I Never Liked You
|I Never Liked You|
Cover of the New Definitive second edition of I Never Liked You
|Publisher||Drawn and Quarterly|
|Published in||Yummy Fur|
|Date of publication||October 1991 – April 1993|
I Never Liked You is a graphic novel by Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown. Originally serialized as Fuck in issues #26–30 of Brown's comic book Yummy Fur in 1991–93, it was published in book form by Drawn and Quarterly in 1994. The story deals with the teenage Brown's introversion and difficulty talking to others, especially members of the opposite sex—including his mother, to whom he is unable to express affection even as she lies in the hospital dealing with her schizophrenia. The story has minimal dialogue and makes rare use of a narrator. The artwork is sparse, loose, and impressionistic, with only a single small panel on some pages.
Brown established his reputation in the early alternative comics scene of the 1980s with the surreal, taboo-breaking Ed the Happy Clown, serialized in Yummy Fur. He brought the story to an abrupt end in 1989 when, under the influence of the autobiographical comics of Joe Matt and Julie Doucet, he turned to telling revealing personal stories. Dissatisfied with his drawing style, he gradually simplified it, inspired by the artwork of his friend and fellow Toronto cartoonist Seth. Brown originally intended I Never Liked You to form part of a longer work with what became his previous book, The Playboy (1992), but found the larger story too complex for him to handle at once. I Never Liked You was the last work of Brown's early autobiographical period.
I Never Liked You has had a positive reception, and its influence can be seen in the work of cartoonists such as Jeffrey Brown, Ariel Schrag, and Anders Nilsen. The book appeared amidst an autobiographical trend in alternative comics in the early 1990s, and Brown was seen as one of a prominent trio of Toronto-based autobiographical cartoonists with Seth and Joe Matt. Brown originally set the panels against black page backgrounds, which he replaced with white for an annotated New Definitive Edition in 2002.
The autobiographical story takes place during its author Chester Brown's adolescence in Châteauguay, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal. Chester—"Chet" for short—is an introverted teenager who has trouble talking with girls, even though he is interested in them and they express interest in him. He constantly and inexplicably turns them away. Except in his imagination, Chet has difficulty expressing affection even for his mother. Chet's mother is strict with him regarding even mild swearing. As a result, he has a hard time bringing himself to use such language, a fact his classmates pick up on and tease and goad him over.
Chet and his younger brother Gord often play games such as hide-and-seek with the neighbourhood children. One of the girls, Carrie, constantly tries to win Chet over, but he is interested in Sky, a large-breasted girl who lives next door and about whom he has masturbatory fantasies. He finally confesses his love to her but immediately regrets it, unable to deal with his feelings. He draws her a picture of a skeleton symbolizing himself reaching for a bird signifying Sky. When Carrie deciphers it correctly he denies that he uses symbolism in his drawings, and the confrontation escalates to minor violence when Carrie proclaims to him, "I never liked you!"
Chet's mother checks in to the hospital to deal with her schizophrenia. Chet and his brother rarely visit, and when they do Chet cannot bring himself to tell her he loves her. Shortly later she dies there. Chet makes excuse after excuse to turn Sky away when she tries to spend time with him. The story ends with Chet refusing to accompany Sky to the fair as he proclaims he is eager to listen to the new Kiss album he has just bought.
- Chester "Chet" Brown
- Brown depicts himself as a thin, long-haired teenager who is awkward, introverted, and better able to express himself through drawing than speaking. He is emotionally withdrawn and unable to show even his mother affection when he visits her in the hospital. Due to the religious teaching his mother has instilled in him, he cannot bring himself to swear, for which he is teased and goaded at school. The story follows Chet's growing introversion rather than an expected sexual awakening.
- Chet's mother
- Chet's mother (1923–76) is deeply religious. She talks to her sons about issues that embarrass them, such as about the female body. She checks herself into a hospital to deal with her schizophrenia and suffers a fall down a flight of stairs there when confusedly wandering around. She dies after being bedridden and incoherent for a short time. Her schizophrenia is not made explicit in the book, but signs appear in scenes where she tries to talk about awkward subjects with Chet and his brother Gord; the boys' unsupportive responses only feed the discomfort. Brown addresses his mother's mental health in his cartoon essay "My Mom was a Schizophrenic" (1995), in which he takes an anti-psychiatric stance.
- Sky is a dark-haired, large-breasted girl two years younger than Chet who lives in the house next door. Chet masturbates about her, but at first cannot bring himself to express his love for her. She connects with Chet and tries to develop a relationship, but he is unable to deal with his feelings and makes excuses not to spend time with her.
