A John’s Gospel: The Chester Brown Interview

ROGERS: You seem to be a pretty voracious reader, and if you’re encountering enough evidence to convince you that Edward de Vere is Shakespeare, then I guess your reading is pretty wide too.

BROWN: [laughs] I came across a book, it was either called The Mysterious William Shakespeare or The Mystery of William Shakespeare—I’m not sure because the same book has been printed under both titles. It was by a guy called Charlton Ogburn. I came across that in the mid-'80s, and that got me really interested in the whole question of Shakespeare’s identity. I read a bunch of similar books on the different candidates: Francis Bacon, and Christopher Marlowe... For whatever reason, I couldn’t buy the Christopher Marlowe or the Francis Bacon theories, but I am convinced that it was de Vere.

ROGERS: Okay. [Laughter] You were talking earlier about the fact that it was reading that guided your change in political viewpoint, and I’m wondering what it was that you were reading that initiated that for you.

BROWN: Actually, it comes from the whole Shakespeare/de Vere debate. There was an article—I think it was in Harper’s magazine—about the whole Shakespeare authorship question, and they had an argument written by a guy who was advocating for Shakespeare having written Shakespeare’s works, and they had one for De Vere having written Shakespeare’s works. And the fellow who wrote the piece about De Vere was a guy named Tom Bethell. And at the end of his piece it said, “Tom Bethell has just written a book about property rights called The Noblest Triumph.” I was just starting to draw the Riel book at that point in time, and I knew that property rights figured into the Riel story in a significant way, and I was like, “Oh, I should read a book about property rights. Since this guy Tom Bethell thinks Edward de Vere wrote Shakespeare’s works, he’s obviously a very intelligent man, so I should read his book.” So I went out and found a copy of The Noblest Triumph and read it. The subtitle of his book is “Property and Prosperity through the Ages,” and he thinks that property rights are a necessary precondition for the development of widespread wealth and prosperity. And his book convinced me. The thing is, to have property rights, you have to have some form of government. Prior to that I had been an anarchist, but that meant, okay: “Bethell has convinced me that some form of government is necessary to ensure that there are property rights, but I’m coming from anarchist background, so government should be as small as possible. I guess that means I’m a libertarian.” That was the book that got me examining libertarian literature, and reading up on libertarianism, and buying libertarian magazines, subscribing to them, and so on.

ROGERS: Obviously you’ve been speaking with people in the [Libertarian] Party lately about running in the [Canadian federal] election and stuff like that. So, has anybody [from the Party] read your book? [Brown laughs.] Or do they know about the book now?

BROWN: They didn’t know about the book. I had to have an awkward conversation with two guys associated with the party [Rogers laughs] my official agent from the Libertarian Party, and the Ontario representative of the Libertarian Party of Canada. I phoned them both up, and I explained, “I’ve got this book coming out, and it’s about me being a john. It’s an autobiographical book about my experiences with prostitutes. So if you are uncomfortable with that, if you don’t want me to run as a candidate for the Libertarian Party, I understand completely.” And they were both fine with it. They didn't mind. They explained, “Oh no, as libertarians we feel that every individual has the freedom to… it’s just consensual sex between two adults. As long as it’s that, then it’s fine.” So, yeah, they were still awkward conversations. [laughter]

ROGERS: Is there a libertarian stance on prostitution? I mean, I get the sense that there isn’t really a party line to toe that much, but I’m wondering if that’s one of the issues that they encourage people to decide on themselves.

BROWN: Yeah, the libertarian position would be that people’s sex lives, certainly between consenting adults, that’s their business, not government’s business. But, of course, there are individual libertarians who see prostitution as still morally wrong, just something the government shouldn’t be involved in. It depends on the libertarian. There’d be many who have no problem with prostitution or paying for sex.

ROGERS: On the flipside, what does [Brown's publisher] Drawn & Quarterly think of you running?

BROWN: [laughs] Well, you know, I think Peggy [Burns, D&Q associate publisher] was a little bit concerned that it would interfere with what she’s trying to arrange as far as publicity and media goes. So we talked about it. I am going to try and lie low as far as media stuff around my candidacy goes. I’m not planning on arranging any media interviews that focus on me as a Libertarian candidate.

ROGERS: Will you be engaging in the all-candidates debate again?

BROWN: I’m not sure. Probably not. I’ll see when that debate takes place. And if it’s close enough to the launch of the book, then maybe I will participate. Because I did do it in the last election, and it probably is a good thing to do, but we’ll see. I’m not sure.

ROGERS: Does something like that take a lot of preparation, or are you pretty firm on the issues and the platform planks?

BROWN: The last time I did it, I went in completely unprepared, so now I see you really should prepare yourself beforehand. [Rogers laughs.] Because of that last experience, I know what the issues that people would be concerned about are. If I do it this time, I will do some preparation and have some prepared answers for the various issues.

Chester Brown at 2008's all-candidates debate
Chester Brown at 2008's all-candidates debate

ROGERS: You drew a strip about it last time, where you’ve got Olivia Chow [the incumbent and a prominent New Democrat Member of Parliament] blathering on and on, saying “blah blah blah.” Do you feel like you would need to practice that kind of delivery? That kind of political jargony talk?

BROWN: I’m not going to force myself to be a different sort of person or speak in a different way. I’m not a very verbose person. I’m not very chatty. I should’ve been able to give longer answers than I did [during the debate in the last election]. But I still don’t think I’m going to be able to speak the way Olivia Chow does, off the top of her head, and give very, well, political answers. [laughter]