There are plenty of autobiographical comics in the world, but more often than not, they tend toward the heavy-handed, even overbearing end of the spectrum, either lumbering through plot points to impart valuable life lessons, or merely wallowing in their author’s self-pity. Julia Wertz’s comics don’t concern themselves with such things. Instead they’re content to elicit a chuckle or a smile, or, at the very least, a scratch of the head over what kind of grown woman uses a public forum to showcase pictures of herself peeing in the sink.
There’s a perpetual sense of candidness to The Fart Party, but where others might spin drunken stumblings into a parable of self-loathing, Wertz is just happy to have someone to laugh, even—or perhaps especially—if that person is herself. It’s an approach, which, despite the well-traveled setup/punchline approach to strip-making, often rings truer than sad bastard school of comics to which so many of her peers pledge their allegiance.
You seem to have amassed a pretty strong following on the site at this point.
Yeah. I think on the Website, a lot of people annoy me—people who leave comments, and then I feel compelled to argue back with them, and then I annoy myself. I completely try to avoid forums. I think most everyone on the Internet is a total jackass. But there are a lot of people that I actually do really like. I play Scrabulous with a lot of them.
And then a lot of the comments just seem to be people you know saying mean things about you.
Yeah. Every once in a while, friends saying something, and it’s like, “god, don’t say that!”
You’ve got a b-sides book coming out.
Yeah, though most of them weren’t actually rejects, it’s just that, going through the files for Atomic [publisher of The Fart Party book-ed.], I missed a lot of them. And then there was one that I didn’t put in because there was a pretty offensive abortion remark, which usually I don’t care about, but I just decided that I didn’t want it in there.
How did the book deal come about?
They just e-mailed me. I think they may have done it through Flickr, first. Rachel [Whang] asked if I’d ever consider compiling a book for them. I e-mailed them back. I thought it was a joke at first. I didn’t think they actually published books. I thought they were just a comic book store. They haven’t really done that many, but they’re pretty fucking awesome. They’re also going to do the second book, which is coming out, next year, I think.
It’s going to be more of the strips?
Yeah. It’s going to end when I move to New York, much like many things ended after I moved to New York.
Was doing a book something that you had even considered prior to Atomic contacting you? You said you thought it was a joke at the time.
Yeah. Everyone wants a book. But because I’d only been comics for maybe a year and half by that time, it seemed too good to be true. I didn’t think I deserved it—I still don’t think I deserve it. I couldn’t believe someone would actually want to publish it.
So what happened? Why did people begin to care about the strip after just a year and a half? Peter Bagge is a fan—you’ve got lots of fans in high places.
I really don’t know. I agree with a lot of criticisms with the book. It’s not drawn that well. Some of it’s really cheesy. It’s very perfunctory: “one, two, three—here’s a joke.” There are a lot of Webcomics out there that are funny—well, not Webcomics. Most of them are crap. But there’s a lot of comics out there that are funny about people’s lives, and I don’t understand why people like it that much. Maybe it’s because I draw myself peeing in a sink, and most people wouldn’t do that. I thoroughly enjoy embarrassing myself and making an ass of myself, and I think I do that a lot in the comic.
There are some more serious moments in there, as well.
Yeah, you made the For Better or Worse comparison [In a New York Press review-ed.]. That was infuriating. At least you didn’t pick Cathy.
Do you feel obligated to insert the occasional life lesson into the strip? Or at least make it a bit more serious?
I’ve had a few serious ones, but there are so many serious comics out there that I feel that when I do a serious one, it’s kind of unnecessary. Even the funny ones—some of them have some serious content, but I try to flip it around. The thing about the book is that I get dumped at the end, so it’s sort of serious, but there aren’t really life lessons in there.
Did you read a lot of strips, growing up?
It’s embarrassing to say, but ever since I was in elementary school, I’ve read the daily comics, even though I think they’re horrible. I didn’t read good comics—I just read shitty ones, though I did read Calvin & Hobbes.
So, why not do a comic about an obese talking cat?
Most anthropomorphic comics kind of annoy me. Though, actually, before I drew Fart Party, I was doing anthropomorphic ones about killer vultures, and then there’s a the hobo spider. The first comics I drew were about animals. I have to take back everything I just said.
Obviously something didn’t work there though, if you’ve stopped doing those.
It was really fun, but they’re fucking retarded.
Any comic you’re going to create will probably be drawing upon life experiences, but how did yours become such a literal translation?
It really just sort of happened over night. I was doing the silly ones. I had been doing a few stick figure ones for roommates.
Like the stick figure ones you sometimes do now?
No, they were actual stick figures, with a circle for a head. Those were all made up jokey ones. Then, September 9th, 2005, I sat down and drew one Fart Party comic about when the person I was dating bought knives. Ever since then, I’ve just done autobiography.
So, the first comic wasn’t actually about some kind of farting party?
I never made a comic about that. That would make sense, but since I apparently do everything backwards, that will be the last comic I make, on my death bed. “I haaave to explain the title.”
How did that idea become the title of the strip, if you’ve never actually done a comic about it? Were you just reaching for something to call it?
We were just trying to think of something to call the Website. We were hanging out in apartment, talking about how to get out of parties that are really boring, or if you’re hosting a party and you just want everyone to leave. So we decided that the next time we host a party we were going to fart into the balloons and then pop them. Of course when you’re drunk, you think that’s hysterical. I had an actual name for the comic, but I didn’t want to call it that. I was asking what I should call it, and he said, “call it that stupid idea that you came up with, the other night.” “Fart Party? Awesome.”
Did you foresee there being any sort of shelf-life to the strip, where you would be explaining it, all these years later?
No. I had no idea. When I first put up the site, maybe seven people were reading it, and they were all my friends, and that’s how I thought it was going to be, forever. But it works out to my benefit, sometimes.
Yeah. The first interview I did, they admitted that the only reason they clicked on the link was because of the title. But then I also run into people who refused to read it at first because of the name.
[Continued in Part Three.]