Saturday, August 8, 2015

I Remember PLAYBOY

The Playboy: written and illustrated by Chester Brown (1990-91; collected 1992): Canadian national treasure and cartoonist Chester Brown shifted to autobiographical comics in the early 1990's after a decade of mixing the surreal, the grotesque, the comic, and the just plain weird in the pages of his brilliant independent comic book Yummy Fur. The Playboy, originally serialized in several issues of Yummy Fur, was his first long-form attempt at memoir.

Brown takes us back to a time when teenagers read Playboys, hid Playboy around the house or in the world outside, and occasionally even bought Playboy at convenience stores rather than just stealing them from someone's father or older brother. Chester's relationship with Playboy magazine began in the mid-1970's when he was a teen-ager. He charts that relationship's ups and downs over the subsequent 15 years or so, autobiographical vignettes interspersed with a narrator's commentary.

By Brown's standards, The Playboy is fairly tame and contemplative, and lacking in didacticism. Oh, sure, there are graphic scenes of masturbation. This is an autobiographical comic, after all, and a Chester Brown comic. Money shots are mandatory. The cumulative effect is surprisingly gentle and nostalgic -- an elegy for a lost world of pillowy soft-core boobs, of a small cache of porn magazines and not the endless naked lunch of the Internet. 

It's also quite funny at times as it details Brown's attempts to hide his magazines from his parents, leading at one point to burying pornography in a nearby meadow. In another scene, he bikes across his small town to buy Playboy at a convenience store as far from his hosue as possible; of course he meets adult neighbours as he exits the store with his bagged Playboy in his hands. What to do?

Coming out as it did during the height of McKinnon-Dworkin anti-pornography rageaphobia in the early 1990's, The Playboy seems contextually brave. It's not an indictment of pornography, regardless of what one of the back-cover quotes says. It's also not major Brown. Nonetheless, The Playboy is still a nice piece of work, interior-cover cumshots and all. Recommended.

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