Time for another Mail Bag post! However, the mail I’ve been receiving lately has been delightfully positive, so I’m mining the depths of Amazon reviews for solid, negative material to riff on. Haters, you disappoint me! Maybe it’s because it’s spring and it’s hard to be ornery when there are birds chirping and flowers growing. Well, worry not, gentle reader, I’ve got enough cantankerousness to go around so lets get on with it!
“Not My Style” by S. Williams
I’ve got to start with the fact that it either didn’t say, or I didn’t read carefully enough and missed it, the part about this being a graphic novel, which isn’t a format I tend to enjoy. I didn’t know the name Julia Wertz, or her previous work, read the comedian part and must have missed the graphic artist add on. My bad.
Coming in cold, I spent about two hours with this book and, I gotta say, that I’m just not into the humor here. There were a couple of tee-hee moments, but I wasn’t moved by the memoir-ish short riffs, apartment diagrams or New York vs San Francisco bagel comparisons. I just didn’t want to do more than browse this one, and even then only out of obligation.
This is the literary equivalent of a little kid who got tricked into eating vegetables because they were covered in cheese, and even though is mom didn’t even give a shit if he ate them or not, he still spent TWO HOURS angrily eating the vegetables. Then he stormed off to the playground to loudly protest the unjust treatment he’d just inflicted upon himself and his friends where like “why did you eat them? No one made you,” and he was like ‘out of obligation!” and they were like “not really, you could have just not eaten them and then none of this would have happened” and he was like “what kind of madness is that?!” and then he stomped off to the sandbox to eat a buried cat turd.
As a non-hipster, no-longer twenty-something, nothing spoke to me or struck me as particularly humorous. Just not my cup of tea at all but, admittedly, I’m not the target audience. This one seems geared to a VERY specific demographic–hard partying, semi-slacker, grad student living on mom and dad’s dime in the big city–of which I’m not a part and never was.
Unsurprisingly, this is the last paragraph of “Not My Style,” but I wanted to address it separately in order to correct some factual errors. 1) I was not a hard-partier. There is much room for interpretation of that phrase, but first, let me assure you that never a partier was I. Parties have always been high on my list of things I loathe. Accuse me of rabble rousing? I never! I always had the courtesy to do the majority of hard drinking alone in my apartment. Sad, sure, but for the most part, calamity free. Except for the time I drunkenly ran Phil’s car into a wooden outhouse on a camping trip. That was a bit of a kerfuffle.
Now, “semi-slacker.” I am often accused of this, because the image of myself I depict in comics is a lazy, tv watching, junk food eating sloth. And certainly at times I am! But I’ve always had a job or three since I was 15 when I started washing dishes at a local pizza parlor in my hometown. However, since I frequently choose to portray the (actually surprisingly rare) times I slack off rather than portray the tedium of work, a reader could be forgiven for incorrectly assuming I do that more often that I actually do. During the years “Drinking at the Movies” took place, I actually worked several jobs that I didn’t include in the book, from service to editorial to comics jobs. And I’ve been working on comics full time for the last three years, do you really want 200 pages of me sitting at my desk, doodling, tweeting and yelling at my cat? Woof, even I don’t want that as I’m living it.
Also, for the record, I never went to grad school and I haven’t lived off my parents dime since I graduated from high school and moved away from home and they no longer legally had to support me. I have been able to do this because -full circle- I work. Like every single responsible adult should. (Not that I wouldn’t accept money from my parents if they offered it, ahem! but my poor ma suffered through 18 years of supporting me so I try to now only burden her emotionally. Hi, Ma!)
Where is the substance? Or is superficial the new black?
Drinking at the Movies by Julia Wertz is another graphic memoir, a genre for which I am increasingly finding a fascination. Unfortunately, Wertz’ offering falls short of being insightful. Although amusing and occasionally quirky, she skims the surface of her own life and psyche in favor of coming off glib. Glib is easier than being candid and where other graphic memoirs can be profound, Wertz remains too interested in amusing her audience than engaging them.
If you want to read about a young single woman who skips from job-to-job with little to no explanation as to why she keeps getting fired, then this book will probably be engaging. But if you are more curious about her family’s struggle with her brother’s drug addiction, you won’t be content after reading this memoir. I don’t think I ever even learned what his drug of choice was, although I clearly knew what Wertz enjoyed using to numb her own feelings. And if you thought that after watching her drink her troubles away (only to have these same troubles bite her in the ass) would lead to seeing her share her own work towards sobriety, you won’t find it here.
OMG I totes agree! Really, I do, and as such, this review is actually a compliment. Now days, people are so immersed in the bastardized, Hollywood recanting of a story that they demand an opening, middle and end, and if you don’t give them all three, they’re outraged and confused because it’s just “not like real life!” where everything wraps up all nice and neat and a couple eats a breakfast together that has fancy things like orange juice and napkins. I suppose if you were looking for that version of my book, you’d want me to go into sordid detail of my brother’s drug addiction, and confront and quit my drinking problem and then resolve the last 15 years of family turmoil to arrive at a happy the ending. Alas, my brother’s side of the story is none of your fucking business. Or mine for that matter! I write only about myself because I don’t want to be presumptuous enough as to anyone else’s story. I don’t go into detail about my life because that’s not my purpose in making comics. I know what happened, I don’t feel the need to have the public know every little detail, my aim is to entertain! And as for my drinking problem, well, it takes a rare, insightful and strong person to confront and try to resolve such a portentous problem at the tender age of 25. I assure you I am no such person. I briefly (and vaguely) alluded to my quitting drinking “in the near future,” but truth be told, I only put that panel in to appease the publishers who didn’t like my normal, non ending, ending. I figured I got away with 186 pages of unconventional nonsense so, since I had a conventional publisher, I threw them the tiniest of bones and gave them one page to shut them up. Also, when I wrote that page, it was over two years after the actual events had concluded and literally the day before I was shipped off to rehab, so if you think I gave a sharp fart about what was on that page, you’d be gravely mistaken.
Okay, that’s enough for today. I realize these books (or any books or any other medium) isn’t for everyone, and I have no interest in persuading anyone that they are, nor do I really give a shit about negative reviews. It’s tedious and self indulgent of me to post rebuttals, but I’ve made a career off of being both of those things, so really, who’s the joke on this time? (It’s still probably on me, but as long as I enjoy it, I really don’t care)
Got words? send em to juliajwertz(at)gmail(dot)com