Drinking at the Movies
I glow Hobart and came across an interview with Julia Wertz. Interesting. I then went to her comic blog (once named Fart Party, but she’s tired of that phrase). I then $$ her book. I also glow drinking at the movies. Once, during an absolutely packed house of the showing of Fahrenheit 911 (this was Massachusetts, go figure), I snuck a Fosters oil can into my pants and then when I opened it (always an awkward moment) the beer loudly exploded all over my jeans. That was embarrassing. Julia Wertz is a graphic memoirist. Often she is stumbling, spilling things, misunderstanding the situation, young and dumb (I mean the type of dumb that comes with this developmental age; the character is always self aware and obviously intelligent) and wander/wondering about Brooklyn—often, well, embarrassed. (Example: At one point, she has a giant, painful, of-unknown-origin rash on her ass.) If you are about to go all Oh God another story about a twenty-something in Brooklyn, blah, blah, bar scene, go right ahead. In the introduction, Julia Wertz says, “As an autobiographical writer, I had no choice but to portray the natural progression of my life, and I apologize to anyone who’s sick of these stories as I am.”
It’s an insightful, funny thing to say, and most likely speaks to one of the more endearing aspects of this character, her voice.
The Julia Wertz in this particular mode (In creative nonfiction, I believe the “I” is only a version of the self, appearing here to deliver this specific content) is a bit exhausted by the daily doings of her life: shitty jobs, shitty apartments (in one, she rents out her bedroom and actually sleep in the closet), etc. She emphasizes she isn’t ready or really longing to “grow up,” yet clearly she is sort of ready to grow up. The tension of this contradiction is one thing that removes Drinking at the Movies from some of the clichéd nature of a typical coming-of-age in New York narrative. What else removes it? The humor. Julia Wertz is funny, not only in apt observation (one key to true humor is to get the thing right, before you twist to effect), but in narrative timing, the way a stand-up comedian understands structure (set-up, callbacks, punchlines). She has an ongoing routine with the street people in her urban life. They ask her out. They scream crazy things at her. They throw cartons of milk at her chest. “Bums 1,3, and 7” even get a WHERE ARE THEY NOW? bit at the conclusion of the book. Though some of these devices we’ve seen before (square, out of touch mom; crazy landlords; I’m locked out of apartment again, etc.), many of them are fresh, lively, human, and, well, very funny. (Example, Julia Wertz is so small in stature that people, bartenders especially, repeatedly believe she is a young kid.) The main device is self-deprecation. And this usually works. The character’s life is consistently fucked up, so you have to root for her. Plus she drinks a ton of whiskey, and isn’t that sympathetic? It actually is. This character wakes from benders and blackouts in laundry mats, on picnic benches. Several times she has whiskey for breakfast. Another aspect of this device I found intriguing was how the narrator keeps telling us how incredibly plain she looks, and then the last page has an actual author image (not illustrated, a photo) and Julia Wertz is clearly cute. I thought this worked. These things are bent, subjective, certainly in relation to our own looks, and the idea of the self as unattractive, as repulsive, or just as ordinary in a world of glamorous Others trying so hard to be seen as beautiful, is, again, an effective and honest comic device. Don’t think so? Just go to any standup club and listen.
I feel odd writing about a graphic memoir. I think I have read four graphic books in my life, Maus, The Alcoholic, one I forget (must have been good, eh?), and Drinking at the Movies. About twice a year, a student tries to get me to read The Watchmen, and one time I tried to but put it down after six pages. Sorry. The four comics I have read, I remember knocking out in one sitting. This made me feel bewildered and a little angry. One friend says, “Well, they don’t have a lot of words.” Another says, “You have to appreciate the drawing.” This is most likely true. But I don’t know how. I don’t have the sensibility so to speak. Sure this type of drawing looks noir, this vintage, or black and white versus color is an interesting conversation, etc., but I feel I need a better knowledge base. Or maybe I do appreciate some aspects? I did like getting online and seeing how Julia Wertz’s drawing evolved. (Example here). I suppose I am saying others probably get more from the drawings than I do. I’m sure this is true of other things in my life, like champagne, jewelry in the shape of eggs, or music (With some exceptions, I’m not a huge fan). But I don’t feel that odd about writing about this particular book. I’m doing it to see what I think (I plan to read more graphic books, to attempt a small form of self education), and obviously I am spending time here because I enjoyed. I suggest you order the comic (or one of her others?) directly from Julia Wertz, because it will come signed/doodled with separate hand drawn comics panels and your own mini comic. My mini-comic was about the day Julia Wertz killed Jesus. That hurts! And is funny. My comic panel was a large closeup drawing of Julia Wertz with a pencil jammed deeply into her left eye. That hurts! And is funny…painfully funny human condition. I think it’s what I am trying to say.