Posted by on September 1st, 2010 at 10:49 AM

Julia Wertz, Drinking at the Movies (Three Rivers Press, 2010). $15.00, paperback.


I have made clear my admiration for Julia Wertz’s unique autobiographical comics since way back when (2007) with the publication of her first book, The Fart Party. Since then, she has published a second title with the same name and a brilliant edited collection, I Saw You (2009), comics based on the “Missed Connections” ads on craigslist. From the start, I delighted in the combination of her ruthless and unforgiving approach to autobiographical comics and her brilliant old-school comic strip timing. With the publication of her latest book (and her first with a Big Timey press), Wertz has maintained both attributes but added some new qualities not found in her earlier work: a sense of narrative beyond the individual strip and—it is true—some serious drawing chops. In truth, since part of the charm of the first book was in its completely art brut approach to the art, learning how to draw could have been bad thing for Wertz’s work. But instead she has found a way to maintain the unique style she developed when she started cartooning in her early 20s while developing the craft to fill in background details and nuance in expression all vital to what I know she will hate me for calling a maturing (relatively speaking, at least) storyteller. Drinking at the Movies is her best work yet, a book that feels in many ways like the proper launch of her career. We sure are glad we get to be along for the ride.

Of course, it is also a book that left me with many burning questions, and I was fortunate to get a chance to put these questions to Julia yesterday with the hopes that I would finally clear up some important issues that have been keeping me up ever since I finished Drinking at the Movies. And because Julia is super nice, she agreed to answer them even though I am the Worst Interviewer Ever (also, the Worst Jew Ever, about which see more below).

[Eds. note: GG stands for Gutter Geek in this interview.]

GG: I spent 17 years waiting to get the hell out of Brooklyn. What on earth possessed you to want to live there?

JW: I actually really love Brooklyn. It just took awhile for me to get into it. Or rather, it took me awhile to get my head out of my ass and start appreciating the city. I don’t have a concrete reason for moving here though. There was a smattering of small reasons—friends, a book deal, being in my 20’s—that facilitated the move, but I think I moved to New York out of general restlessness and boredom. It took me three years until I started to see everything amazing about it, but that mostly had to do with my own issues and not with New York. Sometimes I still fantasize about leaving it and moving to a more rural area, but then I go home and visit my family, who live in such an area and after a few hours I’m like “booooring! I wonder what’s happening back in New York.” I’m pretty sure I’ll end up there eventually, but I’m only 27, I’m not done with the city just yet.

GG: When I got shingles I was so embarrassed I kept it to myself, and mine weren’t even on my ass (although, in truth, not too far away). Now, having read about your shingles in the new book, I deeply regret not capitalizing on the fun-factor. So, my question for you, why are shingles so funny?

JW: Well, obviously, the name is hilarious. Sarah Oleksyk drew a hilarious picture of my ass as a roof with a chimney. Also, getting old people diseases when you’re young is pretty funny. But I think what amuses me most about my experience with it is that I thought I had herpes, and two nurses thought I had AIDS, and all I had was adult chickenpox. It’s like thinking you won a horrible lottery but then the payout is in monopoly money so it’s all okay. And really, I don’t care if anyone knows that. I feel like once you admit embarrassment, it kind of negates it. Right? RIGHT?! Or maybe I’m wrong and that’s why I’ve been single for four years….

GG: So, how do you get booze into the movie theater? All the movie theaters around here basically give you a full-body pat down when you enter.

JW: You can pretty much bring anything into the movie theater if you have a bag with you. My days of sneaking booze in are over, but I still like to eat whole meals in the theater. But if it’s going to be really packed, I try to make sure it’s not Indian food or something really fragrant. And if you go to movies at 2am like I was doing for awhile, you can pretty much do anything you want in the theater. Once I saw a girl giving a guy a blowjob during Sex in the City. I’m not sure which part of that event is more repulsive.

