Julia Wertz’s ‘Drinking At The Movies’ Gets A Return Engagement
In 2010, fancy-schmancy "real book" publisher Random House released Julia Wertz's first book-length work, the graphic memoir Drinking At The Movies, which chronicled her move from San Francisco to New York City in 2007-2008. For a lot of readers, the book and its very warm reception constituted the first exposure to Wertz and her unique, self-deprecating, self-deflating, self-destructing sense of humor.
As the Fart Party cartoonist's star rose, Drinking At The Movies lapsed out-of-print. But Koyoma Press, publishers of Wertz's next book, 2012's The Infinite Wait and Other Stories, has rectified that with a brand-new, 2015 edition of Drinking At The Movies.
If you've already read Drinking At The Movies, the new, Koyama edition does include some new material, which is good enough that it's worth at least considering upgrading to the new edition. That new material includes a seven-page foreword by Janeane Garofalo, which is so, in Wertz's words, "absolutely f---ing bonkers, but delightfully so" that Wertz had to create a two-page comic foreword to the foreword, in which she details how it came about.
After the two met to discuss it, Garofalo told Wertz that she doesn't type or use a computer, but would have to handwrite it. What she turned in was so unexpected that Wertz and Koyama were unsure how to even use it, until they decided to simply photocopy "one of the most unique forewords in the history of book forewords."
And so there are seven-pages of photocopied pages from a composition notebook, in which Garofolo hand-writes an all-over-the-place introduction that includes quotes, bullet points, made-up words and celebrity name-drops. Garofolo even includes cut-out-and-pasted pull-quotes from various critics about Susanna Sonnenberg's She Matters, crossing out the name of the author and the title and writing "Julia Wertz" and "Drinking At The Movies" in their stead (along with other little alterations).
It's an exhilarating and exhausting read, unlike anything similar I've read this side of a 1990s-era zine, and thus pretty much perfect for a book by Wertz, whose comics are unlike any other examples of the graphic memoir or diary comic genre.
But if you haven't read Drinking At The Movies before, or Wertz's work at all, then you're in for a real treat with the new edition.
Wertz's comics avatar, the only character bearing super-expressive, Jim Davis-like dinner plate eyes, recounts the entirety of her twenty-fourth year, beginning with her regaining consciousness at three in the morning in a 24-hour Brooklyn laundromat, eating Cracker Jack in her pajamas.
From there, we jump back to her life in San Francisco, where a confluence of events leads to something of a crossroads. Over the phone, a friend advises her that, "The worst thing you could do is move somewhere far away and compeltely insane, like, um, like New York..."
She, of course, does just that. In the next year, Wertz lives in four different apartments, has seven different jobs (ranging from bartender to freelance writer), goes on a single Internet date (which ends with her passed out drunk on a park bench), gets a mysterious rash on her ass, has a phone conference about having her comic strip adapted into a TV show with Lizzy Caplan playing her ("It could be good comic fodder," her agent coaxes her, to which Julia replies "Good point, plus I like to ruin things") and drinks... a lot.
The title of the book comes from one of her favorite pastimes: Sneaking booze into the movie theater, which she seems to do alone in the middle of the day a lot more often than one is supposed to.
Wertz's issues with alcohol come to the fore a few times throughout the book, as do some other serious issues --- including her brother's mental illness, and her step-father's cancer diagnosis --- and as a cartoonist she handles them with uncanny aplomb. In one sequence, her avatar is attacked by a bunch of giant anthropomorphic bottles of booze, who throw her down "The Whiskey Well." That's followed by a long sequence in which Sherlock Holmes and Watson investigate the case of her missing brain, which periodically jumps out of her head and runs away on its little stick legs in search of alcohol.
Alcohol humor is no longer in good taste, of course, which makes its occasional appearances in pop culture all the more subversive. It's not only rare to see it engaged in like this, but it's downright unique: The jokes are as funny as they are dark, and given that the person telling the jokes is the person doing the suffering, they're pretty damn dark.
The book ends at a New Year's Eve party, as 2008 turns into 2009, and Wertz's narration boxes spoil her avatar of the good things that will happen to her in that year, including quitting drinking, which will change her life in myriad ways. ("For better or for worse?" Wertz the character asks Wertz the narrator.)
If that's good news for Wertz as a real person, it's certainly not bad news for Wertz as the star of a series of funny, real-life anecdotes. Her drinking and general poor decisions lead to a lot of funny stories, certainly. And her art is superb, as her sketchbook section and backgrounds reveal, even if her characters always retain the look of an extremely polished amateur doodling in a notebook when they should be paying attention to a lecture.
But while those factors contribute, neither are precisely what makes Wertz's work so much fun to read. It is Wertz herself --- or, at least, the self she chooses to show readers in her work. She's fun to hang out with, and Drinking At The Movies provides maybe the most perfect way to do so: You can enjoy her company, but with the safety that the distance of reading a comic book echo of the real experiences can provide.