Paying for It
Chester Brown, Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-77046-048-5

A compelling look into one man's history of employing prostitutes as a replacement for romantic love, this graphic novel is sure to create controversy. Brown has produced acclaimed but brutally honest autobiographical works before, but here he adds a new didactic element. In June 1996 Brown's then girlfriend broke up with him. After three years of celibacy and his growing conviction that romantic love is destructively possessive, Brown works up the courage to see a legal prostitute and finds the "burden" of anxiety over whether to pursue a relationship with any particular woman forever removed. The next 200 pages are an explicit--but far from erotic--dossier of the various women he did business with, until he meets one that he ends up with in a monogamous--but still financial--relationship. Although Brown intends the work to be a compassionate look at a profession that helps people, he unfortunately goes out of his way to anonymize the sex workers--never showing their faces and telling the story in tiny, cramped panels, giving the whole thing a voyeuristic feel. A lengthy appendix arguing that a system where paying for sex is preferable to romance-based methods is unlikely to persuade many readers. (May)

Dracula: The Company of Monsters
Kurt Busiek, Daryl Gregory, and Damien Couceiro, Boom! (, $12.99 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-60886-044-9

How do you make Count Dracula scary in the age of Twilight? By getting in touch with the man behind the legend, according to Busiek and Gregory, creators of this intriguing remake. Conrad Barrington, the unscrupulous CEO of a major conglomerate, manipulates his milquetoast nephew, Evan, into using ancient spells to resurrect Vlad III of Walachia, the Romanian hero who inspired the legend of the vampire king. The story is told from the nephew's perspective as he gradually learns the dark arts necessary to control Dracula, eventually coming to sympathize with him. The aristocratic Vlad opposes Conrad's self-serving corporate ambitions, and is characterized as a morally complex character with a strict code--the result is a thought-provoking Dracula that the reader can actually root for. The writers do a good job of contrasting Dracula's 15th-century value system with contemporary culture. Couceiro's colorful if slightly generic artwork serves the narrative well. While there is quite a lot of action in the series, the gore never feels tacked on, even when the expected team of vampire hunters shows up. (Feb.)

Fuc- --u, --s--le: A Comic Strip Collection
Johnny Ryan, Fantagraphics, $11.99 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-1-60699-415-3

Ryan is in top form with his latest collection of Blecky Yuckerella strips, where every page brings a new round of vulgar, revolting, and offensive humor. Fans will welcome this installment of his no-holds-barred attack on polite sensibilities, while those who don't know his work will either embrace it or throw the book to the ground and run. Either way, Ryan's profane point of view, which entered the comics world with Angry Youth Comix in the mid-'90s, makes an impression. The Blecky Yuckerella strips here are brilliantly rude, their humor somehow sharp in spite of all the potty-mouthed fantasies. After all, it's hard not to laugh--or at least snort--when Blecky proudly displays her "9-11 commemorative edition box cutter" or when a discussion of the show 24 leads to a disgusting new definition of the word "cliffhanger." Ryan's signature goofy old-school comic strip style mixed with the crudest of imagery works every time. (Feb.)

Rat Catcher
Andy Diggle and Victor Ibanez., DC/Vertigo, $19.99 (182p) ISBN 978-1-4012-1158-5

It's no surprise that this entry in the Vertigo Crime line reads a lot like a gritty action movie; Diggle is also the author of The Losers. The structure of both works is quite similar, with the requisite action set pieces and betrayals to keep the reader on his toes. Instead of soldiers, the story focuses on federal agents. The eponymous villain is a legendary assassin, specializing in taking out mob informants under witness protection. An aging FBI agent by the name of Moses Burden has been on his trail for years, and it is only after a botched hit in the Texas badlands that he finally has a chance to stop the Rat Catcher once and for all. The big twist that comes near the halfway point, while far from unpredictable, is still intriguing and drives on to the bitterly ironic ending. It is only after flipping past the last page that the lack of character development and senselessness of several subplots becomes apparent. With its crisp artwork and punchy dialogue, Rat Catcher is a brisk and bloody good time in spite of itself. (Jan.)