Chester Brown. Photo: Joel Friesen
|Born||May 16, 1960
|Occupation||Cartoonist, comic book artist,|
|Genres||Body horror, Surrealism, Black comedy, Biography, Autobiography, Religion|
|Literary movement||Alternative comics|
Chester Brown (born May 16, 1960) is a Canadian alternative cartoonist. His underground work was initially self-published, then released by the independent publishing company Vortex Comics. Most of his output is now published by Drawn and Quarterly.
Brown made his debut in comics with a self-published mini-comic called Yummy Fur, later published as a full size comic from Vortex Comics, initially reprinting the contents of the earlier mini. Its contents included the surreal black comedy strip Ed the Happy Clown, collected in graphic novel form by Vortex in 1989 and later in an edition by Drawn & Quarterly. The bizarre misfortunes of the title character include being chased by cannibalistic pygmies and having the tip of his penis replaced by the head of a miniature Ronald Reagan from another universe. The book was selected as one of the best comics of 2003 by Time columnist Andrew D. Arnold and was nominated for a 2004 Eisner Award. Brown has begun to reprint the original, unaltered versions of the Ed stories with the publisher Drawn & Quarterly. They plan to eventually publish a revised third and definitive book-length version of the saga.
In later Vortex editions of Yummy Fur, Brown experimented with autobiography, and in 1990 produced highly structured narratives about his childhood in serialized form. These stories were later collected as graphic novels, The Playboy (Drawn and Quarterly, 1992) and I Never Liked You (Drawn and Quarterly, 1994). The former deals with the his obsessive preoccupation with Playboy magazines in his youth, and is promoted as "[a]n autobiographical look at how pornography has affected my life" by the author. I Never Liked You (originally titled Fuck) is an often grim coming-of-age tale, which depicts the author as an introvert who is constantly picked on by his schoolmates and cannot relate to the opposite sex. It also deals with his mother's bout with schizophrenia.
Brown's longest-running work is a series of adaptations of the Christian gospels: he finished the Gospel of Mark as a backup feature in Yummy Fur, and the still unfinished Gospel of Matthew appeared in Yummy Fur and Underwater. These adaptations adhere closely to Biblical events but use colloquial language and often grotesque caricature; Brown's portrayal of Jesus not only is idiosyncratic and often harsh, but varies considerably between the two books, reflecting the differences in emphasis between gospels. The gospel strips have not been reprinted; Brown says he intends to finish them. Recently Chester was asked by Cerebus comic book creator Dave Sim if he'd be interested in letting him publish the unpublished material as part of his proposed possible publication or free print-on-demand from off of the internet of his commentaries of the gospels and The Book of Revelation out of Brooke Foss Westcott and Fenton John Anthony Hort's 1881 interlinear Greek to English translation of The New Testament. At last mention Chester hadn't said yes or no.
Underwater, Brown's first series after Yummy Fur, is an experimental work that attempts to portray life from the point of view of an infant, starting with entirely incomprehensible events and dialogue and gradually developing a coherent narrative as the child matures. The series was not well received by critics and sold poorly, and Brown abandoned it in an unfinished state. His most recent graphic novel is Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, published by Drawn and Quarterly in both its serialized and collected forms.
Regarding his early work, Brown has explained that "the Ed story came automatically, without any thought." Throughout his early years as a cartoonist he mostly experimented with drawing on the darker side of his subconscious, basing his comedy on free-form association, much like the surrealist technique Automatism. An example of such methods in Brown's work can be found in short one-pagers where he randomly selects comic panels from other sources and then mixes them up, often altering the dialogue. This produced an experimental, absurdist effect in his early strips.
Brown first discusses mental illness in his strip "My Mother Was A Schizophrenic". In it, he puts forward the anti-psychiatric idea that what we call "schizophrenia" isn't a real disease at all, but instead a tool our society uses to deal with people who display socially unacceptable beliefs and behaviour. Inspired by the evangelical tracts of Jack T. Chick, Brown left Xeroxes of these strips at bus stops and stations around Montreal so its message would reach a wider audience. This strip was eventually reproduced in a journal of psychiatry; it first appeared as a backup feature in Underwater, and is also reprinted in the collection The Little Man.
Brown's Louis Riel book was inspired by the alleged mental instability of Riel, and Brown's own anarchist politics, and he began his research for the book in 1998. Over the course of researching for the book, he shifted his politics over the course of several years until he was a libertarian. Regarding anarchy, Brown has said "I’m still an anarchist to the degree that I think we should be aiming towards an anarchist society but I don’t think we can actually get there. We probably do need some degree of government." 
Brown had a long-term relationship with the musician, actress and media personality Sook-Yin Lee, who is depicted in several of his comics. He also drew the cover for her 1996 solo album Wigs 'n' Guns. In September 2008, Brown entered politics as the Libertarian Party of Canada's candidate for the riding of Trinity-Spadina in the 2008 federal election. 
A longtime friend of fellow cartoonists Joe Matt and Seth, Brown has been regularly featured in their autobiographical comics over the years, and collaborated with them on various projects. Seth dedicated his graphic novel George Sprott to Brown.
Brown has received recognition for his work in comics several times, including a nomination for the Harvey Special Award for Humor in 1990.