A decade ago, I walked or biked to work in downtown Toronto. Usually in the afternoon, I would hear "Yes-yes-yessss!" followed by the sounds of rapidA decade ago, I walked or biked to work in downtown Toronto. Usually in the afternoon, I would hear "Yes-yes-yessss!" followed by the sounds of rapid bodily motion. This was the catch-phrase (and constant verbal tic) that preceded immanent sightings of Zanta, the focus of this graphic novel. For the bulk of you who did not share my 2005 commute (and why would you), imagine a TV pro-wrestler wearing only shorts and a santa hat. As someone said, "He's like santa though slightly off, and ripped." Zanta is a bald, topless strongman who would roam the downtown core in those days. He would constantly lean against buildings or drop to the sidewalk and do a quick set of push-ups according to a compulsion whose schedule was known only to him, typically while exclaiming his catch phrase ("Yes-yes-yesss!"). For bored office workers, he was an amusing conversation piece. For others, he was vaguely annoying in the way all urban noise and objects can be annoying. For me, Zanta was a kooky character that enlivened street. So much so that people often mistook him for a busker or a performance artist.
Everything comic has its roots in tragedy. And Zanta is no exception. The legend I heard was cobbled together from what people could remember from human interest pieces in free alternative weeklies. Briefly, Zanta was a suburban roofer who fell while on the job. He hurt his back around Christmas and was on short-term disability. During his recovery, his wife left him and moved elsewhere with their daughter. The fall and the split affected Zanta's mental state. As a misbegotten show of health, Zanta took to the streets wearing the santa hat, shorts and little else, doing improvised street callisthenics year-round, throughout harsh winters.
After a few years, I failed to notice that Zanta had disappeared as an occasional musician on my ambient urban soundtrack. More years passed, and I had forgotten him.
Recently, a giggling junior lawyer told me how an otherwise dull court schedule had been colourfully interrupted by Zanta. Apparently, Zanta has become a character in the criminal justice system. I smiled as my lawyer friend recounted Zanta's antics. The judge gave an order for Zanta to retain his santa hat according the testimony that Zanta swore never to remove the hat until he was reunited with his daughter. Zanta had dressed up for court by wearing a t-shirt out of respect for the judge. Throughout the proceedings, Zanta leaned against tables and chairs doing improvised exercises. Staid legal company was suitably charmed by this irrepressible eccentric. People, who are used to not smiling in that context, smiled in spite of themselves.
After my friend and I laughed, we felt bad. A harmless street character, who had provided amusement while on his own neutral mission, had become the ward of the criminal justice system. Doing topless push-ups and wandering around the city too many times can get one cited for disturbing the peace and being a public nuisance. Over time, the criminal justice system chips away at whatever it is pointed towards, no matter how innocuous.
As a symbol, Zanta could stand for mental health service budget cuts, the criminalization of the mentally ill, or overzealous NIMBYism. But as a person, he resisted pain and found something ridiculous to do to pass time. He is no more or less annoying than many co-workers who hide their neuroses under office garments. I look forward to reading the graphic novel, and no doubt seeing the funny-sad story of Zanta mythologized by the passing of time. ...more
Genuinely creepy. I haven't been this unsettled by vicious fairy tales since the Scary Stories series. And the illustrations are brilliant. I look forGenuinely creepy. I haven't been this unsettled by vicious fairy tales since the Scary Stories series. And the illustrations are brilliant. I look forward to Ms. Carroll's subsequent books....more
Seth doesn't like drawing eyes and feet. Feet, I understand, and yet he renders them quite well. His buildings are superb. In the middle of this handsSeth doesn't like drawing eyes and feet. Feet, I understand, and yet he renders them quite well. His buildings are superb. In the middle of this handsome sketchbook (circa 2000), he started to avoid eyes. Subsequent group shots have 3/4 of the people wearing opaque glasses or caught restfully mid-blink. The quantity of blinkers lend quiet grace to the pages. But I can't help but notice roughly one set of minimal eyes in every group of eight. For groups of four, everyone is blinking or wearing glasses. Pre-2000, he does expressive eyes well. Post-2000, blink, blink, glasses, blink, glasses, two tiny eye-dots, and blink. I wonder if he got bored with eyes, hates them, felt he spent too much time on them for paltry reward, etc. What's the rationale, Seth? Regardless, this is solid work. ...more
**spoiler alert** 29 May 2011: Meat Ravioli $10 not so tasty, overcooked
28 May 2011: Hamburger & Fries $15 chewy, medium, good value
27 May 2011: L**spoiler alert** 29 May 2011: Meat Ravioli $10 not so tasty, overcooked
28 May 2011: Hamburger & Fries $15 chewy, medium, good value
27 May 2011: Lamb dish (Ethiopian) $17 wonderful, messy ...
I could go on, but I don't want to bore you with the spare details of what I had for dinner every night last week. Chester Brown on the other hand would love to do this.
Case in point, Chester Brown's new memoir is little more than an itemized receipt containing the metadata surrounding his sex life over the last decade.
We only get the dates, prices, times, a panel or two of gyrating, and Chester's laconic two-line assessment of the woman and the sex. He wants to protect the identity of the prostitutes by omitting their personal details and changing the names they work under to other innocuous names. That is thoughtful. He also obscures their faces, putting word balloons over them or only drawing the women from behind. They could be anybody, just some T&A, some tail he bought for $120/hr. Also, his drawing style is black and white. So all the women look like caucasian brunettes, which Brown acknowledges is just an effect of his style and not actually true.
