands them in Washington, D.C., where they find their kidnapped father. Josie and Ed's friend Christian rescue the Backmans, returning them to their home. After Ed has his clown makeup restored, he reverts to his cheerful self. When he goes to visit Josie, he learns that her apartment building has burned down, and she was the only casualty. Her charred skeleton is brought out, clutching an unburnt hand.

Revised ending[edit]

In the alternate ending from the 1992 and later versions of the book, much of the latter part of the story after Chet dies is dropped.[10] 17 new pages replace the dropped portions.[7]

Chet's severed hand visits Josie's apartment at night and rolls up her window shade. As a vampire, the sunlight kills her in the morning while she sleeps, burning up her body, and she and Chet are reunited in the flames of Hell.[7]


collage of the characters Chet Doodley, Josie, President Reagan, Professor Jones, Annie, and Mrs Backman
Chet Doodley, Josie, President Reagan, Professor Jones, Annie, and Mrs Backman
A big-headed, childlike clown with Candide-like optimism, despite the hardships his creator puts him through.[3] He is a passive protagonist to and around whom events occur.[12] He spends much of the story with the head of a miniature Ronald Reagan from another dimension for a penishead. He later discovers, after having the president severed from his penis and having a new one attached, that he has a long-lost twin sister in Becky Backman. Brown considers Ed to be an "adult who's pre-adolescent", whose sexuality is not fully formed.[9]
Chet Doodley
A janitor working at a hospital,[6] he is plagued with guilt over cheating on his wife[5] after his hand falls off for no apparent reason.[6] After having a dream in which a statue of the Virgin Mary turns into his girlfriend, Josie, and has sex with him, he murders Josie while having sex with her by stabbing her in the back in the woods. Josie, who becomes a vampire afterwards, hunts him down and eventually breaks his neck, sending him to Hell.[8] "Chet" is short for "Chester", and Douglas Wolk sees Chet as perhaps a stand-in for Brown himself,[6] though Brown denies any autobiographical elements in the story.[13] Brown has stated that losing his hand is a phobia of his, as he would not be able to draw any longer, and so named the character "Chet".[14]
Chet's beautiful former girlfriend, who becomes a vampire "for actively engaging in a grievous sin"[10] for committing adultery with her boyfriend Chet, when he murders her by stabbing her in the back.[5] Her vampire self ends up saving Ed from having his penis decapitated by pygmy cannibals, and eventually tracks down Chet and kills him, sending him to Hell. In an alternate ending, she finds herself in Hell as well, eternally embracing Chet while being consumed by fire.[8]
Ronald Reagan
President from an alternate dimension, whose head ends up attached to the end of Ed's penis.[3] In Dimension X, where he comes from, people are much smaller than in Ed's work, and are homosexual or bisexual. In Ed's world, homosexuality is illegal. Originally Brown had intended to use Ed Broadbent, a left-wing politician and then-leader of the Canadian social democratic New Democratic Party, as the head of the penis, but changed it to the right-winger Reagan due to how obscure Broadbent would have been to his American readers—according to Brown, Broadbent would "just ... be a name to them". He later regretted the decision, saying he could have included an explanation in the back of the book.[14] Neither Broadbent nor Reagan was meant to be a political statement; Brown was not very politically aware at the time, and had only vaguest notions of what right- and left-wing politics were, although he says he probably would have believed in the NDP's policies at the time had he been more aware of what they were. Years later, Brown became a libertarian, and while "Reagan was no libertarian", he came to believe that Reagan was the best president of the US since Calvin Coolidge.[15] The idea of a talking penis has appeared in a number of other comics, such as The Talking Head (1990) by Paolo Baciliero[16] and Pete Sickman-Garner's Young Tim.[17]
Professor Ferron Jones
Professor from Dimension X who discovers the inter-dimensional hole, and secretly makes his way to Ed's dimension to find the missing head of President Reagan when Nancy, the First Lady refuses to approve an expedition. He makes an appearance on TV, but later is killed when it is discovered that the people of his world are homosexual or bisexual, as homosexuality is strictly forbidden in Ed's world.[8]
Annie Doodley
The spirit of Chet's sister, who died in infancy. She guides Josie's disembodied spirit, and tells Josie she has become a vampire, as she died while committing a grievous sin.[8]
Becky Backman
Wife of Bick Beckman, whose penis transplant is interrupted by government agents. Ed is switched for Bick, and handed over to his wife. Ed starts a new life as Becky's husband, but it is later revealed to Becky by her mother that Ed is really her long lost twin brother, from whom she was separated at birth. Becky's role is minimized in the collections, as all scenes in which she appears after Ed is handed over to her at the hospital are dropped. She was not originally conceived of as Ed's sister—Brown worked that into the story after he noticed a resemblance in the way he drew the two characters.[18]