GG: Actually, here in Columbus, we have one amazing movie theater, Studio 35, that sells booze and lets you bring it to your seat. Pizza too. Maybe you should move to Columbus? It’s a whole lot cheaper than Brooklyn and parents who live on the coasts don’t want to visit because, well, its Columbus.

JW: I’ve seen movie theaters like that, but they tend to be independent “movie houses,” no? I think all theaters should do that though. And all theaters should allow any food in, and they should have couches or lazy boys or, wait, no, bedbugs, so scratch that. Gross.

After many discussions about the cost of living in NYC, I’ve come to realize that if I moved to a place where I paid less rent, I’d just spend the excess savings on something else, so I might as well fork it over and enjoy being here while I can. Living in NY means paying more for quality of life. That quality is of great debate but right now it works for me and I like it. I also actually enjoy when my mom and her husband come to visit me because they’re hysterical and really enthusiastic about exploring the city so I get to pretend I know what I’m talking about when giving them tours.

GG: So you became an internet celebrity during the health care debates, talking about what our current system means for someone like yourself who is living with lupus. How much do you hate the half-assed health care bill that we are all supposed to be so grateful for?

JW: Once I got all dees nuts from the dollar store and Sarah wanted to know how many of dees nuts are too many nuts? But I don’t think it’s possible to eat too many of dees nuts and, what? The health care bill? PASS.

GG: Ugh. I’m making things worse, aren’t I, getting all boring and political? How’s this: did you find Rocketship as pretentious and boring a store as I did?

JW: Naw, they were nice to me and good for the community. That sounds like something a mom would say but I mean it. Comic book stores aren’t for everyone. Maybe they would be if you could eat a sandwich while you were in there. I just want food to be included in everything, basically.

GG: Fuck. You’re friends with those guys. I knew that. I really shouldn’t be doing interviews, should I?

JW: Probably not, but many would say I really shouldn’t be doing comics, but fuck ‘em.

GG: You write in Drinking at the Movies about some early discussions about a Fart Party tv show. I once went to Hollywood to meet with an agent, and I got free valet parking. And another time I got a free chopped salad, which was a very exotic thing to me at the time. That was the extent of my Hollywood glamor days. How about you? Any new TV show pitches in the works?

JW: Haha chopped salad. I got a free pizza, I win! There is nothing concrete at the moment. I withdrew from the idea for awhile but I’m not opposed to it. It’d just have to be the right circumstances and I’ve have to be ready for it. I wasn’t then. And I’d like to focus on this follow up book first during the next year or so, so that’s where I’m at right now and that’s just fine with me.

GG: You suggested at that the story of your final break with alcohol will be told in a forthcoming book. Since my kids, who have both been reading your work since FP #1, are determined to follow in your footsteps, I am eager to get them this volume as soon as possible: any sense as to when it will be out and what it will be called?

JW: Circumstances depending, I’d like to see the next book out in late 2011 or 2012. If you’re kids are going to follow in my footsteps, they better be well insured.

GG: Also, I see Sarah Glidden’s book is finally coming out (we’ve been fans since the first two issues). Sarah is recurring character in Drinking at the Movies. As her friend, can you tell me: will I finally understand Israel after reading it? Because I am, officially, the worst-Jew-ever, and nothing about Israel makes any sense to me whatsoever.

JW: I think so. It cleared up a lot of the “how this mess came to be” issues that I really couldn’t wrap my mind around before. Sarah is careful not to take sides in this book, but just clearly lay out the issues and various ways to view them. I think it’s a good book for someone like me who knew nothing about Isreal, and for those who do know to be open to more dialogue about it and other opinions. She really did an excellent job and the end result is a smartly written and beautifully illustrated book.

GG: If we here at guttergeek are crazy about Julia Wertz and Sarah Glidden, who else should we start being crazy about?

JW: There are a lot of good autobio cartoonists out there right now, but Vanessa Davis has a new book, Make Me A Woman, that I am so excited to read. I love her work. Lisa Hanawalt’s got a new book too, and of course, my lovely Pizza Island studio mates Domitille Collardey and Karen Sneider make amazing comics.

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