Julia Wertz Shares Her Hilariously Profane Letters from Rehab
The one frustrating thing about Drinking at the Movies, Julia Wertz's memoir of her early, soused months in Brooklyn, New York, is that at the end, almost as an afterthought, Wertz mentions that she got sober. She ends her book on the cusp of a major transition, from someone who is still amused by her own whiskey-soaked antics to someone who wonders if all that drinking is wrecking her life. As much as I love reading about Wertz's drunken makeouts aboard a Greyhound, I'm much more interested in why she made the change and how she did it.
Wertz has promised that she'll share some post-Drinking at the Movies comics down the line, but right now, she's working on a collection of comics about her childhood. For those of us who just can't wait to see the next stage of Wertz's story, she's shared three of the letters she wrote to her comics collective, the now-dissolved Pizza Island, while she was in rehab. In them, she pokes at the absurdities of rehab while acknowledging that this may be the thing that saves her life.What's particularly interesting about this phase of Wertz's comics is that for years Wertz wasn't examining her drinking from the perspective of sobriety. Fart Party, her first series of autobiographical comics, wasn't a post-drinking confessional along the lines of Jonathan Ames' Vertigo comic The Alcoholic. Instead, Fart Party was an autobiographical comic in which alcohol, like so many other things in Wertz's life, was both celebrated and denigrated. Wine and whiskey frequently appeared in tandem with junk food, lack of motivation, television and Wertz's own antisocial tendencies. Alcohol was a vice, but it wasn't more prominent than any other vice in her life. Of course, in retrospect, that one vice probably didn't help with some of the others.
Then came the ominous opening to Drinking at the Movies: after a long night of drinking, Wertz comes to in a laundromat, wearing her pajamas, with little memory of how she got there. From then on, alcohol fuels her Bad Idea Bears. She spends long nights drinking alone in movie theaters (hence the title), and frequently passes out on park benches. First dates quickly turn to last dates after several glasses of wine. Her response to her a friend expressing concern over her drinking is to purchase a bottle of Jim Beam.
In an interview on the Ink Panthers Podcast, Wertz said that she actually dislikes a lot of Drinking at the Movies because she felt that she wasn't being honest in the process of making the comics, and that as she's gotten sober and become more honest with herself, her comics have improved. We get some glimpses of that honesty in her illustrated letters to Pizza Island, which she wrote from rehab in the spring of 2010. Although Wertz didn't actually stay sober after her rehab stint, there are some nice moments of self-reflection. But, in true Julia Wertz fashion, first she's got to make fun of how ludicrous rehab is:
The second letter from rehab, excerpted up top, is the goofiest of the lot, outlining the seemingly absurd rules and regulations on the inside. Wertz acknowledges that they aren't her best writing (after all, she was sobering up), but under the classic Fart Party tone there's a clear sense that she understands the methods behind all this rehab madness. There's even a sense of optimism, a sense that, as painful as the process will be, it will make her a more complete person.
Note: I only censored the thing Wertz was planning on doing to the banana; she blacked out the rest.
And the best thing about this new, reflective Julia Wertz? She's funny. It's a funny that has its roots in Fart Party, but it's something smarter and wiser. It's the reason that Wertz ditched the Fart Party title and named her new comic series Museum of Mistakes. It's the perfect title for someone willing to put her own faults on display, so that everyone -- herself included -- can learn from them.