"I'd been seeing these different Japanese comics, and they were obsessed with ... doing shit jokes and stuff. Scatological stuff. And I thought it was kind of disgusting, and I couldn't see why the Japanese would be so obsessed with this stuff. So I decided to put it in my comic and see how it would turn out. And after drawing 'The Man Who Couldn't Stop' I didn't find it disgusting anymore. Now when I see that stuff in Japanese comics or anywhere else, it doesn't bother me the way it used to."

Chester Brown, 1990[18]

Ed had a large amount of potentially offensive content, including nudity, graphic violence, racist imagery, blasphemy, profanity and more. Brown himself had grown up in a strictly Baptist household[19] in which he was not allowed to swear (as depicted in his graphic novel I Never Liked You, and in the story "The Little Man"). Some of the shocking content came from Brown confronting himself with things such as his disgust at scatological humour he believed was prevalent in Japanese comics, and his disgust at homosexuality. He was also going through a period of discovering what it was he believed about Christianity, a topic he would revisit throughout his life and career.

Brown explored Freudian ideas the Surrealists used that he had discovered in Wallace Fowlie's Age of Surrealism. Brown said, "surrealist writers believed that in creating spontaneously they could get in touch with The Unconscious", which helped him find a direction for his work at a time he says he "had nothing to say".[20] Following this path, he included certain scenes and images that made even himself uncomfortable; for example, the recurring Pygmy characters and their "ooga booga" language, which reinforced "old colonial imaging of 'third world natives'", according to Chris Lanier, writing in The Comics Journal.[21]


Christian elements especially—especially via sacrilege—are prominent in the book. They are at first innocuous and unimportant: a zombie named Christian, another character who believes he has found Christ's face on a piece of adhesive tape. With the fourth issue of Yummy Fur, Brown's surreal take on Christianity becomes central: the cover depicts the Virgin Mary holding not just the infant Christ, but also a severed hand. Within is the story of Saint Justin, whose amputation becomes a key motif: Chet loses his own hand, finds another, and his own appears mysteriously under Ed's pillow. Only by praying for forgiveness of his adultery and murdering his lover is Chet's hand miraculously restored. According to the Lives of the Saints,[13] the fictional[22] Saint Justin severed his own hand,[b] but in another version Brown presents, Justin's wife chops it off with a woodaxe when she catches her husband masturbating after rejecting her advances. The altered ending from 1992 has both Josie and Chet reunited in Hell—and the ghost of Chet's sister has become a devil. As Brown mixes surreal sacrilege with the sort of moralism that compels him to condemn Josie for her bloody revenge, Brian Evenson calls Brown "deft at muddying the waters in a way that makes it very hard to pin him down as either beleiever or stirist, as either anti-religionist or apologist".[13]

While not part of the Ed story, Brown had been running straight adaptations in Yummy Fur of the Gospels of Mark and of Matthew during most of Ed's run. R. Fiore called this "the best exploration of Christian mythology since Justin Green's Binky Brown", comparing Chet's excessive Christian guilt with the "almost childlike retelling" of Mark.[23] Aside from the gospel retellings, Yummy Fur readers also found "I Live in the Bottomless Pit", a short strip in which a man discovers the Antichrist, who after millenia underground has forgotten his mission—a paradoxical one, as he claims his orders were from God.[13]

Brown has stated that when he began Ed he considered himself a Christian, although he did not feel sure what being a Christian meant to himself. Over the course of creating the book, he said he went through a periods of agnosticismand Gnosticism.[24]

Publishing history[edit]


The story got its start in the second issue of Brown's original Yummy Fur minicomic, the seven issues of which were reprinted in the first three issues of the Vortex Comics-published Yummy Fur. Ed ended up running in the first 18 issues Yummy Fur, with other backup features, such as Brown's Gospel adaptations.[25] Originally, Brown had intended Ed to be his main, ongoing character, and had not planned to have an ending to the series, but by the eighteenth issue he felt the need to change directions. After reading a set of semi-autobiographical minicomics by Julie Doucet,[26] he quickly decided to bring the series to an end (although it would not be the only ending), and began doing autobiographical comics and changed his drawing style.

