Sex Workers in Comics and Graphic Novels

  • Armin Lippitz Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt
Keywords: Literature, Culture, Comics Studies, pop-culture, sex workers, representation


Prostitutes, or sex workers as they are often referred to nowadays, are usually marginalized and generally depicted in a negative light in comics and graphic novels. Most frequently, a stereotypical image of female sex workers as victims of society from a patriarchal viewpoint is perpetuated. Violence against prostitutes is often the central theme for graphic novels, like in From Hell (1989) by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. Characters that are, or used to be, prostitutes are almost exclusively victimized or vilified. Even powerful, authoritative, and independent women, like most from the Sin City series (1991-2000) of graphic novels by Frank Miller, are, in the grand scheme of things, at the mercy of more powerful male figures.

 In 2011 the Canadian cartoonist Chester Brown tried to counter this prevalent misogynist depiction of prostitutes in his graphic novel Paying For It. The autobiographical story centers on him as a “John”, a client of sex workers, for several years, and explains his experiences with escorts. My paper will focus on the depiction of prostitutes in Chester Brown’s Paying For It (2011) and will compare various comics and graphic novels also featuring sex workers with the book. I will show that Paying For It (2011), although partly flawed, is an important work for the portrayal of prostitutes in comics, and a valuable contribution in the debate about the decriminalization of sex work. 


Austen, Chuck and Ron Garney. 2002-2003. Uncanny X-Men #410-422. New York: Marvel.

Brown, Chester. 2011. Paying For It. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly.

Casey, Joe and Tom Raney. 2001-2002. Uncanny X-Men #399-409. New York: Marvel.

Dalla, Rochelle L. 2000. “Exposing the ‘Pretty Woman’ Myth: A Qualitative Examination of the Lives of Female Streetwalking Prostitutes.” The Journal of Sex Research, Vol. 37, No. 4.: 344-353.

Jenkins, Paul. 2006. Generation M. New York: Marvel.

Miller, Frank. 2010 [1994]. Sin City: The Big, Fat Kill. Milwaukie/ OR: Dark Horse.

Moore, Alan and Eddie Campbell. 2015. [1999] From Hell. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Production.

Overall, Christine. 1992. “What’s Wrong with Prostitution? Evaluating Sex Work.” Signs, Vol. 17, No. 4.: 705-24.

Literature and Culture: Results