The Playboy

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The Playboy: A Comic Book
Cover of the first edition of The Playboy from Drawn and Quarterly
Creator Chester Brown
Date 1992
Page count 172 pages
Publisher Drawn and Quarterly
Original publication
Published in Yummy Fur
Issues 21–23
ISBN 978-0-921-45108-2
Chronology
Preceded by Ed the Happy Clown: The Definitive Ed Book
Followed by I Never Liked You

The Playboy is a 1992 autobiographical graphic novel by Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown, which deals with the author's obsession with Playboy Playmates, his desire to keep his collection hidden, and how it affected his ability to relate to women into adulthood.

The book was originally serialized in Brown's Yummy Fur. It forms part of his early-1990s autobiographical period, and was his first book-length comic to be conceived as a complete story. It was originally intended to be part of a longer work together with what became I Never Liked You, his next graphic novel, but found the larger story too complex for him to handle at once.

The story has attracted much praise and criticism. It was controversial for its graphic depiction of the adolescent Brown masturbating. Some saw it as a defense of pornography, while to others it seemed to condemn it.

Overview[edit]

The book is an autobiographical story about Brown's obsession with the Playmates in Playboy magazine. Brown's character obsessively masturbates in secret, terrified of being found out, but unable to resist the urge to masturbate. Afterwards, he feels guilty, sometimes getting rid of the magazine(s), only to come back to them again later, sometimes years later buying copies again of issues he had guiltily discarded.[1]

The story happens mostly during Brown's adolescence, but winds up at the time of the book's creation. Along the way we see how Brown's Playboy obsession affects his ability to relate to women. The narrator of the story is a winged, not-quite-angelic version of Brown himself, who often talks to the Chester Brown character. Brown never acknowledges the narrator, though, who appears to be visible only to the reader. The "angel" talks about Brown in the third person in the adolescent parts of the story, but as the story comes to Brown's adult self, the "angel" begins to speak of him in the first person.[1]

Brown depicted actual Playmates and issues of Playboy throughout the book.[2] The book also touches on Brown's prejudices, as in his disgust at seeing a black Playmate.[1][note 1]

Synopsis[edit]

Set in Brown's hometown of Châteauguay, Quebec[3] in Canada in 1975 when Brown was 15,[4] the story opens in church, with Brown's angel-demon (Brown's id[4]) cajoling him into buying a Playboy magazine he had seen for sale. He works up the courage to do it at a convenience store at a considerable distance from his house, hoping that at that distance he won't be caught.

After bringing the magazine home and masturbating over it, he disposes of it by hiding it under a plank of wood in the woods near his house. His building obsession battles his guilt, though, and eventually goes back for it, a binge and purge situation[4] which repeats itself several times throughout the story, even into adulthood, when he alternately hunts down back issues of Playboy and disposes them over the guilt he feels or his fear of being found out by a girlfriend.[4]

His obsession so overcomes him that, even when his mother passes away while he is at camp, his first thought at returning home is to retrieve the Playboy he has hidden in the woods.[1] As an adult, he hunts down back issues, and becomes something of a connoisseur of Playmates, memorizing dates and names. His obsession interferes with his relations with women, however—he admits that, while seeing one girlfriend, he could only maintain an erection for her by fantasizing about his favourite Playmates, and that he preferred masturbation to having sex with her.[5]

The story finishes with himself drawing the story we are reading. Though he knows his friends will be reading about it shortly, he still feels embarrassment, and is unable to talk about it with them face-to-face.

Themes[edit]

Peter Bagge does "The Chester"

Masturbation[edit]

Brown's character obsessively masturbates, which is depicted graphically throughout the book. Brown's character is notable for his masturbation style, in which he faces down and rubs his penis with the palms of both hands, which has come to be known as doing "the Chester", after a cartoon of it by Peter Bagge.[6][7][8][9][10]

Guilt[edit]

Brown's character is terrified of being caught masturbating, or with copies of Playboy. He also shows signs of regret after masturbating, and continually tries to rid himself of his Playboys. He tries to dispose of them by hiding them in the woods near his house, but always goes back to get them.[1]

When finishing The Playboy, Brown still felt a lot of guilt over still looking at Playmates. He credits having "come out" in print with helping him overcome his shame.[11] While many have interpreted the book as a condemnation of pornography, Brown's take is that it is about the guilt he was made to feel for using pornography.[note 2]

Relationships[edit]

As in most of Brown's autobiographical works, Brown's character is depicted as an introvert who has difficulty connecting with other people. In The Playboy, his difficulties are mostly with women: he has trouble sustaining relations with women who can't compare to his favourite Playmates; he feels guilty lying to his girlfriend Kris about his Playboy collection.

