The best autobiographical strips are often the most universal. They incrementally reveal small truths, which, while on a localized level are specific to their creator, speak to something inherent in all of us. It is, perhaps, not exactly the sort of grand insight most people are searching for when they first happen upon The Fart Party, while performing some late night Google keyword search [‘Did you mean: “Frat Party,”’ asks the search engine].
Still, there’s something in Julia Wertz’s Webcomic that keeps people coming back, garnering the author a sizable online following, multiple book deals, and accolades from some of the industry’s most notable names, like Peter Bagge, who penned the introduction to the first Fart Party collection, which arrived last year on Atomic Books.
Perhaps it’s the candid nature with which Wertz tackles scenes from her life, or maybe it’s her fairly consistent ability to milk punchlines from such experience—likely it’s some combination of the two, because it probably ain’t the artwork. We kid, we kid.
We sat down with Wertz at The Cake Shop, in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to discuss giant turds, back room coke hilarity, and how she was still standing, a day after getting hit by a car.
Tell me about your new job.
The bicycle delivery job? It’s a fucking nightmare. When it snowed last Sunday—I was out in that for seven hours, delivering. I make five dollars an hour, and I’m probably quitting tonight.
Do you have anything lined up?
No. it’s just not worth five dollars an hour—and I got hit by a car yesterday, so it’s just like, “aw, fuck it.”
You got hit by a car? You weren’t lying in the street, were you?
No. I got knocked off the bike, but I didn’t get hurt. I just realized that if I’m going to be losing my health insurance in five months, it isn’t worth the five dollars an hour.
As someone who does autobiographical strips, are you thinking about how you might spin this into a book?
I don’t know. Everyone keeps saying, “It’s good material, right?” As if I’m going to stick with a shitty job because it’s good material. It’s not good material.
You got one comic out of it, so far.
Yeah. Delivering to the squatters is kind of fun, because they always show up on the shadiest corners and you have to wait for them for a while.
It’s food delivery?
Yeah. Food and beer. I didn’t even know that beer delivery was legal. Hipsters love PBR, and you can deliver PBR.
In terms of material to write about, do you feel like you’ve found more since you’ve moved to New York?
No. I don’t think so. I was just talking to my mom about this, actually. When everything was nice—I had a good apartment, a boyfriend, a job that wasn’t so bad—when life was boring, that’s when I came up with the best ideas, but now that life is pretty difficult and shitty, there’s nothing.
So, boring is good?
Not when you’re living it, but material-wise, it worked out. It’s definitely more interesting living here though. You guys were right on the Cross Hatch [Sarah’s review of The Fart Party Book is here]. Sarah said that it appears that my life is more interesting to live now then it was, so the material’s not as good, and she was right.
Is there a problem distancing yourself from the events of your life and the work that you’re producing, based upon them? If you’re living all of these interesting events, you don’t really have time to write about them. Build them up and give it some time, and you might have some good material.
I think most people operate that way, but I tend to do it right as it happens. When I was going through the breakup, I was drawing everything literally right after it happened. We’d get into a fight, and I’d say, “okay, well, I’ve got to go write a comic.” So maybe I should give it more time before I write about things [laughs]. Otherwise I might embarrass myself.
What are the boundaries in a situation like that? Do you have to set them up in advance? Is it along the lines of, “anything that happens to us I might draw a comic about?”
We would argue about it, every once in a while. He’d say, “you make me look like such an asshole in your comics.” And I’d say, “we’ll you’re being an asshole.” I don’t write about any of the relationship problems that I go through now, because people say, “what, are you gonna make a book about it?” “Fuck, fine, I won’t.” That doesn’t mean that I won’t do it in the future, but I’ve definitely been leaving stuff out lately. Any involvement I’ve had with people.
In every point in the process there must be a certain degree of self-censorship.