- Connie is a bossy blonde a year Chet's senior who lives across the street from Chet's house. She and Chet have seem to have little in common, but often talk, especially during hide-and-seek games in which they hide from the others in the tall grass. Chet's awkwardness with the opposite sex is highlighted when Connie asks Chet to the movies; Chet accepts, but he sits away from her when he spots boys from his school there, fearing he will be teased for being on a date. When the film ends, the pair walk home together in silence.
- Carrie is Connie's younger sister who transparently has a crush on Chet; each day she invites him to her house to wash the dishes. She becomes possessive of him, but Chet repeatedly tries to put her off. She attacks Chet when she learns Chet has confessed his love for Sky.
Brown grew up in Châteauguay, a Montreal suburb with a large English-speaking minority; he does not speak French. Brown described himself as a "nerdy teenager" attracted to comic books from a young age, and aimed at a career in superhero comics, but was unsuccessful in getting work with Marvel or DC Comics after graduating from high school. He moved to Toronto and discovered underground comix and the small-press community, and from 1983 began self-publishing a minicomic called Yummy Fur.
From 1986 Toronto-based Vortex Comics began publishing Yummy Fur. After making a name for himself in alternative comics with the surreal serial Ed the Happy Clown, Brown turned to autobiography under the influence of the work of Julie Doucet and Joe Matt. During his autobiographical period, Brown gradually simplified his style, inspired by the example of his friend and fellow Toronto cartoonist Seth. He began tentatively with a pair of short tales, and gradually became freer with his panel layouts and simpler in his artwork.
Brown had switched publishers to the Montreal-based Drawn and Quarterly by the time he completed his first autobiographical graphic novel, The Playboy, in 1992. At first, Brown had intended The Playboy and I Never Liked You to form one story, but found it too complex to handle when he started to plan it out. The Playboy deals with Brown's guilt over his teenage obsession with masturbating over pornography. The book gained praise from fans, critics, and other cartoonists, and won a Harvey Award. It also received criticism who saw it as objectifying women and glorifying pornography; Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner sent Brown a letter voicing concern that Brown would feel such guilt in a post-sexual revolution world.
I Never Liked You was originally serialized as Fuck in issues #26–30 of Yummy Fur between October 1991 and April 1993. In contrast with his earlier works, especially the highly improvised Ed the Happy Clown, Brown says that there "was very little improvisation in I Never Liked You. It was quite planned out, even if I didn't write a full script."
Drawn and Quarterly issued a collected edition in 1994; it was this edition in which the title changed from Fuck to I Never Liked You. Brown rearranged the page layouts in the book edition, editing out some panels, most significantly some panels in the prologue in which Chet explains his actions to the reader. A "New Definitive Edition" of I Never Liked You appeared in 2002, in which Brown added two pages of contextual endnotes, something he had increasingly been doing since the cartoon essay "My Mom Was a Schizophrenic" (1995). When the story was originally collected in 1994 the pages were black behind all the panels; he changed them to white in the "New Definitive Edition" rearranged the panels somewhat, stating in an interview: "I like austerity. The white background looks more austere to me." This edition includes a short appendix for readers "wondering when and where things happened".
Style and analysis
Academic Charles Hatfield finds "an abiding interest in the ways people are shaped by their environment" in Brown's autobiographical work, Hatfield writes that the stories demonstrate "the urgency of Justin Green and the mundane particularity of Harvey Pekar", two influential creators known for their revealing autobiographical comics. Brown is unmerciful in presenting the social deficiencies in his teenage self. Despite the 1970s adolescent backdrop, sex and drugs are absent in the story, as Brown's life is shaped by his strictly religious parents.
Chet's face is nearly expressionless throughout the book, and the characters are distanced from the reader, inviting neither empathy nor identification. To cartoonist and critic Pepo Pérez, this is a challenge to readers to understand the characters. In the appendix to the "New Definitive Edition", Brown declares the dialogue is filtered through his memory and likely did not occur as recorded, and that locations and other details are also subject to lapses of memory. To academic Elisabeth El Refaie this transparency on Browns parts is "a deeper and more sincere form of authenticity". Reviewer C. Max Magee found the tone of awkwardness and emotional emptiness comparable to that in works by contemporaries of Brown such as Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware.