Brown's mother dies while he was away at camp. This is only mentioned briefly, as when he returns from camp, he immediately heads out to the woods to dig up the Playboy he had buried there two weeks before. Brown "has shunted aside his painful feelings for her, and for other women, in favor of this tatty fetish". He is introverted and self-isolating, preferring pornography to communicating with his brother.[1]

Social conditioning and "beauty"[edit]

The Playboy has been interpreted to show how societal norms and expectations of beauty are distorted by the idealized images in pornography. This is brought home most forcefully in the scene in which Brown admits that he could only maintain an erection with one girlfriend when he fantasized about his favourite Playmates.[12]

Brown objects to this interpretation, however—or, rather, he sees it as a flaw in his work, in that it didn't provide enough context for what he was really trying to communicate: that the reason he had trouble maintaining an erection was because he had gotten himself into a relationship with a girl who wasn't his "type", though she was actually "good-looking". He says that if Playboy didn't exist, he would have fantasized about other images of women anyways, and that the mistake was his for getting into a relationship with someone he didn't find sexually attractive.[11]

Publication History[edit]

Brown ran into problems doing contemporary autobiographical stories, as his story interconnected with the stories of those around him—the friends he portrayed did not always agree with the way they were portrayed (as can been seen in Showing Helder). Brown then decided to turn to his teenage years, as he had lost contact with most of the people he knew from that time.[13]

The story was originally called Disgust[14] when serialized in issues #21-23 of Brown's Yummy Fur comic book, at the time still being published by Vortex. The collection was published by Drawn and Quarterly in somewhat different form after Brown moved publication of Yummy Fur there, and was the first graphic novel D&Q published.[15] At first, Brown intended The Playboy and I Never Liked You to be one story, but found it too complex to handle when he started to plan it out.[16]

Like Brown's other acclaimed autobiographical graphic novel, I Never Liked You, originally was, the panels of The Playboy are set on black pages. In 2002, Brown revised the pages of I Never Liked You, making the pages white, saying, "I like austerity. The white background looks more austere to me."[17] However, he has left The Playboy as it is with the original black pages.

The book was dedicated to "Seth for his example as an artist".

Working method[edit]

While Brown had a clear idea of the stories from his life that he would use, and the general shape of the book, there was a "sense of improvising", as he did not script it out beforeheand.[18]

Style[edit]

Chester Brown foreshortened in embarrassment

Brown had been simplifying his drawing style since bringing Ed the Happy Clown to an end, as he didn't like the style he had at the time,, and had been looking at cartoonists with simpler styles, like John Stanley and his friend Seth.[19] He abandoned the grid layout that he had used, "and replace[d] it with a more organic collaged sequencing using panels of a more varied shape."[14] He would make the drawings, and only lay down panel borders afterwards, which would conform to the shape of the pictures they enclosed, and were done in a wobbly free-hand much like the Hernandez brothers or Robert Crumb.[20]

Brown distorted his images to convey emotion, but not in traditionally "cartoonish" ways. For example, when the adolescent Brown comes across friends of his parents, he shrinks with embarrassment through distortion of the artist's "lens", rather than literally shrinking, as one often sees in cartoons.[1]

Reception[edit]

As one of "The autobiographical comics from Yummy Fur", along with I Never Liked You and several shorter pieces, The Playboy placed #38 on The Comics Journal's list of the 100 best comics of the century. It was also nominated for a Harvey in 1991 for Best Single Issue or Story for "The Playboy Stories" in Yummy Fur #21-23.

The book is admired by critics and many of Brown's fellow cartoonists. Cartoonist Gilbert Hernandez has said, "The Playboy and I Never Liked You are probably the best graphic novels next to Maus".[21] Critic Frank Young said it was the "pivotal work" in the autobiographical comics trend of the early 1990s,[22] and Darcy Sullivan called it a "landmark look at an artist's growth", talking about the pace with which Brown's work matured over the course of three issues.[1] Sullivan calls it required reading for those who are serious about comics.[23]

Brown says a number of women took offense at the book, saying it glorified pornography.[13] Hugh Hefner sent Brown a letter after The Playboy's publication, giving Brown "bewildered fatherly advice", showing concern that a someone who grew up during the sexual revolution could still have suffered through the confusion and anxiety that Brown did.[24]

Critical views[edit]

Critic Darcy Sullivan called The Playboy stories "[t]he most honest sex in comics" in the early 1990s, "and the most damning expose [sic] of pornography", dealing "with nothing more than Brown's relationship with Playboy".[25] He praises how quickly Brown matured over the course of The Playboy, and for making the scenes, which may or may not have happened as Brown depicted them, so believable. While seeming to acknowledge feminist complaints, he depicts himself as "a victim of his urges",[1]"Playboy has kept him mentally separate". The book shows, however, that pornography does not merely satisfy a need, but creates that need, an addiction in those who consume it.[26] Brown's comics are not didactic—they are revelatory, and raise questions, rather than trying to answer them.[23]

Sullivan goes on to compare Joe Matt's less-subtle work (which details his porn obsession, as well) unfavourably to Brown's,[26] to which Brown responded in a later issue of The Comics Journal.[22] Matt's comics analyze (and rationalize) his obsession, Sullivan says, while Brown's reveal.[1]