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 teen and early 20s. Then I gradually began losing interest in 'Ed'. Most of that stuff wasn't reprinted in 'The Definitive Ed,' I wasn't interested in it. I was coming at it from a Marvel-DC point of view where you have a character and you just keep going with that character as long as people will buy it, and at a certain point I realized you don't have to do that. You can end a story like a novel ends and go onto something else. At the beginning of 'Ed', I was totally free; I could do anything; but at the end, so many things had been blocked off and the world defined in so many ways that I wasn't as free to create, and I was bored. The night I came up with the ending, the original ending in issue 18, I was overjoyed. Wow! I get to finish this!

Brown believes the story came to a "natural" conclusion at the end of Yummy Fur #12. This story is what made up the first Ed collection, which was intended to be the first in a series of Ed books, much like Hergé's The Adventures of Tintin series. However, he had "come to hate most of the Ed instalments from issues 13 to 18", and thought the ending in issue #12 was a fitting one. On the other hand, Brown felt that Josie's story had not properly wrapped up. While Josie's revenge on Chet could be seen as resolution, Brown could not "let Josie get away with it", as he saw the revenge impulse negatively, and devised an ending to reflect his belief, in which Josie ends up in Hell with Chet.[28]

While Ed was the main feature of Yummy Fur until Brown switched gears to autobiographical comics, it was notably juxtaposed against his straight adaptations of the gospels of Mark and Matthew, which filled up the rest of the Yummy Fur issues starting with #4.[29]

Issues of Ed the Happy Clown
# Date
1 February 2005
2 May
3 August
4 November
5 January 2006
6 March
7 May
8 July
9 September

Drawn and Quarterly (Brown's publisher since 1991) reissued the contents of the Definitive Ed collection in a nine issue series on smaller-sized pages from 2005 to 2006 titled Ed the Happy Clown, with new covers, previously unpublished art and extensive commentary by Brown.[4] The contents came mainly from issues two through twelve, and some from issue seventeen. About 80 pages—a third of the original Ed material—remains uncollected, including the entire 24-page ending that appeared in issue eighteen.[25]

The artwork appeared at its largest in the Vortex Yummy Fur issues; it was somewhat smaller in the minicomics and first two collected editions. The artwork was smallest in the 2012 Drawn and Quarterly edition, a size Brown considered ideal, stating, "The smaller the better, as long as the words are still legible." The 2012 edition also had wider page margins and gutters between the images.[30]

Brown devised a new ending to Ed the Happy Clown around 2001–02 while working on Louis Riel. After finishing that book, he dug out the ending again and started revising Ed to incorporate this new ending, and material for earlier in the book to foreshadow the new ending. Soon he found himself rewriting and redrawing the whole story, this time working from a script. Drawn and Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros began to suspect what Brown had secretly been doing, so in order to distract his publisher Brown suggested re-serializing the "definitive" Ed collection, along with endnotes; Oliveros agreed.[31] This version of Ed was issued in a book collection called, Ed the Happy Clown: a Graphic Novel, by Drawn and Quarterly in mid-2012.

Brown penciled about 100 pages of the revised version, but stopped because he believed the new version was not any better than the original.[32]


Censored comics panel of a man masturbating
Censored panel of a man ejaculating while masturbating in Yummy Fur #4

In Yummy Fur #4 was a scene in which a fictional "Saint Justin" masturbates after putting off his wife's advances. In one panel "Saint Justin" had just ejaculating all over his hand, his penis in full view and his semen-covered hand clearly visible behind it. Vortex publisher Bill Marks had the panel covered up with another illustration after discussing it with Brown. Brown agreed to this censorship, but was "annoyed" by it. Marks later called it a mistake that he would not make again,[33] and when Brown included a scene in the following issue of the Ronald Reagan penishead vomiting Marks made no objection, and all future collections of Ed have the original uncensored panel.[34] The censored portion of the panel was covered with a note delivered by a rabbit that Brown often used as a surrogate self; the message read: "Sorry folks but this picture of a penis ejaculating onto a hand has been censored. If any of you want to see this page as I originally drew it send me a self addressed envelope (and an age statement) care of Vortex Comics and I'll send you a photocopy.|Chester Brown|Yummy Fur #4, page 3, panel 3[35] Brown has said that perhaps 100 to 200 readers sent requests for the uncesored panel.[36]

