Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

AUTHOR: Brown, Chester

ARTIST: Chester Brown (illustrator)

PUBLISHER: Drawn and Quarterly

FIRST SERIAL PUBLICATION: 1990 (Yummy Fur, issues 21-23)

FIRST BOOK PUBLICATION: 1992

Publication History

The Playboy, first titled “Disgust,” is an autobiographical graphic novel that originally appeared in issues 21-23 of Canadian comics creator Chester Brown’s serial (and controversial) comic Yummy Fur. Brown self-published seven issues of Yummy Fur as a minicomic from 1983 to 1986, at which point he began working with publishers; Yummy Fur was published as a full-size comic in 1995. During the nine-year span between 1986 and 1995, Brown published thirty-two issues. For issues 21-23, Brown worked with an independent Canadian publisher, Vortex Comics (founded in 1982, but defunct as of 1994). In 1991, he left Vortex Comics and began publishing with the newly established Drawn and Quarterly. The Playboy was published as a collection in 1992 and, as of 2011, is out of print. Other works from Yummy Fur were also collected as their own publications, including Ed the Happy Clown (1989) and the Eisner Award-nominated I Never Liked You (1994).

Plot

The Playboy is Brown’s autobiographical account of his addiction to pornography, his struggle with the guilt and shame that followed masturbation, his paranoia at the possibility of being caught, and his difficulty relating to other people in his life. It is told in two main parts, and it ends with an epilogue.

Part 1 begins in the summer of 1975. An impish (and older), winged Chester Brown acts as both a time-traveling narrator and as a symbol of young Brown’s conscience. Young Brown is unable to see or hear his older conscience. Older Brown escorts the reader to the suburb in which he lived and into a church, where fifteen-year-old Brown sits, unable to concentrate on the sermon because he has been thinking about the Playboy magazine he saw at the Bonimart. After this day at church, Brown begins purchasing Playboy magazines, masturbating to images of pinups and then hiding, throwing away, or destroying the magazines, only to purchase more (sometimes the same issues) again.

Part 2 begins with young Brown trying to find a safe place to destroy a recently purchased Playboy, and he chooses the fireplace in his family’s living room. The next day, he wakes, paranoid and worried someone might find evidence, such as the magazine’s charred spine, in the fireplace or the ash can. Only after meticulously examining the magazine’s burnt spine does he feel assured no one could recognize it. It is not the last Playboy magazine he purchases, though.

The Brown family goes on vacation that summer, and his anxiety about being caught masturbating or the chance of someone seeing his recently purchased Playboy overwhelms him. At one point, his nervousness makes him ill. This is also the summer his mother dies, though her death is told in passing only. After narrowly avoiding detection by his younger brother Gordon, Brown again attempts to stop purchasing Playboy.

In 1982, Brown is with first real girlfriend, Kris, and he throws out all his magazines, not only because he is worried about being caught with them but also because he hopes that having sex regularly will make him want to look at the magazines less. The section ends with narrator/conscience Brown admitting that he likes masturbation better than intercourse and that he still sometimes purchases the magazines. He explains that he only keeps the pictures of the Playmates he likes.

The epilogue brings the story to 1990, around the time of original publication. Brown asks his current girlfriend, Gerbs, if she had gone...

(This entire section contains 1528 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

through his trash basket a year prior and taken from it an issue ofPlayboy he had discarded. Though she says she had not, Brown does not seem to believe her. The Playboy ends with her telling Brown that he is confused.

Characters

Chester Brown, the protagonist, is a shy, fifteen-year-old boy who struggles with loneliness, guilt, and an addiction to pornography.

Gordon Brown, Brown’s younger brother, appears only three times, but each time, he potentially discovers or actually interrupts what Chester is doing or about to do.

Kris is Brown’s first real girlfriend. Brown is in his twenties at the time of their relationship and hopes that having sex regularly will help him stop purchasing and masturbating to Playboy magazines.

John is a friend Brown helps to move. He has a dresser full of pornography and tries to hide it at first. Later, Brown tells the story to Kris while they are in bed, and Kris is disgusted.

An unnamed friend is featured in the epilogue. Brown walks and talks with him, keeping from him the secret that he purchased all the Playboy magazines he had thrown away.

