Page 45 Review by Stephen
In which fifteen-year-old Chester Brown nervously, sweatily buys his first copy of Playboy magazine
then doesnt look back.
Actually he looks back a lot mostly over his shoulder, for the paranoia his new porn habit induces is almost as consuming as his early lust. Its just not enough to make him quit for more than a few hours, days, weeks or at a stretch months at a time. It is, however, very successfully conveyed in all its candid detail, and anyone who has ever been furtive about anything in their lives will be ticking the boxes like crazy.
And of course looking back is precisely what Chester Brown is doing here, in one of the most famous comicbook memoirs on record. Its a dinky, pocket-sized reissue which fits snugly into the palm of your hand, recut by Brown in a final edit, then fastidiously annotated at the back. There we learn that his original inspiration for beginning THE PLAYBOY was the first of many pages which Joe Matt went on to draw about his own experience with pornography which has been infinitely more obsessive and extensive than Chets (see SPENT especially). Youll also see precisely whats been excised (and so miss nothing; its reprinted here), all in service to keeping the issue at hand as fluid as possible and free from digression. The digressions are in the back where Chester clarifies, for example, his sole experience of shutting his eyes and imagining he was having sex with one of this favourite Playboy pin-ups rather than his girlfriend.
No, the work itself is remarkable straightforward: Chester buys a porn mag, desperately hoping no one he knows will recognise him doing so, and smuggles it home. He then selects his favourite page, and wanks over it using a two-palmed technique Ive never come across before (and, being gay, I may have slightly more experience in this field than most) while worrying hell be disturbed mid-shuffle by his younger brother, mother or father. He sequesters the magazine outside, then frets that someone will have spotted him doing that too. He returns later on either to find it still there (though slightly soiled) and panics when it isnt. You get the picture: its one long hormonally induced cycle of temptation and terror, fear and self-loathing.
As time progresses, Chet builds up whole collections of magazines, ditches them in a panic, buys them back up, tears bits off, burns some, agonises over whether someone will find the charred spine and recognise it for what it is, becomes an expert in Playmates and shuns most other brands as aesthetically inferior.
The art is beautifully fragile far more fragile even than Jeffrey Browns renowned fragility with a thin, crisp line with wavers in the wind when it comes to grass and hair. Seldom are there more than two panels per page, and little is left out. Its all very, very, very straightforward, candid and clear. Pornography: cause and effect.