Foreign editions[edit]

Translations
Language Title Publisher Date ISBN
French Le Playboy[27] éditions Les 400 coups 2001 978-2-845-96035-0
Spanish El Playboy Ponent Mon 2008 978-8-492-44403-8
Portuguese A Playboy[28] Loja Conrad Do Brasil 85-87193-20-1
Korean 플레이보이[29] Sai Comics 2008-09-20 978-8-990-78185-7

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Sullivan 1991, p. 50.
  2. ^ "Playboy Playmates in Chester Brown's The Playboy Comic". 2002-02-27. Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  3. ^ Bell 2006, p. 156.
  4. ^ a b c d Olmsted 2010, p. 469.
  5. ^ Sullivan 1991, p. 50; Olmsted 2010, p. 469.
  6. ^ Yummy Fur #24, page 26. Vortex Comics, April 1991. cartoon by Peter Bagge captioned "Peter Bagge attempts 'The Chester' to a copy of BIRDLAND"
  7. ^ Tao Lin (2007-09-22). "What Are Some Comics I Like". Retrieved 2011-04-08. 
  8. ^ "Mut zur Peinlichkeit". 1992. Retrieved 2011-04-08. "Doing the Chester"  (in German
  9. ^ "The C-List: Chester Brown Edition". 2010-09-20. Retrieved 2011-04-08. "Chester even has a masturbation technique named after him." 
  10. ^ "True Porn". 2005-07-29. Retrieved 2010-04-08. "After all, how many other cartoonists have a masturbation technique named after them?" 
  11. ^ a b Epp 2002.
  12. ^ Epp 2002; Sullivan 1991, p. 51.
  13. ^ a b Juno, 136
  14. ^ a b Frank, Santoro (2010-10-16). "Class with Frank part 2: Doin' the Chester". Comics Comics. Retrieved 2011-04-30. 
  15. ^ Canadian Art, Vol. 21, page 128. MacLean Hunter, 2004
  16. ^ Juno, page 140
  17. ^ Verstappen, Nicolas (August 2007). "Chester Brown". du9 - L'autre bande dessinée. Retrieved 2011-04-06. 
  18. ^ Rogers 2011, p. 3.
  19. ^ Juno 1997, p. 136.
  20. ^ Wolk 2007, p. 153.
  21. ^ Gravett, Paul. "Creator Profile: Chester Brown". paulgravett.com. Retrieved 2011-04-07. 
  22. ^ a b Chaney 2011, p. 250.
  23. ^ a b Sullivan 1991, p. 52.
  24. ^ Juno, page 139
  25. ^ Sullivan 1991, p. 49.
  26. ^ a b Sullivan 1991, p. 51.
  27. ^ Product page at the website for Les 400 coups
  28. ^ Product page at Loja Conrad do Brasil
  29. ^ Product page at Sai Comics

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ The Playboy, pages 39–44.
    Brown's "id" to Brown: "This is the first time in your life that you've had to face the fact that at some level you're a racist." (page 44)
  2. ^ Epp, Darell (2002-01-29). "Two-Handed Man interviews cartoonist Chester Brown". twohandedman.com. Retrieved 2011-04-23. "Brown: Is it because Playboy is an evil bad thing, or is it because of the influence of my culture that makes me think Playboy is an evil thing, and that I have to be ashamed of myself for reading it? The problem wasn't Playboy, it was the fact that I was made to feel ashamed of my interest in it." 

Works cited[edit]

Chaney, Bart (2011). "Selective Mutual Reinforcement in the Works of Chester Brown, Joe Matt, and Seth". Graphic Subjects: Critical Essays on Autobiography and Graphic Novels. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 247–259. ISBN 978-0-299-25104-8. 
Bell, John (2006). Invaders from the North: How Canada Conquered the Comic Book Universe. Toronto: Dundurn Press. ISBN 978-1-55002-659-7. 
Brown, Chester (December 1992). The Playboy. Drawn and Quarterly. ISBN 0-9696701-1-7. 
Epp, Darell (2002-01-29). "Two-Handed Man interviews cartoonist Chester Brown". twohandedman.com. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
Juno, Andrea (1997). "Interview with Chester Brown". Dangerous Drawings. Juno Books, LLC. pp. 130–147. ISBN 0-9651042-8-1. 
Olmsted, Jared L. (2010). "The Playboy". In editor, M. Keith Booker. Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels 1. ABC-CLIO. pp. 468–470. ISBN 978-0-313-35748-0. 
Rogers, Sean (2011-05-09). "A John’s Gospel: The Chester Brown Interview". The Comics Journal (Fantagraphics Books). Retrieved 2011-05-10. 
Sullivan, Darcy (July 1991). "The Most Honest Sex in Comics". The Comics Journal (Fantagraphics Books) (143): 49–52. 
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. 

External links[edit]