The story unfolds in vignettes, and little setup or context is given to each scene. To Hatfield, they "[pop] out of nowhere as a dreamlike series of pulses ... The effect is sometimes eerie ... despite the grounding of the story in mundane everyday stuff." Unlike in his previous graphic novel, The Playboy, Brown makes limited use of a narrator in I Never Liked You. The story is told almost entirely through its pictures and sparse dialogue. The page layouts are also sparse, sometimes limited to a single, small panel on a page, sometimes up to seven or eight. The layout and repetition of panels affects pacing, slowing or quickening scene.
Brown abandoned the grid layout that he had used for more varied, organic layouts. Backgrounds contribute to the mood of a scene, harmonizing or contrasting with the action—as when Chet and Connie return from the movies amongst a romantic snow-covered, starry landscape, against an awkward silence accentuated by panel that grow, making the figures appear ever more insignificant.
Brown's cartooning is far looser than in his earlier work, and concerned more with gesture and expression than literal detail. This fragile, impressionistic artwork is rendered with a brush, and is amongst the simplest and sparsest in Brown's body of work. There is nonetheless a significant amount of hatching, and the backgrounds are naturalistic, in contrast to the thin, distorted figures of the characters. Brown had been paring down his style starting with the Playboy stories as he was not happy with his style and was trying "to rebuild [his] style in a way that [he] would like". He continued this with I Never Liked You, where he has said he was "trying to get even more pared down than The Playboy". Certain inanimate objects receive a focus imbuing them with special significance, such as Chet's habitual after-school package of soda crackers or the Brown family home—a house that, to reviewer Darcy Sullivan, "is as much a character [in I Never Liked You] as in The Playboy".
Brown drew the pictures first and laid down panel borders afterwards, conforming to the shapes of the pictures they enclosed in a wobbly free-hand much like in the artwork of the Los Bros Hernandez or Robert Crumb. He drew each panel individually, assembling them into pages afterwards. In the original serialization and in the first collected edition the panels were placed on black backgrounds. Brown made the black backgrounds white in the 2002 edition.
Reception and legacy
Brown's autobiographical work developed from a scene that had been developing since the 1970s and which had reached a peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Brown's open and un-self-flattering example left an impact on the work of cartoonists such as Jeffrey Brown and Ariel Schrag, and his sparse layouts on the work of those such as Anders Nilsen. On its conclusion, reviewer Darcy Sullivan called it "a major step forward for the artist, a leading light in adult comics". Cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez called The Playboy and I Never Liked You "probably the best graphic novels next to Maus", and comics writer Heidi MacDonald called I Never Liked You "a masterpiece" that is "the equal of any 'coming of age' movie".
Charles Hatfield praised Brown's honesty, keen observation, and narrative strength, and called the "hide with me" page of I Never Liked You one of his favourites. Comics critic Óscar Palmer (es) described the work as "an example of sobriety and restraint, and one of the harshest, most hopeless teenage portraits ... in any medium". Scripter and critic Trajano Bermúdez (es) wrote the book demonstrates Brown a master of his medium. Norwegian cartoonist Jason calls I Never Liked You a favourite autobiographical work.
In the early 1990s Brown was closely associated with two other Toronto-based cartoonist friends in the Drawn and Quarterly stable: Seth and Joe Matt. The three devoted the early 1990s to autobiographical and pseudo-autobiographical works such as Seth's It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken and Matt's The Poor Bastard, both of which were collected in 1996 and became prominent examples of the 1990s autobiographical comics trend.
As one of "The Autobiographical Stories from Yummy Fur", in 1999 I Never Liked You placed #38 on The Comics Journal ''s list of the top 100 English-language comics of the 20th century. In 2001 Stephen Weiner included I Never Liked You in his book The 101 Best Graphic Novels, recommending it to those who enjoy J. D. Salinger's novel The Catcher in the Rye.
I Never Liked You was the last work from his autobiographical period that started with the story Helder in Yummy Fur #19 in 1990. Yummy Fur continued for two more issues before Drawn and Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros convinced Brown to publish his next serial, Underwater, under its own title being in 1994. In 2011 Brown returned to autobiography and his relations with women with the graphic novel Paying for It, a polemic arguing for the decriminalization of prostitution.
- Køhlert 2012, p. 379.
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- Grace & Hoffman 2013, p. xviii.
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- Grace & Hoffman 2013, pp. xxi, xxv.
- Bell, John (2006). Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-1-55002-659-7.
- Birch, Michael (2012). "My Mom was a Schizophrenic". Mediating Mental Health: Contexts, Debates and Analysis. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 174–185. ISBN 978-0-7546-7474-0. Retrieved 2012-07-06.
- Brown, Chester (2002). I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition. Drawn and Quarterly. ISBN 978-1896597140.
