Skip to content


Chester Brown’s I Never Liked You (2002) was originally serialized in issues 26 through 30 of the comic book series Yummy Fur under the title Fuck. This original title hinges on Chester’s unwillingness to swear as a young teen, an important piece of the narrative.

Note: for the purposes of this review I will refer to the author as Brown, and the protagonist as Chester.

Brown is a complex individual; I have chosen to analyse this novel partly because of the simplicity and beauty of the narrative, and partly because I find him completely intriguing. The crux of the narrative is summed up in a scene halfway through the book when his mother asks him to go to the shops to get some meat. Chester is watching television and refuses, after some time his younger brother Gordon volunteers to go instead. Later that night Gorgon asks why Chester wouldn’t go. Chester answers; “I’ve never done it before… I don’t like doing things I’ve never done before” (96-97)


Brown gives a seemingly honest portrayal of himself; with all of his eccentricities on display. Often he explains his actions by allowing us a view of his thoughts, and at other times he offers no explanation at all for what some may construe as bizarre behaviour. Chester is the archetypical ‘strange kid’ we all knew in school.  There is no bluster, no bravado; Chester is a flawed character, for which Brown makes no excuses and gives little clarification.



Habit, and the breaking of habits, seems to be the underlying theme of the book. Chester also has a problem in talking to people, and Brown narrates a crucial moment in his young life wherein he decides not to swear (3-4). For the remainder of the book Chester endures regular teasing and unwanted attention as a result of this decision. 2-3

Time and time again Chester is mocked by his school mates who demand he swear, however he determinedly sticks to his resolution. This speaks both of Brown’s stubbornness and individuality. These personality traits are repeated in his ritualistic eating of crackers, repeated at intervals throughout the book. These ordinary everyday acts give us a clue as to Chester’s character. He is a creature of habit, he requires familiarity and pattern. His difficulties in admitting his feelings to Sky, his next door neighbour, illustrated the easily recognisable feeling of terror that comes with confessing such deep emotions (91, 101).


After Chester confesses his feelings he suffers an inability to ask her on a date, and then subsequently ignores her. We are never informed as to why he behaves in this way. At the end of the book Skye asks Chester to go to the fair with her. He refuses, citing a need to listen to a new album (183-185). No reason is given for this. No explanation. Brown allows the reader to make up their own mind. This theme, perhaps of social awkwardness, or the fear of intimacy, is stated most strongly in his inability to tell Chester’s mother he loves her (122-123). 


He is unable to do so even when she is lying in a hospital bed, close to death (162-163). Chester simply cannot say this unfamiliar word out loud to her. If he feels loss or pain at the death of his mother he doesn’t show it overtly, although he does try to cry, with minimal effect. “One tear came. That was all.” (176-177)


Brown’s hand drawn panel borders often have the appearance of being randomly scattered around the pages. On some pages there are many panels, and on other pages there may be only a few, or a single panel.  In particular, Brown uses single panelled pages to denote moments of extra importance, and to establish or close a scene. I Never Liked You has been released in a number of different collections and often the layout is different.  In its first offering within the pages of Yummy Fur, the panels were packed together more tightly.  In this collection Brown has spaced them out, lending the narrative a relaxed style of pacing. Perhaps this also serves as a storytelling tool, imparting an extra sensation of disconnection.


The narrative is a cohesion of semi-sequential events.  Brown does not abide by ‘normal’ rules of story structure, and his method here lends the story a dreamlike quality, as if  recalling these events from the backburners of memory. Brown narrates events in a somewhat random spattering. This is autobiography, not a contrived fiction. Brown’s sense of storytelling, it could be argued, is coldly detached. He does not employ omniscient narration, although he makes use of an external narrator in his collection The Playboy (1990). The reader is not provided with any in-depth view into Chester’s emotions; apart from an occasionally given a glimpse into his thoughts. Brown renders the character of Chester most often wearing a calm, emotionless mask, and the reader is left to wonder- what is really going on inside the mind of Chester Brown?


I Never Liked You employs mainly subject-to-subject and scene-to-scene transitions, which according to Scott McCloud require a large amount of deductive reasoning to maintain the narrative flow.  I would argue though that the narrative is simple to deduct for the following reasons.  The central character, Chester, is consistent within the story.  The narrative is linear in the sense that it moves forward in time only.  The author does not make use of multiple timelines running simultaneously, or jump back and forth in time as in Craig Thompson’s Blankets (2003).  In this way, the narrative, whilst jumping from event to event, is straight forward and easy to deduct.  I Never Liked You maintains its sense of pacing through its relevance to the topic and story at hand.  There is no unnecessary ‘fluff’ or padding of scenes; if anything they are sparse in content when compared to most other sequential narratives.  Scenes depicting Chester lying around, eating or watching television seem necessary to assist in defining his character.


Text is conveying in handwritten font and crudely fashioned word balloons.  Finely rendered panel borders and text do not seems to rate highly on Chester Brown’s radar. As with Blankets, this is an effective technique, as the personality coming through Brown’s penmanship aids in conveying the personal tone, suiting the memoir genre.


The narrative employs a visual style that at first seems minimal.  On closer inspection it becomes obvious that his line quality and detailing is extremely fine. Brown’s rendering on characters is minimal, while his backgrounds are extremely detailed in texture and hatching.  In this sense I liken him to Hergé, Osamu Tezuka, Art Speigelman, and many other artists who employ this technique of simplistic characters offset by tightly rendered backgrounds.  His characters are drawn in a stylized way, almost caricatures, with exaggerated features and unrealistic proportions. Brown does not make use of extreme close-ups, and his close-ups are limited. The author is not overtly attempting to manipulate the reader. 


Chester Brown is a cartoonist far removed from the mainstream stable of storytellers.  He imparts information without reservation or ego, and doesn’t answer all the reader’s questions. The reader are not given full access to every single thought process occurring at every moment. For this and other reasons, his stories stay with me for a long time after their reading. The key to this success may be in Brown’s reserved, understated narrative, or in his complex  persona. Whatever the reason, Brown’s storytelling contains a greater degree of mastery and subtlety than is readily apparent at first glance, and his work serves as inspiration and example.