Julia Wertz chatted with me about Roz Chast's new memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? and Joe Matt's Spent.
These are both autobiographical books and Julia is an accomplished autobiographical cartoonist, so this all felt like a good fit for a conversation. I'm pleased that for the most part we managed to avoid covering the usual ground in a conversation dealing with work like this, i.e. autobio vs. fiction what's more legitimate? Should you have an interesting story to tell in order to write about yourself, and so on. I guess it helps that we're talking about other people's works, so there's no sense of having to defend any of the choices.
These two books are pretty different, but have in common the fact that their subject matter is plain and straightforward. Roz Chast writes about her elderly parents' rapid health declines and eventual deaths, and Joe Matt has practically whittled away anything resembling a plot, writing a book that is mostly him going as far as he can with the mandate to expose and reveal every sordid unpleasant detail about himself.
Julia and I do talk a bit about what aspects of themselves the authors chose to reveal, and what aspects of themselves they might not have been aware they were revealing in the book. I think at the time, the Joe Matt book was carrying forward a tradition of honesty to the point of uncomfortableness, I suppose that goes back to R. Crumb's comics. Spent is dedicated to Crumb, for showing Matt the way. I think there's something that can be seen in this book now, as the world of alternative comics has become less overwhelmingly male, showing how supposedly enlightened intellectual individuals, carry on a strain of sexism in their work that may not have been quite so apparent back when this kind of material was much more par for the course. Yes, in Spent, Joe Matt is clearly aware of his own sexism. But, there may still have been a feeling that this sort of work was getting released to a much more "friendly" audience. Essentially, men like Joe Matt and R. Crumb: intellectual types brimming with rage that women don't like "sensitive" guys like them.
If this sounds critical, I should underline that Joe Matt's work in particular has long been some of my most cherished comics. As I was re-reading this book, it struck me how influential his work has been on my own. The nasty, cruel way that Joe Matt and Seth jockey for position of social power within their little male social circle, it's practically a blueprint for my own Troop 142.
Julia Wertz was born in the San Francisco bay area in 1982. She is the author/illustrator of the unfortunately titled autobiographical graphic novels The Fart Party vol 1 and vol 2, Drinking at the Movies, The Infinite Wait and Other Stories and the upcoming Museum of Mistakes: The Fart Party Omnibus. She currently lives in Brooklyn, NY, where she used to make comics at Pizza Island (RIP) but currently she’s focusing on a project for Adventure Bible School, her blog/photos about urban exploring.
Mike Dawson is a cartoonist whose books include Freddie & Me, Troop 142, and Angie Bongiolatti. Follow him on twitter and Tumblr.