Day job or no, Julia Wertz keeps busy. The first collection of her thrice-weekly Webcomic, Fart Party arrived toward the end of last year on Atomic Books, soon making its way onto several year end lists for its frank but hilarious portray of Wertz’s own dysfunctional existence.
Now the artists is already talking about its successor, due out later this year, which follows her life up until her recent move to Brooklyn from her beloved home of San Francisco (which itself inspired the uncharacteristically sentimental mini, Good-Bye San Francisco).
Wertz is also hard at work at her review site, The Cranky Clam, other illustration work, and has just finished piecing together the Missed Connections anthology for Random House imprint, Three Rivers Press. So, where does one go from here? Wertz would gladly tell you, if he knew herself.
We finish up our three-part interview conducted at The Cake Shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, alongside fellow San Francisco transplant, Wertz’s roommate and editor of Pet Noir, Shannon O’Leary.
You’re still printing minis, right?
Why haven’t you gone over to the Internet, full-time?
I hate the Internet.
Because of the people on it?
When you were just doing minis, did you get weird snail mail messages from people?
Yeah. I still do. The other day this dude sent me a full bottle of Maker’s with the creepiest fucking letter: ‘Put on your sluttiest lipstick, kiss a copy of the book, and send it back to me.’
Shannon O’Leary: There were a lot of creepy Photoshopped pictures of landscapes in it.
And Mardi Gras beads, because girls like Mardi Gras beads, right?
SO: But she drank the bottle of Maker’s Mark, and still hasn’t recycled it, and I wonder what that means.
That was a different bottle.
You consumed the whole bottle? That seemed like a good idea?
Yeah. That would be funny if someone slipped me a roofie through the mail, though. That would be amazing! I might not mind that, actually.
So, is that the creepiest thing you’ve ever received, or just the most recent creepy thing you’ve received?
Just the most recent. I’ve received some other weird stuff. I get a lot of handwritten and handrawn letters and stuff.
As creepy as people on the Internet can be—and they can definitely be really creepy—there’s at least a sense of their being a little more removed than when they’re sending you physical things in the mail—or is it the other way around?
[Burps. Laughter.] I forgot what the question was.
It was a stupid question—let’s move on. You’ve got some fans in high comics places—Peter Bagge and Johnny Ryan, for example. Do they tend to find your stuff independently, or do you actively go out and send them your work?
Begging them to please like me? I sent Johnny Ryan my comics and I e-mailed Peter Bagge before I even had any mini-comics out. He’s another person who followed the link, just because of the name, and I guess he ended up liking them, He’s been very helpful.
Do you want to be a cartoonist when you grow up? At one point did it occur to you that it would be a good thing to do with your life?
SO: Tell him the story about your brother.
I didn’t want to be a cartoonist when I was little, but I went over to my brother’s house one day and said, “I know what I want to do. I want to make comics.” I thought he was going to laugh at me, but he said, “well fucking do it, then.” I did, and it worked out. I definitely want to keep being a cartoonist, but I wouldn’t mind branching out and doing other stuff, because comics are such a thankless, pointless existence.
You’ve been doing more editorial stuff lately—putting a book together [the forthcoming Missed Connections]. Do you enjoy that aspect of the work?
No, I do not. It wouldn’t be that bad if it were smaller, but it’s exactly 100 contributors and it’s fucking annoying to track everybody down online. And I don’t even really like that book. It’s just a good idea I had. I don’t even read Missed Connections [on Craigslist].
What specifically don’t you like? Is it the content, the baggage?
I guess I’ve just worked on it, too much.
So, maybe you’ll appreciate it more, once you’re removed from it?
Yeah. Like I said, my heart’s not in the project, because I don’t really care about Missed Connections—Craigslist, it’s all a bunch of crap.
How did it come about initially, then? Were you killing a lot of time, reading Craigslist?
No, that was a total lie, too. The only time I’m on Craigslist is to find apartments and jobs, and I think I checked Missed Connections one time, and was like, “maybe I should make an anthology about this.” I had no idea that it was going to turn into the monster of a project that it became.
It’s going to come out on Random House, right?
Yeah, it’s Three Rivers Press—a division of Random House.
You approached them with the idea, initially?
No. I had an agent who saw my stuff online and was calling and e-mailing me. I fought her off for a long time, and finally gave her one copy of the book to leave me alone, and then she ended up selling it. I had a mini comic version of it. Two days later, she sold it to Three Rivers.
So, at no point in the process had it occurred to you that this might be a fun thing to do?
I thought it was just going to be something that I would do for APE last year, and it would be over—that it wouldn’t end up taking up this much of my life.
One-hundred artists—that’s pretty ambitious. Was it tough to hit that number?
No. I cut about 60 to 70 comics.
So it’s all good stuff then?
Partly [laughs]. There’s some stuff that I don’t really like, but it’s going in anyways.
But everything’s got some appeal to it.
Yeah. Everyone’s got their own taste, and there’s some stuff that doesn’t really appeal to my taste, but fits other people’s.
SO: She went through and had other people check it—like, maybe her roommate checked it a bit.
Maybe Shannon O’Leary cut a few.
What does the editing process for these entail, exactly? Are you line editing?
I basically just collected all of the comics and sent out contracts. It’s a lot of legal bullshit that I don’t really understand. A lot of contracts had to be reworded for different contributors who wanted to republish stuff. You wouldn’t think that collecting two-line bios from people would take a lot of time, but it took days and days. I had to track down a lot of e-mails, too. It was just a lot of annoying bullshit.
SO: You had a lot of problems too, with people who couldn’t follow simple instructions.
Yeah, people are fucking retarded. You give them instructions, and they do the exact opposite.
So, in the last half hour, we’ve established that you don’t want to do any editing, and that you’re having a lot of trouble doing anything that’s longform, but you do want to keep doing comics indefinitely.
So the logical question is, beyond [Fart Party] book two, which is coming out, later in the year, what’s the next big step for you?
I really don’t know. I’ve never really known the entire time. Everything just seems to have fallen into my lap. I was working on an illustrated cookbook, before. So that might be something.
This sounds a bit like your Cranky Clam project.
Oh yeah. I forgot about that! Actually, I really wouldn’t mind doing review stuff online or for magazines.
What’s Cranky Clam like, exactly? Is it cartoony like Fart Party?
No, it’s mostly review stuff. I do it more out of home sickness for San Francisco. But it’s sectioned out, with restaurants, bars, bookstores, and record stores.
And then you have [Good-Bye San Francisco]. Do you have any non-illustrated projects that you’re working on?
Yeah, I’ve written a lot of short stories. But I don’t know what I’m going to do with them.
Are you doing any straight art stuff? I know you didn’t consider yourself much of an artist when you started, but you’ve clearly made some improvement since then.
Yeah, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement. If I was going to go the art route, I’d take some classes.
And that doesn’t appeal to you?
It does, but I’m more interested in writing for comics than drawing. I mean, I like to draw, and it wastes a lot of time, but I’m definitely more on the writing side of it.
You mentioned that you don’t really tackle serious subjects in the context of Fart Party, but if you were just working on the writing end of a piece, would you consider doing something longer and more serious?
Yeah. I want to do one about my family. I wouldn’t mind having someone who’s a much better artist doing illustrations, because I definitely can’t do actually life drawing, unless I was going to dedicate a huge chunk of time to learning, which I really don’t have time for.