We'll be posting a few in interviews over the weekend with cartoonists who will be at the Stumptown Comics Fest—stay tuned for Paul Tobin & Colleen Coover, Sarah Glidden, and others. First up, Julia Wertz, creator of the autobiographical comic formerly known as Fart Party. (She recently moved her site to juliawertz.com.) Wertz's comics are funny, self-deprecating, and observant—her most recent book, Drinking at the Movies, described her move from San Francisco to New York. (A more detailed writeup is here.)
Via email, Julia shared some thoughts on being dropped from her fancy New York publisher, the sustainability of a career in autobiographical comics, and how just because she's part of an all-girl cartoonists studio doesn't mean she wants to talk about the "subject of women in comics." (I am really, really glad I didn't ask her that.) She'll be at booth D-21, selling books and prints, including the one above.
Is this your first trip to Stumptown? (That's a warmup question. They really work better over the phone.)
Nope, I’ve been to Stumptown twice before. My first time was the convention in 2006. I was really new to comics and didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew right away I didn’t like conventions. And yet, I keep going. It’s just what cartoonists have to do to keep peddling their wares.
Can you talk about your history in publishing? Do you have a specific plan or strategy for making money off comics in the future? Do you worry about your "personal brand" or anything like that?
I’ve been doing comics professionally for about 3 years now, but I was recently let go from my big, fancy New York publisher (Random House). They picked up a lot of cartoonists a few years ago when they thought comics were the new hot thing. And they are, in theory, but not in sales. So they let a bunch of us go this year. I’ll be working with a smaller comics publisher in the future, and I’m really happy to be working with people who understand comics, how to publish them and market them. I’ve worked with small presses before (Atomic Books) and they just “get” comics better than big publishing houses do. Comics publishers aren’t just about sales and money, they’re also in it to put out good work and treat their cartoonists well.
For now, I make money by straddling the print and online worlds. I make some money selling books, and some selling minis and artwork online. I keep readers interested by posting a few new comics weekly, but saving the majority of them for print, so they can keep somewhat updated but have to buy the book to read the full story. In order to make a living off comics, you have to be savvy in both worlds. I don’t worry about my “personal brand,” though. I just do what I do and hope the rest falls into place. I don’t do projects I don’t like and I don’t change my work for anyone or any publishers. If I continue to work that way, my personal brand isn’t something that’ll be affected.
You're part of an all-woman cartooning studio. [New York's Pizza Island, which includes Kate Beaton and Sarah Glidden.] Did you actively seek out a community of female cartoonists; if so, why?
No, I did not, and I don’t like to entertain the subject of women in comics. It’s not a “boy’s game” and the separation of sexes is irrelevant to the work. Publications continually tout our studio as “girls making comics!” like it’s some amazing thing, and they do it despite our repeated pleas that they focus on our work, not our gender. We didn’t seek out only women for our studio, it just happened that way. People need to just get the hell over the whole women in comics thing. There aren’t “women making comics” there are just people making comics.
Do you worry that your stuff is self-indulgent?
I don’t worry that it it, I know it is! And I don’t care. I wouldn’t be any good at making political or cultural comics like Sarah [Glidden] is, and I work best with non-fiction so I might as well stick to it. If people called my work self indulgent and didn’t read it, that would be a problem, but they call it that and continue to read it, so as long as that happens, I’ll keep doing it.
Can you envision a point at which you will grow tired of mining your own life for material? What happens then?
Oh, sure, I don’t know if I’ll do autobio for forever. I do know that I’d like to do a big book about my childhood, but I might call it quits after that. I’m already working on a fictional kids book and it’s a really fun change of pace. If that works out at all, I might do that for a bit. I just get a lot of satisfaction out of autobio right now, on an emotional level, so that’s what I’m sticking to. The kids book is just fun, but I’m not emotionally connected to the work.
You're obviously a great joke writer - have you considered writing or performing comedy in any other format?
As much as I love stand-up comedy, I don’t think I could ever do it. It feels really weird to say the same joke twice, not to mention every night. I usually say a joke once, write it down for a comic, and never say it again. But I do really love comedy so maybe I could get over that and learn how to do storytelling stand up. I dabbbled in screenwriting for a red hot minute a few years ago when there was interest in developing my books for a TV show, but I hated it so I never wrote the script so it never got made. Oops.
You mentioned you're working on a kids' book - can you elaborate?
It’s a mixture/rip off of every element I love about classic children’s stories: orphans, old timey cities, pet mice, magic wagons, time travelers, circuses, etc... and it’s set in the late 1800s and focuses on an accidentally orphaned kid who joins the New York newsboys during the newsies' strike. Nothing about it is terribly unique, and it it’s just for fun and might not go anywhere, but right now I’m really enjoying the different style of drawing I’m doing for it. It’s rougher, more sketchy, and in color, as opposed to my current clean, black and white style.
Are you working on any other non-comics projects?
Not at the moment. Right now it’s all comics comics comics, but this summer I’m going to be doing a concept album with a friend, on which I’ll be writing and singing. But it goes with a story I made up and am making a 10 page comic for, so cartooning is still involved. I can’t get away from it!