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Work in Progress: Julia Wertz

Julia Wertz has been very busy lately, jet-setting off to Paris in November to promote the French release of her book Drinking at the Movies and then attending other comic conventions back in New York while working on several upcoming projects. Fortunately, she was able to find the time in the midst of her eventful schedule to answer some questions about her career as a cartoonist.

I was curious about Wertz’s artistic development and about how she reached the point where she is now—that is, how she became a professional cartoonist with three published books. Wertz shared a lot about her career, explaining that she is still developing as a cartoonist and that she does not consider her past works to be the best representation of her talent. Luckily for her readers, she has more comics in store for the future, which she modestly hopes “will be a little bit better.”
How does one become a cartoonist? Well, for Wertz there was an instantaneous transformation from a reader of comics to a creator of comics. She says of her earliest exposure to the genre, “I read comics casually as a kid, all the basics, likeCalvin and HobbesTintinGarfield, etc.” However, it was only when she was older that she was introduced to comics that inspired her own work. As Wertz says, “I didn’t start reading the type of comics I make now until I was 20 years old and in college. I got ahold of some Julie Doucet and Will Eisner at the San Francisco public library, and it changed everything for me instantly.” She describes her reaction to reading these books as “the proverbial ‘light bulb over my head’ situation,” saying, “I knew the second I finished those books that I wanted to make those types of comics about real life.”
Before discovering her passion for comics, Wertz had long been interested in writing and drawing, but she had struggled with each form. She says of herself as a writer, “I had no discipline and was a terrible self-editor.” As for drawing, Wertz says, “Drawing realistically bored me and my focus leaned more toward writing.” But once she realized that she could combine both creative forms by making comics, she explains, “The problems I had with editing and drawing fixed themselves. I couldn’t ramble on and on inside the confines of boxes and I didn’t have to draw realistically in order to draw a comic.” Wertz found that the format of comics created “a symbiotic relationship” between drawing and writing, allowing her to express herself better through mixing the two media than she could through either form individually.
Wertz’s first foray into drawing comics included “some anthropomorphic comics that were really silly,” and then she began making comics about her daily life, which eventually led to the work that she currently produces. She created these diary comics for herself, never imagining that her work would develop beyond that. However, her friends encouraged her to put her comics online, where they became hugely popular. After cartooning for several years in this autobiographical style, Wertz become a professional cartoonist, eventually publishing three books of comics: Fart Party, Volumes 1 and 2 in 2007 and 2009, respectively, and Drinking at the Movies in 2010. Wertz’s books are lighthearted and humorous, telling stories of her everyday life, but she explains on her website that she doesn’t think that these comics fully represented her life at the time. She says, “I chose to focus on the tedious and pointless day-to-day observations and activities, giving a very incomplete and misleadingly healthy view of my lifestyle.” Wertz feels that she was unable to face the serious issues in her life, which led her to make comics about the more mundane events that she experienced. Thus, while the work in her first three books is autobiographical, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it tells the whole story; in fact, Wertz feels that these books avoid the big picture to focus instead on the smaller stories.
So what is Julia Wertz working on now? Well, considering her disappointment with her previous work, it’s not too surprising that she’s trying a new approach for some of her upcoming projects. Wertz is publishing another book similar to her previous ones, in the same style of “random comics collections that are more lighthearted.” This book will be called Museum of Mistakes and will be released by Koyama Press in 2012. But Wertz is also currently working on a follow-up toDrinking at the Movies, which she says will be different from her earlier work and will include what she feels to be a more honest portrayal of her life. She says on her website that this work “will be the closest to what my real life actually is, and the closest to the kind of work I really want to be making.” Wertz says that this book will be about her struggle to get sober and stay sober, and she hopes to release it in late 2012. It’s been an active artistic journey for Wertz thus far, and it sounds like she’s now producing work that she will be proud of. No doubt it will amaze admirers of her past work, who were happy reading her lighthearted stories of daily events and who may be blown away by her more honest autobiographical work…or, as she describes her upcoming books: “the stories I want to be telling, the stories that actually mean something to me.”