- Epp, Darrell (2013). "Two Handed Man Interviews Cartoonist Chester Brown". In Grace, Dominick; Hoffman, Eric. Chester Brown: Conversations. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 118–147. ISBN 978-1-61703-868-6.
- Grace, Dominick; Hoffman, Eric (2013). "Introduction". In Grace, Dominick; Hoffman, Eric. Chester Brown: Conversations. University Press of Mississippi. pp. vii–xxxi. ISBN 978-1-61703-868-6.
- Juno, Andrea (1997). "Interview with Chester Brown". Dangerous Drawings. Juno Books. pp. 130–147. ISBN 0-9651042-8-1.
- Køhlert, Frederik Byrn (2012). "I Never Liked You: A Comic-Strip Narrative". In Beaty, Bart H.; Weiner, Stephen. Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Independent and Underground Classics. pp. 378–381. ISBN 978-1-58765-950-8.
- Lefèvre, Pascal (2009). "The Construction of Space in Comics". In Heer, Jeet; Worcester, Kent. A Comics Studies Reader. University Press of Mississippi. pp. 157–162. ISBN 978-1-60473-109-5. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
- Lefèvre, Pascal (2010). "I Never Liked You". In Booker, M. Keith. Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels 1. ABC-CLIO. pp. 313–314. ISBN 978-0-313-35748-0.
- El Refaie, Elisabeth (2012). Autobiographical Comics: Life Writing in Pictures. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-61703-613-2.
- Weiner, Stephen (2001). DeCandido, Keith R. A., ed. The 101 Best Graphic Novels. NBM. ISBN 978-1-56163-444-6.
- Wolk, Douglas (2007). "Chester Brown: The Outsider". Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. Da Capo Press. pp. 147–155. ISBN 978-0-306-81509-6.
Journals and magazines
- Hatfield, Charles (February 1999). Spurgeon, Tom, ed. "No. 38: The Autobiographical Stories in Yummy Fur". The Comics Journal (Fantagraphics Books) (210). ISSN 0194-7869.
- Sim, Dave (October 2003). ""Getting Riel", part 1". Cerebus (Aardvark-Vanaheim) (295). ISSN 0712-7774. Retrieved 2011-01-16.
- Sullivan, Darcy (November 1994). "The Four Letter Heart". The Comics Journal (Fantagraphics Books) (172): 53–55. ISSN 0194-7869.
- Thompson, Kim (February 2004). "Gilbert Hernandez interview". The Comics Journal (Fantagraphics Books) (158). ISSN 0194-7869.
- Gravett, Paul. "Creator Profile: Chester Brown". paulgravett.com. Archived from the original on 2011-09-10. Retrieved 2011-04-07.
- Hatfield, Charles (2008-01-24). ""Hide with me": a page by Chester Brown (admired by CH)". Thought Balloonists. Archived from the original on 2012-03-22. Retrieved 2012-06-19.
- Heater, Brian (2009-06-23). "Interview: Jason Pt. 2 [of 2]". The Daily Crosshatch. Archived from the original on 2009-06-26. Retrieved 2011-04-07.
- MacDonald, Heidi (2011-11-28). "Beat Holiday Giveaway: Chester Brown's The Playboy and I Never Liked You". The Beat. Archived from the original on 2014-11-17. Retrieved 2014-11-17.
- Magee, C. Max (2006-02-08). "I Never Liked You by Chester Brown: A Review". The Millions. Archived from the original on 2011-09-10. Retrieved 2014-11-17.
- Paquin, Éric (2001-10-31). "Je ne t'ai jamais aimé / Le Playboy: Chester Brown". Voir (in French). Archived from the original on 2014-11-17. Retrieved 2014-11-17.
- Park, Ed (2011-05-02). "Text Appeal". Toronto Standard. Archived from the original on 2011-05-05. Retrieved 2011-05-05.
- Santoro, Frank (2010-10-16). "Class with Frank part 2: Doin' the Chester". Comics Comics. Archived from the original on 2010-10-21. Retrieved 2011-04-30.
- Serrano, Jose A. (June 2007). "Nunca me has gustado, de Chester Brown". Guía del cómic (in Spanish). Archived from the original on 2007-07-16. Retrieved 2014-11-17.
- Verstappen, Nicolas (August 2007). "Chester Brown". du9. Archived from the original on 2008-09-01. Retrieved 2011-04-06.
- Williams, Ian. "I Never Liked You". Graphic Medicine. Archived from the original on 2014-11-17. Retrieved 2014-11-17.
- I Never Liked You at the Comic Book DB