There are people out there that feel Chester Brown's masterful and incisive biography THE PLAYBOY is, in the parlance, a spank book of no redeeming value other than furtive, prurient navel-gazing jollies.
If this is in fact the case, these are sad, strange little sex freaks aroused by angst, guilt, and Brown's depictions of himself masturbating in what is, I swear to god, the most brilliant or the most deranged onanistic position of all time.
It involves a chair.
THE PLAYBOY isn't about masturbation or sex so much as it's about pornography, and it's only really about Brown's relationship to pornography and the attendant guilt that goes along with it. Brown wrestles with his conscience over being fascinated and thrilled by the women he finds within the pages of Playboy; as his sexuality develops as a result of this relationship with smut, he's dealing simultaneously with the beginnings of his mother's descent into schizophrenia.
Brown tries to codify his relationships to women in general here, playing acute attention to his sexual development and how this may or may not effect the rest of the women in his life. On another level, Brown - a comics guy, and like most (one would presume), analyzes his compulsion to collect and preserve everything. On one hand, he's a packrat and archivist, obsessed with any and all details of whatever he's collecting at any given time; on the other, he's secretive and ashamed of his porn collection and how this seems indicative of his growing older and thus apart from his family. One scene has Brown identifying the name and month of a Playboy centerfold by verbal description of her photograph - and later lamenting the fact that he lied about how he knew and that he would have to include the truth about the incident in THE PLAYBOY, lest he be less-than-honest.
THE PLAYBOY is a masterful, sensitive examination into one man's relationships with pornography, sex, obsession, and guilt. The most exciting and stimulating thing between its covers are not sexual at all; rather, it's Brown's honesty that make this book fascinating and endearing.
Matt Fraction splits his time between motion graphics and design house MK12, writing comics, and reading comics. He is the author of the graphic novels The Annotated Mantooth and Last of the Independents, both available from AiT/Planet Lar. He can be found on the web at mattfraction.com. His wife is hot.