Tales of modern censorship in India

On page 45 of Paying For It, Chester Brown’s graphic memoir—in the sense of a graphic novel, not in the sense of being explicit, though it is also sometimes that—about paying for sex, there is a cloud of grey dots where a condommed penis should be. This is surprising, not only because Brown’s book is a sexual memoir, but also because it is otherwise full of uncensored nudity, or, more precisely, of minimalist line-drawings of unclothed people.

Brown’s cartoon people are by no means smoothed out Barbies and Kens; they have all the parts people are supposed to have. But on the four occasions in the book that Brown chooses to zoom in on those parts—his own—they appear pixellated almost beyond recognition. His cartoon penis is still visible at a safe distance throughout the rest of the book.

VK Karthika, publisher and chief editor at HarperCollins India, which is publishing Brown’s book in India, says this was a discretionary measure to pre-empt accusations of obscenity, taken on the advice of Harper’s lawyer. Four close-up shots, a total of nine panels in 227 pages of eight panels each, were blurred. The logic behind the selective pixellation is that these four sequences—which depict, in order, the putting on of a condom, masturbation, a thorough manual examination conducted by a woman (no, that is not a euphemism), and impending fellatio—are more graphically sexual than others, hence more likely to be interpreted as obscene.

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