In stores, Yummy Fur was often wrapped in plastic with "adults only" labels on it.[37] It is not known if Ed or Yummy Fur were banned from any stores, but Diamond, the largest American comics distributor, stopped carrying it for a time in 1988.[12] A publisher discovered that boxes of its feminist publication were lined with discarded pages of Yummy Fur, included pages in which Chet stabs Josie while having sex with her. The publisher lodged a complaint with the Ontario-based printer, which informed Vortex it would no longer handle Yummy Fur.[38] The third issue of the Drawn and Quarterly Ed series was seized at the Canadian border, but was later deemed admissible.[39]

Publication history[edit]


Black-and-white photograph of a middle-aged man
Comics writer Harvey Pekar wrote the Brown-illustrated introduction to the first collected Ed edition in 1989.

The stories have been collected in three different editions, with significantly differing contents. Brown dedicated them Kris Nakamura, a former girlfriend who had convinced him to self-publish the Yummy Fur minicomic.[40]

The first collection, titled Ed the Happy Clown: A Yummy Fur Book, was released in 1989 by Vortex Comics before Brown had decided to put an end to the story. It collects the Ed stories up to the twelfth issue of Yummy Fur and includes a cartoon foreword scripted by American Splendor writer Harvey Pekar and drawn by Brown. It was this edition that in 1990 won Brown one of his two Harvey Awards, for Best Graphic Album,[41] and a U.K. Comic Art Award the same year for Best Graphic Novel/Collection.[42]

The second edition came out from Vortex in 1992, after Brown had taken Yummy Fur to Drawn and Quarterly. Bill Marks had it labeled The Definitive Ed Book[10] for marketing reasons;[43] Brown was unsatisfied with having "definitive" in the title, but allowed Marks to go ahead with it.[31] The edition reprinted what was in the first edition with an altered ending and some material from Yummy Fur #17, dropping most of the material in the series from after Chet's death.[10]

In June 2012, Drawn and Quarterly published a third edition, Ed the Happy Clown: A Graphic-Novel, reprinting the contents of the Ed series of a few years earlier, including somewhat modified endnotes and annotations,[44] and reproductions of the series' covers in the endpapers.[45] It had a new introduction by Brown,[46] replacing those by Pekar and Solomos in the previous editions. Compared to those editions, it was printed on higher-quality paper with higher contrast in the printing, and the artwork was reduced in size.[7] Brown subtitled the book with a hyphen: "graphic-novel". This reflects Brown's distaste yet reluctant acceptance of the term, as its usage had by then become widespread. Brian Evenson sees this as a Brown-like eccentricity and a gesture emphasizing the equal importance Brown places on both word and image.[47] The book was a bestseller.[48]

The 2012 edition also included a ten-page story called "The Door", which Brown redrew from an anonymous public domain story from a horror comic book. In the story, a couple go through a door in a funhouse which leads through a passage in which they get lost for years. Their clothes disintegrate over that time, exposing their genitals, until they finally come across another door—one that leads them to Hell. Brown wrote he found the original story truly horrifying, as the couple had done nothing apparent to deserve their fate. He had originally intended to incorporate it into the Ed story, but capriciously veered off in another narrative direction.[7]

Book collections of Ed the Happy Clown
Date Title Publisher Pages ISBN Notes
1989 Ed the Happy Clown: a Yummy Fur Book Vortex 198 978-0-921451-04-4
1992 Ed the Happy Clown: the Definitive Ed Book 215 978-0-921451-08-2
2012 Ed the Happy Clown: A Graphic Novel Drawn and Quarterly 240 978-1-77046-075-1
  • extensive end notes and appendices[7]
  • additional story "The Door"[7]


"Brown arrived in print almost fully formed as an aritist", according to comics historian John Bell. His style, while showing the influence of artists such as Robert Crumb, Harold Gray, and Jack Kirby, was distinct from his predecessors. He continued to mature as an artist and draughtsman throughout the run of Ed,[5] showing enormous growth from the beginning to end of the graphic novel.[3]

