Julia Wertz on The Infinite Wait, being off Pizza Island, and comedy with humanity

Courtesy of Julia Wertz. Click to enlarge.

In September, Koyama Press is releasing The Infinite Wait, the latest comic collection by Julia Wertz.  Wertz’s comics are multifaceted–always contemplative and often funny on disparate levels.  Whatever she’s up to is worth a look, like this interview I did with her:   

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Your upcoming collection of comics seems like it’s going to bridge the gap between the younger you and a more whole, self-aware you.  (And, by the way, to that end, The Infinite Wait is a great title.)  When you get criticism like, “What happened to you?”, do you ever feel like growth isn’t something some people are crazy about?

It doesn’t really do that, even though I can see why you’d get the impression it would from what I’ve posted. It’s not a memoir that is supposed to cover from childhood until now, there are just parts of it that depict different ages but from a somewhat removed point of view. And it skips over most of the big events in my life that have shaped who I am. I made The Infinite Wait because I had been working on a book about sobriety that was really becoming too difficult to manage and I wanted to do something that was much more lighthearted. So, uh, I did a story about being diagnosed with systemic lupus. Yeah. But it was so long ago that it was easy for me to write about.

There are some readers who definitely don’t like growth and wish I would just keep making dumb jokes about my early 20’s. They have pointed out that they think my growth/maturity is selling out/losing my edge/etc…to which I say f*ck that noise. If that’s what they think, I don’t want them reading my comics anyways. A person who never ages past age 25 is a nightmare of a human being and I want nothing to do with them. I welcome growth and maturity because it means not being a miserable, self-absorbed 20- something twat who can’t see beyond her minimum wage job and drinking problem. I want my readers to grow with me, and if they don’t want to, that’s fine, but don’t bother me about it.

Since the home of the Pizza Island collective is no longer where you make comics, I’m curious how you’ve since managed to deal with the reason you once mentioned for its existence–the detrimental state of isolation that a cartoonist (or a writer or artist or anybody else) deals with to produce long-form work.

Isolation is a big problem with cartoonists. We tend to work all day/night every day/night because we can, and it can be even worse if we don’t have roommates or relationships to break that up. If left to my own accord, I will work on projects from right after breakfast to right before bed, and it’s a very unhealthy way to live. Now that Pizza Island is gone, I try to keep it in check by making sure to plan time to hang out and do nothing. I just finished a huge project so I plan on trying to do that all summer, but turns out “relaxing” is very difficult. But it will be good for me to re-enter the social world and be around people for awhile. Cartooning is a precarious balance between isolation and awkward socialization.

If left to my own accord, I will work on projects from right after breakfast to right before bed, and it’s a very unhealthy way to live. Now that Pizza Island is gone, I try to keep it in check by making sure to plan time to hang out and do nothing. I just finished a huge project so I plan on trying to do that all summer, but turns out “relaxing” is very difficult.

You occasionally host a show of stand-up and comics.  How do non-stand-up visual comics come into play?

We just use a projector and go slide by slide, panel by panel, and read along with it. It doesn’t fit everyone’s work, but usually it’s pretty informative and entertaining because you get an idea of how the cartoonists wants you to read and hear their work–not how you interpret it. And it makes funny comics even funnier to hear goofy voices and have the timing controlled for maximum hilarity.

You’ve mentioned your affection for Louie CK’s show in a past interview.  What is it about it, and feel free to give an example, that engages you?

I think (as has been said many times before) that he’s doing something very new to television that is entirely his vision and it works really well to point out the awkwardness of just being a human being trying to get shit done without any dramatic Hollywood flare. But his flights of fancy are amazing and touch on every idea that’s ever popped into anyone’s head but they couldn’t formulate it right. And I like how he’s not afraid to not be funny. I hate comedies that are all for laughs and have no humanity to them.

I often think about the segment where he puts a shirt over a water puddle on the subway seat and everyone praises his heroism. Every New Yorker has had that fantasy. I also think he has a great respect for women that comes through in his writing. Some people might disagree but to me it’s obvious that he’s a gentleman and a scholar. Also he’s disgusting, which I love.

 You’re just about the only person with a blog I’ve read who has witnessed the OWS protests firsthand and mentioned the antagonizing of police by some of the protesters.  For my part (and yours, I’m sure), saying as much isn’t to criticize the reasonable protesters–but, rather, speak to some small part of a bigger picture . . .

I actually have a lot of criticisms about how OWS was handled and I think it ultimately failed despite good intentions. And I think a lot of that was due to the lack of education of protestors. There were definitely people there who were informed and had valid and intelligent opinions, but the majority of protestors I encountered couldn’t really explain the intricacies of their stance beyond economic inequality. And a few protesters were clearly just there to be dicks opt the police, who are just working class folks with families. Yes, there was corruption and mishandlings amongst the police, but that’s true with any group of power, and even within OWS. I didn’t mean to ramble on about it, and I do want to say that I mostly support the sentiment of OWS. I just think it was poorly executed and the majority of participants were ill-informed.

You seem to be a pretty big reader.  What books have been engaging you lately?

The last book I read that really stuck with me was Stephen King’s 11.22.63. It was completely engrossing. I find that I enjoy non-fiction much more these days, but this (obviously fictional) book is based in real events, which makes it delightfully absurd. I’ve always loved Stephen King even though he has many cringe worthy moments in his books. But when he’s good, he’s so f*cking good. Also, anyone who wants to write or is currently writing should use his half memoir, half instructional book On Writing. I learned more from that book in a few hours than years of high school English.

… Anyone who wants to write or is currently writing should use his (Stephen King’s) half memoir, half instructional book On Writing. I learned more from that book in a few hours than years of high school English.

What do you think you’d be doing if being a cartoonist hadn’t worked out the way it has?  Would you still be chasing “the dream,” so to speak?

I don’t think I ever really had “a dream” to chase. Comics kind of fell into my lap. I knew I wanted to do something creative but I couldn’t quite narrow it down until I found comics. But I really have no idea what I’d be doing if I hadn’t gone that route. I was a waitress for 10 years before I became a full time cartoonist, so who knows?  But if I could do anything in a fantasy life, I always wanted to be a speleologist (cave explorer) and a cabaret dancer. Obviously those would never have worked out.

Well, not with that attitude, but the worlds of speleology and cabaret dancing’s loss is comic’s gain, so check out Julia’s work at http://www.juliawertz.com/The Infinite Wait will also be on sale there in September at http://www.juliawertz.com/store-2/.

Thanks to Julia for her time.

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