Thursday, February 15, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #46: Museum of Mistakes by Julia Wertz

We all regret our twenties. Some of us regret how quickly we settled down and got boring, and some of us regret that we didn't settle down and get boring, at all or quickly enough.

I'm one of the former; I think Julia Wertz is one of the latter. Museum of Mistakes is the big collection of the comics she made at the time, and somewhat afterward, about her not being boring.

(Well. not exactly: Wertz shows herself as a massive introvert and an alcoholic, who spent way too much time in a tiny apartment making comics and drinking. One might well think of that as being boring.)

These days, artistic development happens in public more often than not, and it was that way for Wertz: she started publishing comics about her early-twenties life in San Francisco as "The Fart Party" about a decade ago, turned some of those comics into self-published zines soon afterward, and then turned those into books. She had two collections of Fart Party -- I reviewed the first one, more or less, for Comic Mix in 2008 -- and then went to a bigger company for Drinking at the Movies, which was billed as a full-length memoir but was really another collection of somewhat linked stories, all about her life at the time. It could have been Fart Party 3, but it wasn't. (Big companies are not likely to start off a brand-new relationship with a #3.)

The big-company thing didn't entirely work out for Wertz: she was part of the land-rush for cartoonists (especially autobiographical, especially female) in the wake of Persepolis and some other big successes. And the thing about a publishing land-rush is that a lot of stuff -- good, not-as-good, half-baked -- is published by people who haven't figured out yet how to replicate success, and are hoping they can hit the target enough times to work out a coherent plan. Wertz's comics were real and raw and true, but they were pretty far from the things that were working really big in those days, so it's not surprising that Drinking didn't rocket her to fame and fortune.

(And, possibly as important, Wertz was really ambivalent about fame and fortune. Around the same time, there was nearly a TV show based on Fart Party, but, as she's told the story afterward in her comics, she sabotaged it, partly on purpose and partly unconsciously.)

Since the world loves irony, her book after the big-company book was stronger and more of a clear step forward in telling longer, more unified stories -- that was The Infinite Wait, which brings us up to as close to now as Wertz got in her career. She hasn't published much in the past half-decade or so; she got into "urban exploration" and maybe just living her life for a while instead of turning it into comics immediately.)

So this book, from 2014, is still (I think) her most recent. It collects all of The Fart Party and The Fart Party 2, plus another book's worth of other strips: a section of stuff that wasn't Fart Party 3 because she did Drinking instead, some pre-Fart Party work, sketches, zine work, and other things.

This is the definitive early Wertz: the snotty slacker who had a series of lousy food-service jobs, had her boyfriend move cross-country and then break up with her, and who herself moved from San Francisco to Brooklyn. She loved cheese and wine, she took as little shit as she possibly could, she swore a lot, and she had a weird childhood.

She's probably still some of those things, or is the person formed by being those things in her twenties. Any book, especially a memoir, is a snapshot of who that person was at the time, and Wertz was very good at snapshots, with her deliberately crude art and sarcastic dialogue. No one wants the burden of being the voice of a generation, but Wertz did speak for a lot of millennials in the late Bush II years-- grumpy, disgruntled, stuck in a crapsack world built by other people, looking for their own moments of happiness and fulfillment. She was good at it by not trying to do anything like that: she just told stories of her own life, which was close enough to a million other lives to catch fire. It was a Fart Party, and we won't see it's like again.

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