Review: ‘The Fart Party’ by Julia Wertz
The Fart Party
By Julia Wertz
Atomic Book Company, May 2008, $13.95
Julia Wertz’s comics would be terribly juvenile if they weren’t wonderfully juvenile – little snippets of life from a young woman in San Francisco, obsessed with beer, cheese, bicycles and comics. (Not to mention the occasional outburst of cartoony violence.)
Wertz has been posting her autobiographical comics at www.fartparty.org for nearly three years now, with occasional published-on-actual-paper minicomics as well, but this is the first collection that sits comfortably on a shelf. It seems to collect roughly the first year of the online strips, when Wertz was living in San Francisco with her boyfriend, Oliver, though the book itself doesn’t say that, or have dates on any of the strips. (Wertz’s life has changed a bit since the time of these strips; she’s currently ensconced in Darkest Brooklyn.) The strips here do form something of an arc, and have a natural ending, which is rare for any collection of regularly published comics, from the web or anywhere else.
Wertz’s style is simple and cartoony, but springs out full-formed from the beginning of the book with all its rubber-armed, pointy-eyed, casually-violent energy. Wertz does include a couple of strips she created earlier, in a more conventionally “realistic” style. But she buries those strips in the middle of the book, and they’re definitely less distinctive than her current style. I’m sure the fine-art brigade will hate her work – as will the good-taste brigade, which is similar but not identical to the first brigade – but she’s a real cartoonist, and that’s something to be celebrated. There’s still room for improvement in her style; her faces are only intermittently expressive at this point, and the figures’ body language tends to huge, stagy gestures even when those aren’t appropriate.
Despite what I said about a plot arc, these are really all individual comics – they’re bits and pieces of one young woman’s life, and will be slackerishly familiar to anyone who has been in their early 20s, or around people who were, any time in the last forty years. The obvious comparison is to Peter Bagge’s Hate series of the early ‘90s, when his hero Buddy Bradley went off to Seattle for the usual boozing, rock ‘n rolling reasons. Wertz’s comics are autobiographical, which Bagge’s weren’t, but Wertz is living that kind of life, in a similarly hipster Northwest town, and her art has some Bagge influences in it. (I’m not the first person to note the similarity; one of the “extras” at the end is a strip written by Bagge and illustrated by Wertz, and Bagge provides an foreword.)
There are cartoons about riding a bike to work (and elsewhere), having a crappy customer-service job, living in a small apartment, dealing with a newish relationship, and all of the other usual dramas of twenty-something people in artsy, low-paying careers. What makes The Fart Party distinctive is Wertz herself – she’s distinctive and individual, and has the fearlessness of the great autobiographical cartoonists, that willingness to draw a cartoon about anything in her life.
I haven’t done any extensive cross-checking, but I’d say about half of the cartoons in The Fart Party book are also on the website, in the archives of the webcomic. But half of them aren’t, and the strips in the book have been reorganized and resequenced; it’s not just a reprint of the site. The Fart Party isn’t for everyone – you have to get past that title, for one thing – but it’s a damn good strip of its type, and I expect Julia Wertz will be making comics worth reading and laughing at for decades to come.
Andrew Wheeler has been a publishing professional for nearly twenty years, with a long stint as a Senior Editor at the Science Fiction Book Club and a current position at John Wiley & Sons. He’s been reading comics for longer than he cares to mention, and maintains a personal, mostly book-oriented blog at antickmusings.blogspot.com.
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