Working method[edit]

Unlike most cartoonists, Brown does not compose his pages, pereferring to draw each panel on separate sheets of paper and assembling them into pages afterwards.[47] The panels in Ed were on 5-by-5-inch (13 cm × 13 cm)[9] squares of cheap typewriter paper, which he placed on a block of wood on his lap in lieu of a drawing board.[49] He used a number of different drawing tools, including Rapidograph technical pens, markers,[50] crowquill pens and ink brushes. He had some photocopies printed from his pencilled work, which he found both faster to produce and more spontaneous in feel.[9] Years later he deemed this work "too raw", lacking the "fluid grace" of a brushline.[50]

The pre-Vortex stories had been done using a brush, but when Brown committed himself to a regular schedule, he felt that would be too slow, and switched to cheap markers or pencils to increase his productivity. While he was not using a brush for drawing, he still used one to fill in blacks and to letter his dialogue balloons.[50] Brown came to favour the quality of the brush again toward the end of the story's run, but found it slow to work with and thus used it less than he would have preferred.[9]

Usually Brown first roughly sketched the artwork with a light blue pencil, then elaborated it with an HB pencil, at which stage he said "most of the work [was] done". He filled in blacks and dark areas with a brush. By photocopying before sending the artwork to the printer, Brown could ensure that the copy printed from was sufficiently black.[9] While he occasionally scripted certain pages or scenes, frequently he did not, and often wrote in dialogue only after having drawn the artwork.[51] Brown worked freely, without ruling lines or lettering.[9]

Brown did not plan out the stories, though he might have certain ideas prepared. Some ideas he found carried him for up to two to three issues of Yummy Fur. Brown used of flashback scenes different perspectives to alter the story to his needs—for example, when Brown revisited the scene of Josie's murder, he placed Ed behind a bush, linking the two characters' fates. When he had originally done the murder scene, he says he did not "know that Ed was over in the bushes a couple feet away".[18]

While improvisation worked to a degree, Brown found himself dissatisfied with much of the work, later abandoning about a hundred printed pages which he no longer intends to have reprinted. He found that the improvisational method did not work well with Underwater in the 1990s; after cancelling that series he turned to carefully scripting out his stories, beginning with Louis Riel.[52]


When Brown started to do Ed, he was largely influenced by the comics he had grown up with, especially monster comics from Marvel Comics, such as Werewolf by Night and Frankenstein's Monster, drawn by artists like Mike Ploog; and DC comics like Swamp Thing by artists like Bernie Wrightson and Jim Aparo.[53]

Since graduating from high school, Brown had been inching towards underground comix, starting with the work of Richard Corben and especially Moebius in Heavy Metal, and eventually getting over his disgust over Robert Crumb's sex-laden comics to become a huge fan of the Zap and Weirdo artist.[54] He says the book that finally pulled him over into the underground was The Apex Treasury of Underground Comics, which included Crumb as well as Art Spiegelman's original short "Maus" story.[55] He was also affected by Will Eisner's graphic novel, A Contract with God.[56] Brown had already been an Eisner fan, but this book was different, "something that wasn't about a character with a mask on his face".[54] He started drawing in a more underground style, and submitting work to Raw, Last Gasp and Fantagraphics. The work was rejected from these publishers for one reason or another, and Brown was eventually convinced by his friend Kris Nakamura, who was active in the Toronto small press scene, to take it and self-publish it. His minicomic, Yummy Fur, was the result, and included the earliest installments of the Ed the Happy Clown story.[57]

The book also drew inspiration from pulp science fiction, religious literature and television clichés,[5] and Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie, which would become a primary influence on Brown's later work—especially Louis Riel—had an effect on Brown after he discovered some Annie reprint books in the early 1980s.[54]

Reception and legacy[edit]

Ed was not a book for the squeamish, and was vilified by women's rights groups, as well as being off-putting to fellow cartoonists (some of whom, including Craig Thompson, later came to admire it).[3] D. Aviva Rothschild, author of Graphic Novels: a Bibliographic Guide to Book-Length Comics, found the story akin to "staring at six-day-old roadkill".[16] Even Brown's father was too offended to keep reading after the fifth minicomic issue, "Ed and the Beanstalk".[14]