Yeah. I’d say that 70-percent of my life I don’t talk about in comics, because it’s personal, even though I’ll make a comic of me peeing in the sink. I don’t think that’s personal. I don’t care if people know that I pee in the sink—which I don’t do on a regular basis. But yeah, there’s definitely personal stuff that I self-censor out. I keep sketchy comics every day that I never, ever show anybody. I put a lot of personal stuff in there.
That’s just to hone your craft, or is it more of a diary?
It’s to remember stuff that I’ve done. It’s more of a diary. It’s stuff that’s embarrassing that I would never want to tell anyone. It might be funny in five years. Maybe then the public can know about that stuff, because so much time has passed. But really, I just do it as a diary.
Did that diary originally give birth to The Fart Party?
No. I started just drawing. I basically just sat down one day and drew a Fart Party comic, and then started doing them all like that. I only started doing the sketchy thing, maybe a year ago—the diary comics that aren’t funny. Maybe it all happened in reverse.
There’s a lot of private stuff in the diaries—but is the main issue that they’re not especially funny?
They’re not funny at all. They’re usually six boxes and are like, “I did this, I did this, I did this.” I’m not going to let my mom read this, but there was one incident when I first got to New York. We were at a hotel in Korea town. We had gone to do karaoke, and I was talking to the bartender. He came back with a bottle of whiskey and we ended up doing coke in the storage room and he grabbed my boob. And it was like, ‘I want to remember that. I can cross that off my to-do list.’ So I’d make a comic about that, but there’s no way I’m putting that on the Internet, because my mom doesn’t need to know things that I do in storage rooms.
You did the San Francisco book [Good-bye San Francisco]. It was pretty sentimental. Would you consider doing strips that don’t have a punchline?
And publish them? No, no, no. I have a lot of other stuff planned that’s serious, though. For a while I was going to make one about when I got really sick, but I realized that everyone does that, and the last thing we need is another Our Cancer Year—even though I don’t have cancer. I also want to do stories about my family, but I think I have to wait until they’re all dead, because it would be very embarrassing to them. But that’s not funny.
The content itself would be embarrassing, or do you just think that they would consider merely having comics about themselves published embarrassing?
The stories I’m going to tell. My crazy dad. It’s my opinions about them that I don’t want them to know. We’ll wait until they’re deceased.
Are there people in your life who request to not be in your comics?
I don’t think so, no. There have been incidents where I’ve asked someone if I could make a comic about something they did, and they say, “no, I didn’t want people to know that.” Although I did draw [another cartoonist] as a turd in a bar recently, and he said, “you can’t put my name on the Internet. You have to take it out.” He made me censor it. That was the only person. Let’s make that very clear that it was [yes, I deleted the name—I’m sure Julia will be more than happy to tell you], who has never read Fun Home.
That seems like a fairly inane thing to get angry about.
Yeah. It’s not like I drew him masturbating. I drew him as a turd. And I don’t think he’s a turd. I just thought it was a funny thing to do. But yeah, that was the only time when someone asked specifically.
So when people request to not be in it, you’ll generally grant them that.
Hm…it depends. There were a few incidents with the boyfriend in San Francisco, where he asked me not to do it, and I did it anyway.
It seems like, when someone commits to a relationship with you, you’re essentially signing a waiver.
Full disclosure [laughs]. Yeah. Maybe that’s why I have been unable to keep a relationship going since then.
Well, you’ve been censoring yourself a bit more lately. That should help.
Yeah, but I haven’t dated anyone since then. Maybe everyone’s just scared that they’ll end up in a book called Fart Party, which will probably be embarrassing, eventually.
There’s got to be some crazy, freaky fanboys who want to be in your book.
Pretty much everyone on the Internet is weird, but I get e-mails sometimes, where it’s like, “I’m in love with you.” How do you—you don’t even know me. Why would someone e-mail a stranger and say that? I confounds me.
And your comic doesn’t necessarily portray you in the best light.
I know [laughs]. That’s even more disturbing. It probably says more about them. Sucks for them.
[Continued in Part Two].