Gerbs is Brown’s girlfriend in the epilogue and is shown stretched out on his bed. He accuses her of taking a copy of Playboy out of his trash.

Artistic Style

The most immediate and notable artistic feature of The Playboy is its unusual white-on-black format: The pages are black while the images and text are white. Brown uses minimal shading in The Playboy, favoring clean lines and more white space.

The page layout and panel organization are equally important. As in other of Brown’s books, the panels were created separately and arranged on the page later. Panels are stacked no more than three a page, with the majority of pages having two panels and some only one. They are hand drawn and asymmetrically aligned, rather than ruled and straight. The panels look relatively small on the expansive black background, and this contrast makes the images appear both isolated and vulnerable to exposure, both metaphors for how Brown feels about himself.

Themes

The Playboy is strictly Brown’s story. The other characters who make brief appearances—his brother, his neighbors, peers from school, and two of his girlfriends—are mostly foils for his paranoia as people who could potentially catch him masturbating, purchasing a Playboy magazine, or hoarding pictures of Playmates.

Furthermore, Brown portrays himself as isolated and incapable of intimacy, either physical or emotional. He rarely talks in the memories, partly because there is never really anybody around. Even when others are present, however, readers are left with the older Brown as narrator. Apart from guilt and shame, other emotions are hardly expressed at all. The young Brown briefly experiences shock and disgust when he encounters a centerfold of a black Playmate, revealing some racial prejudice on his part. Even the death of Brown’s mother is mentioned only in passing, as a side note of what else happened the summer he began buying Playboy magazines.

The narrator on which Brown relies (a small, older version of himself, with batlike wings, who flies in and out of the scenes) brings to mind the angel and demon that are sometimes seen on opposite shoulders of a protagonist. In fact, the text has deeply religious undertones: The narrative begins with Brown daydreaming in a church; after Brown’s mother dies, readers see her on a cloud, with angel wings, potentially watching him bury a copy of Playboy; and when Brown masturbates, he uses a nontraditional grip that resembles a pair of praying hands.

Impact

Another collection from Chester Brown, I Never Liked You: A Comic-Strip Narrative, also first appeared in original runs of Yummy Fur. Like The Playboy, I Never Liked You is autobiographical and Brown portrays himself as an awkward, introverted youth. It was published as a collection in 1994. Although the time frame is similar to that of The Playboy, I Never Liked You focuses less on the topics that make The Playboy controversial, instead illustrating the young Brown’s attempt to connect to others.

The undertone of religious themes in The Playboy is given fuller exploration in Brown’s gospel adaptations, The Gospel of Mark (1987-1989) and The Gospel of Matthew (1989-1997). These also appeared in Yummy Fur and Brown’s later work, Underwater (1994-1997). In these gospel adaptations, Brown again exhibits his propensity for controversy. The Gospel of Mark is considered finished, while The Gospel of Matthew is not, but there is no certainty that Brown will resume work or reprint and publish them as a collection.

Brown’s 2011 publication with Drawn and Quarterly, Paying for It: A Comic Strip Memoir About Being a John, takes the themes and the struggles portrayed in The Playboy to a more current time (Brown as an adult) and a more controversial topic. Again, Brown works in the genre of autobiography and discloses what might be interpreted as sexual deviancy.

Further Reading

  • Brown, Chester. I Never Liked You (1994).
  • Burns, Charles. Black Hole (1995-2005).
  • Seth. It’s a Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken (1993-2003).

Bibliography

  • Brown, Chester. “Chester Brown.” Interview by Nicolas Verstappen. du9: L’Autre Bande dessinée, August, 2008. http://www.du9.org/Chester-Brown,1030.
  • Gallo, Don, and Stephen Weiner. “Bold Books for Innovative Teaching: Show, Don’t Tell—Graphic Novels in the Classroom.” English Journal 94, no. 2 (November, 2004): 114-117.
  • Hatfield, Charles. “The Autobiographical Stories in Yummy Fur.” Comics Journal 210 (February, 1999): 67.
  • _______. “Graphic Interventions: Form and Argument in Contemporary Comics.” Ph.D. diss., University of Connecticut, 2000.
  • Playboy, TheCritical Survey of Graphic Novels: Independents & Underground Classics Bart H. Beaty Stephen Weiner 2012 Salem Press

Next

Themes