However, the book was praised by numerous publications, from The Comics Journal[23] to mainstream publications such as The Village Voice[58] and Rolling Stone, which placed Ed on an early-1990s "Hot" list,[59] Time placed Ed at seventh on its list of "All Time Top Ten Graphic Novels",[60] Publisher and critic Kim Thompson placed Ed at #27 on his top 100 comics of the 20th Century,[61] and editor and critic Tom Spurgeon called Ed "one of the three best alt-comix serials of all time".[62] The book appeared in Gene Kannenberg's 500 Essential Graphic Novels (2008).[63]

Critic Chris Lanier placed Ed in a tradition that included Daniel Clowes' Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron, Max Andersson's Pixy and Eric Drooker's Flood!;[64] he wrote thatsymbols appear with such frequency and importance in these works as to suggest significance, while remaining symbolically empty.[64] He finds predecessors for these works in German Dada[65] and the Theatre of the Absurd.[21] Reviewer Brad McKay found Ed "both hopeless and funny, a trick moviemakers like Tim Burton and Todd Solondz wish they could pull off more regularly".[3]

Critic R. Fiore initially found the 1992 ending disappointing,[66] but changed his mind 2012, saying the sad ending gave Ed "an emotional punch that it wouldn't otherwise have".[8] Critic Douglas Wolk wrote that it is not surprising that Brown will not settle on one conclusion to the story, as that "would mean some kind of narrative closure", while Ed's premise is that "everything makes sense as a big picture eventually, but nothing can be relied on from moment to moment".[10]

Ed had a large impact on a number of Brown's contemporaries, including fellow Canadians Dave Sim and Seth, the latter of whom was taken in by the ambitiousness of Brown's storytelling, saying "Those brilliant sequences where he would show a situation and then return to it later from a different perspective, like the death of Josie, really blew me away"[3]—and Dave Cooper, who called Ed "the most perfect book ever".[67]

Others who cite Brown's Ed as an influence on their work include Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Craig Thompson, Matt Madden,[68] Eric Reynolds[69] and the Canadian cartoonists Alex Fellows, whose Canvas shows the influence of Ed, and Bryan Lee O'Malley, who calls Brown "a Golden God" and whose Lost at Sea was heavily influenced by Ed.[3] Anders Nilsen calls Ed "completely amazing and one of the best comics ever", placing it in his top five comic books,[70] and citing it as a major influence on his spontaneous Big Questions.[71]

In 2014, Uncivilized Books published Ed Vs. Yummy Fur Brian Evenson. The book details the differences between the various versions of the Ed narrative.[72]


Awards for Ed the Happy Clown
Year Organisation Award Result
1990 Harvey Awards Best Graphic Album[41]
for the first edition
U. K. Comic Art Award Best Graphic Novel/Collection[42]
for the first edition
1999 Urhunden Prizes Foreign Album[73] Won

Other media[edit]

Photograph of a bearded, middle-aged man in a cowboy hat
Since 1991 Bruce McDonald has struggled to find financial backing for an Ed film.

Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald has had the rights since 1991[3] to adapt Ed to film, for which he plans to use Yummy Fur as the title.[43] The film will possibly use stop-motion animation,[74] but the project has yet to get off the ground.[75] At one point McDonald hoped to have Macaulay Culkin star as Ed, Rip Torn as Ronald Reagan and Drew Barrymore as Nancy Reagan. In 2000, it was reported that the movie would have a budget of $6,000,000,[76] but it was unable to get the necessary financial backing. A script had been written by Don McKellar,[3] and later with John Frizzell.[76]

The City of Toronto commissioned Brown to do as part of their Live with Culture campaign; the strip in Now magazine for six weeks in 2007. In one episode a zombie and his human girlfriend attend a screening of McDonald's still-unmade adaptation of Ed.[77] McDonald managed placed Brown's graphic novel in scenes in his film The Tracey Fragments the same year.[78]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scott Grammel: At the conclusion of the mini-dimensional storyline it ends with the revelation that the mini-dimension planet is one in which everyone is homosexual or bisexual.
    Chester Brown: I'm glad you caught that distinction.[9]
  2. ^ Mark 9:43; Brown quotes: "If thy hand offend thee, cut it off – it is better for thee to enter into life maimed than having two hands to go into hell."


