Lupus and Fart Jokes and Real People
The Sly Secret Behind Julia Wertz's Raunchy Cartoons
The Infinite Wait and Other Stories
by Julia Wertz
(Koyama Press, $15)
Nobody's ever accused Julia Wertz of being a fine artist. Her comics appear to be willfully simplistic, a kind of caveman cartooning whose figures don't always have joints or realistic proportions. But comics are always a dance between writing and art, and Wertz's cartoons are the perfect delivery system for her stories. She writes memoir comics that at first seem direct and uncomplicated, but the more you read, the more detail and nuance you notice.
A bad cartoonist wouldn't draw every book scattered in the background of every living room, or the intricate establishing shots of New York City apartment buildings that open many scenes. And a weak memoirist wouldn't imbue her supporting characters with suggestions of lives that go on when she leaves the room. The great deception of Wertz's comics is that you read them thinking that they're just a string of crudely drawn bawdy jokes—and there are plenty of raunchy laughs in her books—and then they spring to life in front of you.
And now that she's got four books under her belt, that pattern continues on a larger scale, too. The three short memoir comics in The Infinite Wait (about her many crappy jobs, about how the discovery that she was suffering from lupus led to her becoming a cartoonist, and about her childhood infatuation with the library) cover some ground that has already appeared in her other books. The cumulative effect is like the act of learning about a new friend; you hear the same story (like the time Wertz was chased down the street by a homeless man in a wheelchair shouting: "I said you have a nice face!!!! You cunt!! I just want to talk to your face!!!!") in the context of different anecdotes, and a deepening sense of involvement grows in you. Wertz is working, it seems now, on a braided string of narratives that, when you step back and admire them, form a larger-scale portrait of a woman's life—funny and dirty and poor and aimless and passionate—at the very end of the 20th century and the very beginning of the 21st century. It's like nothing else being published today.