Cartoonist Julia Wertz — whose name your probably recognize as the creator of online cult comic The Fart Party — is going through a quarter-life crisis in her first full-length graphic memoir, Drinking at the Movies. The situation is only intensified by an unplanned move from the Bay Area to New York City, and a proclivity for both getting herself fired and drinking way too much whiskey for someone so tiny. After the jump we chat with Wertz about her creative process, her unique sense of humor, and her favorite spot in New York.
Drinking at the Movies has its share of serious moments. Is there any subject that would never make it into one of your comics?
There are a lot of things I won’t put into comics, either out of respect for other people, or just to preserve whatever shred of dignity I have left. In regards to DATM, there were many people and events that played a significant roll in my life that year, but I went out of my way to exclude from the book because it would have just been exploitative and rude. And also, as much as I enjoy embarrassing, self flagellation, some things are just downright horrible and shouldn’t be turned into a comic. I do enjoy, and participate in, the rubber necking, no holds barred narrative, but if I find that if I don’t operate with a selective mindset, I can blur the lines between real life and comics. I will start to see everything as potential comic material, which is no way to function in real life. I did that for a while, and it felt like a very restrictive way to process events.
Have you ever regretted putting something out there?
I don’t regret anything I’ve put into a comic, but I also don’t regret anything I left out.
How do you know when you’ve got something good?
I honestly don’t know when I have something good, or something bad. I would probably have a better grasp on the good/bad if I my work was fiction, but because it’s autobio, it’s harder to separate from the material and look at it objectively. However I do know when something is awful, and I’ve made lot of awful comics. But I suppose that’s my own fault for not editing, or, at the very base level, of putting my twenties into book format. If I was someone else and I looked at my books, I’d be like “Oh, how embarrassing for that person!” but since it’s me, I’m just like, “Yeah that happened. Sorry, Mom.”
Were you surprised that Lizzy Caplan wanted to adapt your work into a TV show? Would it be weird to watch her playing a version of you?
I was surprised. I hadn’t really considered my material as TV stuff, but I liked her ideas for it. Unfortunately it never happened due to circumstances that were my fault completely, but if it was to be considered again, I’d want Lizzy to play me. Even before I knew her, I thought she fit the roll well and would do it without overacting and just making me seem like a total ass. She’s a very understated, subtle actress and I think she would have handled the material appropriately. We’re similar in many ways in real life too, she’s like a much prettier version of me, so it wouldn’t have been too much a stretch. And it would have been weird to watch a blonde play me. I don’t have anything against blondes, I mean that in a purely aesthetic way.
Why do you have an old Ann Landers column in your wallet?
Because it’s the cutest thing. It’s a letter from little kid and all it says is, “Dear Ann Landers, I have trouble skipping and hopping. I’m six.” It kind of breaks my heart a little bit.
When did you draw your first comic? Do you still have it? Did you always have the same sense of humor?
I drew my first comic six years ago, it was about a hobo spider on an existential search for his identity. I include it in the back of The Fart Party Vol 2; it’s pretty goofy. I’ve kind of always had a dry sense of humor, even as a kid, but I also find myself delighted by the silliest things sometimes. There’s this YouTube video called “Rain Drop with Dave Deschaine” that really cracks me up but I’m not quite sure why. I’m also finding that as I grow older, I get sillier. Eighteen-year-old me would have thought “Rain Drop” was totally stupid but now its one of the funniest things on the internet to me.
If you could go back in time and have a conversation with Spring 2007 you, what would you tell her?
Absolutely nothing. I don’t regret the way anything in my life has gone and where it’s led to. The only thing I wish I’d done differently was quit drinking earlier. I didn’t quit at the end of Drinking at the Movies like I said I did, and the following year and a half was really horrible because of it. But I suppose that’s just how I had to do things, and that was the trajectory my life was supposed to take. It was shitty, but I wouldn’t change it.
What’s your favorite block in New York?
My favorite block in New York is Admiral’s Row, which is a block of abandoned houses in the Brooklyn Navy Yard along Flushing Avenue. They were officers’ houses until around the ’70s and they haven’t been touched since. You can’t explore inside of them but during the winter when the trees are bare, you can see the fronts of all the houses through the fence.
I also like the Greenpoint stretch of Manhattan Avenue, which has a lot of old, original architecture housing new business (such as an old theater/roller rink that’s now a Rite Aid) as well as more antiquated businesses that are still running strong because of the long term Polish residents. It’s a very eclectic, somewhat baffling street. I like to stroll up Manhattan Avenue and down West Street, which has amazing city skyline views to the right and decaying warehouses to the left. Its such a disorienting sensation to walk between opposites like that.
If someone is into your work, do you have any recommendations for other cartoonists they should check out?
There are currently a lot of other ladies doing great autobio comics out there, like Vanessa Davis, Gabrielle Bell, Sarah Glidden, Domitille Collardey, Corinne Mucha, Carol Tyler, Laura Park — aaarg this is the worst question! It’s like asking someone what kind of music they listen to. I always panic and say something ridiculous like Elton John.
Aaron Renier and Julia Wertz will be teaming up to launch The Unsinkable Walker Bean and Drinking at the Movies at Desert Island in Williamsburg on September 3 from 7 to 9 pm. Click here for more info.