  1. ^ Brown 1998, p. 161.
  2. ^ Juno 1997, p. 135.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Mackay 2005.
  4. ^ a b c Wolk 2007, p. 148.
  5. ^ a b c d e Bell 2006, p. 154.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Wolk 2007, p. 149.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Levin 2012.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Fiore 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Grammel 1990, p. 85.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Wolk 2007, p. 150.
  11. ^ Levin 1993, p. 48.
  12. ^ a b Davis 1989.
  13. ^ a b c d e Evenson 2014, Chapter 2.
  14. ^ a b c Grammel 1990, p. 84.
  15. ^ Brown 2006 (March), notes p. 2.
  16. ^ a b Rothschild 1995, pp. 82, 91–92.
  17. ^ Wolk 1999.
  18. ^ a b c Grammel 1990, p. 83.
  19. ^ Hwang 1998; Juno 1997, p. 143.
  20. ^ Brown 2005 (February), notes p. 1.
  21. ^ a b Lanier 1995, p. 100.
  22. ^ Levin.
  23. ^ a b Fiore 1987.
  24. ^ Brown 2005 (November), notes p. 3.
  25. ^ a b Evenson 2014, Chapter 3.
  26. ^ Brown 2006 (September), notes p. 1.
  27. ^ Levin 1993, p. 47.
  28. ^ Brown 2006 (September), notes pp. 1–2.
  29. ^ Pustz 1999, p. 92.
  30. ^ Evenson 2014, Chapter 4.
  31. ^ a b Brown 2006 (September), notes p. 2.
  32. ^ Wolk 2007, p. 148; Walker 2011.
  33. ^ Grammel 1990, p. 88.
  34. ^ Brown 2006 (January), notes p. 2.
  35. ^ Brown 1987, p. 3, panel 3; Evenson 2014, Chapter 4.
  36. ^ Evenson 2014, Chapter 4; Appendix: Interview with Chester Brown.
  37. ^ Mackay 2005; Grammel 1990, p. 88.
  38. ^ Mackay 2005; Brown 2006 (January), notes p. 1.
  39. ^ CBLDF 2011, p. 23.
  40. ^ Juno 1997, p. 131; Brown 2005 (February), notes p. 2.
  41. ^ a b Harvey Awards staff 1990.
  42. ^ a b Bell 2006, p. 150.
  43. ^ a b Arnold 2004.
  44. ^ Levin 2012; Carlick 2012.
  45. ^ Spurgeon 2012.
  46. ^ Blake 2012.
  47. ^ a b Evenson 2014, "linkages".
  48. ^ New York Times 2012.
  49. ^ Matt 1992.
  50. ^ a b c Brown 2006 (January), notes p. 1.
  51. ^ Grammel 1990, p. 86.
  52. ^ Sim 2005; Epp 2002.
  53. ^ Grammel 1990, p. 85; Grammel 1990, p. 72.
  54. ^ a b c Grammel 1990, p. 77.
  55. ^ Grammel 1990, p. 78.
  56. ^ Juno 1997, p. 132.
  57. ^ Grammel 1990, p. 79.
  58. ^ Mackay 2005; Bell 2006, p. 150.
  59. ^ Mackay 2005; TCAF staff 2005.
  60. ^ Arnold 2005; Rhoades 2008, pp. 221–222.
  61. ^ Thompson 2002.
  62. ^ Spurgeon 2005.
  63. ^ Kannenberg 2008.
  64. ^ a b Lanier 1995, p. 99.
  65. ^ Lanier 1995, p. 102.
  66. ^ Fiore 1992, p. 42.
  67. ^ McKeown 2002.
  68. ^ Nester 2005; Carlick 2012.
  69. ^ Contino & Atchison 2002.
  70. ^ Algeo 2011.
  71. ^ Romberger 2011.
  72. ^ Hunter 2014.
  73. ^ Hammarlund 2007; Hahn 2006.
  74. ^ Halfyard 2007.
  75. ^ Guillen 2007.
  76. ^ a b Playback staff 2000.
  77. ^ Wershler 2008; Rogers 2008.
  78. ^ Verniere 2008.

Works cited[edit]


Journals and magazines[edit]

Other sources[edit]

Brown, Chester. Ed the Happy Clown. Drawn and Quarterly. Nine issues (February 2005–September 2006)
(notes pages unnumbered; pages counted from first page of notes)

External links[edit]