Thursday, May 11, 2017

Carpet Sweeper Stories by Julie Doucet

Julie Doucet hasn't made comics for publication in a decade -- and hasn't done it regularly for nearly two. Every reader is now expecting the sentence to announce "until now!", but Carpet Sweeper Tales isn't actually comics itself.

The problem is that I'm having a hard time saying just what it is.

Doucet took images from 1970s Italian fumetti -- comics-like stories told through captions over photographs -- and reconstructed them into short comics-esque pseudo-narratives, overlaid with her own ransom-note-style cut-and-paste captions. Those captions are, as far as I can tell, supposed to be read in English -- Doucet is Canadian and bilingual in French, so that could be an option -- but they don't actually make sense much of the time.

Doucet has been making gallery art since she left comics, so my suspicion is that each piece is supposed to be much closer to an art installation than anything resembling a story. Her captions delight in the sound of words rather than their meaning, and the flap copy specifically says Carpet Sweeper is meant to be read out loud. So the fact that I can't tease a coherent narrative out of most of the short stories in this book might be a feature rather than a bug -- I think that's what Doucet wanted.

Look, I'll give you an example -- here's a page near the end of the piece "Brdd and Catalma," which the two characters are having an incomprehensible conversation in a car. (Many of the photos are of people in cars, and a number are named after cars...that may mean something, but it's not clear what.)

That's what Carpet Sweeper looks like: full-page grainy photos from what look like '70s car ads, overlain with deliberately ragged cut-and-paste type. It's clearly what Doucet wanted to do, and it's definitely idiosyncratic.

But it makes Carpet Sweeper Tales awfully esoteric and artsy, yet another vague criticism of mid-modern life and ideals that doesn't make those actual criticisms clear and precise. Doucet used to make great, visceral, immediate comics, full of life and fantasy and held together by her strong voice and vision. This is no way looks like a step forward from what she used to do.

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