By expunging all the details, the book is little more than a list of services that have been consumed. There is very little interaction aside from the transactions as they methodically happen. I don't think there is much more than this. Though Chester feels he has gotten to know the ladies by asking them about their childhoods, boyfriends, families and hobbies (all of which are omitted). Sure, one might get to know a barista and even trade anecdotes, but one still leaves after getting a coffee. Chester is making these transactions more than they are in an effort to normalize them. The problem from a dramatic point of view is that as far as dramatic interactions go, this situation is deadly boring: Two people enter a room, one gets cash, they pound away, Chester gives an Amazon-style review of the performance, checks the web for another hooker, & repeats this activity for 200 pages, only breaking the tedium by using friends as strawmen in one-sided conversations about the ethics of prostitution in which Chester always wins as the most reasonable voice. The drama is too spare and the arguments are stacked in Chester's favor.
And Chester is somewhat creepy. His friends mention that he is robotic. At the beginning of the volume, his former girlfriend, actress and personality Sook-yin Lee, edges him out of their shared house by degrees over several months ("Can I date other people?... Can the guy stay over?... This is my new boyfriend now...Chester, our relationship is kind of finished... Can you move out?") and he accepts it all with zero negative feelings, and rationalizes his overly passive acceptance as that of a Buddhist monk. Chester may, as his friend Seth surmised, "have a narrow emotional range," but his passive acceptance of getting dumped and then curbed by degrees cannot be spun delicately. Chester acted like a doormat. He could have protested. Maybe that would have ignited some passion back into their relationship. Chester tries to head this argument off by stating he has gone beyond romantic love and he knew their relationship was over for months before it ended. Of course, he only reaches such realizations after getting rather callously and slowly dumped. Though being Canadian, Sook-yin apologizes many times at each stage.
And zero negative feelings? Feh, even buddhist monks have bad days. Chester demonstrates pure good will after losing his long-term girlfriend and place with nada angst. This may have been close to the truth, but it does not ring true, and sounds like self-delusion. Like law students who say they LOVE THE LAW, or mathematicians who LOVE DIFFERENTIAL EQUATIONS. The best students have some tact and say, "the law/math is my line. It's what I do best" or "No hard feelings, Sook" instead of being energized by a situation that 99% of the population finds uncomfortable. The subjective truth may exist (i.e. the law, math, and getting dumped are AWESOME and SOOO FUN!), but the speaker of such sentiments either seems like an oddball, a liar, or just stokes malice and envy in others for their talent in law, math, or happily getting dumped. The spoken sentiment points to either a lack of social grace or a backhanded compliment at oneself at the expense of others.
Finally in regards to Sook-Yin, Brown depicts her high cheekbones as rather skeletal. There might be some lingering bitterness there. She does have high cheekbones, but in some panels she's a cross between Pocahontas and Skeletor; however, this could be the effect of his spare drawing style.
After the breakup, Chester rationalizes that he is beyond romantic love, relational games, and interactions. He'd like his sex more transactional. But, by the end of the story, he is in a monogamous relationship with a prostitute that only he pays for, and they approximate a traditional relationship, coming full-circle and seemingly are like any other couple. If you are beyond romantic love, Chester Brown, why is your latest relationship 90% similar to romantic love? He makes the point that unpaid sex and paid sex and romantic love can be very similar, but why the long way around? Why does one force the issue that if the paid and unpaid are morally the same, then they are nearly the same in other senses as well?
Chester sees nothing immoral about paying for sex. But he surfs for pros using internet cafes, since he ostensibly doesn't own a computer. This is problematic. Think whatever you want about prostitution, and your sense of sexual norms, but have respect for a public space, particularly one in which people of all ages use. I hope none of those spaces were libraries. I am not for censorship, but having other people potentially stumble upon Chester selecting a prostitute is not dignified public behavior as it surprises people by making them party to the beginning of a sexual transaction that they have not previously consented to. This is a long-winded way of suggesting Chester Brown buy himself a laptop.
I appreciate that he is attempting to normalize a behavior that has been with mankind a longtime, but I can do without Chester Brown's fallacious rationalizations (The ladies really like me because they open up to me... It's not the money, it's that I'm a nice guy & have money...Prostitution is just paid dating. It is the same as not having to pay for sex...I can surf for hookers and rate them in public spaces since my sexual tastes are so vanilla).
On the other hand, Chester Brown puts his rationalizations down on paper and invites his friends to change or comment on his depictions of them in the book. His warts-and-all memoir is rather refreshing in that he bares everything for an ideal that he seeks, making prostitution a less furtive, safer activity. That he opens up, unabashedly laying everything on the line, is more than most people ever do in memoirs. Aside from the arguments he has with his friends, Chester impartially depicts himself in an effort to vindicate the act of paying for sex, not seeking absolution for himself. The man has balls (which he also carefully depicts). Too bad the exercise is somewhat solipsistic and uninteresting.
EDIT: A further problem, Chester Brown sidesteps addressing the related subject of human trafficking. One of his friends raises the argument, but since data on human trafficking is difficult to come by and stories are anecdotal, Chester imagines all prostitutes have libertarian free-will and freely choose their profession. However, not all prostitutes freely and reasonably chose their profession. Trafficking does occur, and he avoids discussing it....more