Drinking at the Movies

By Julia Wertz
192 pages, black and white
Published by Three Rivers Press

Most autobiographical comics are boring. This usually has little to do with the actual lives of the people creating the comics, and more to do with that there’s no particular hook to make their own story interesting. Joe Matt is a prime example of someone who can create comics about an intensely boring (and slightly creepy) life and still make them enthralling, even while other cartoonists could go on a trip to Brazil and somehow make a boring comic. (Although let’s face it, the majority of boring autobiographical comics involve them wishing they were Joe Matt, not going to Brazil.) With all of that in mind, I wish to assure you that Julia Wertz’s Drinking at the Movies is the good kind of autobiographical comic, and it’s been a while since I laughed this much at a comic.

The concept of Drinking at the Movies is fairly simple; it’s a year in Wertz’s life as she moves from San Francisco to New York, and then goes through a series of bad jobs and apartments. People who read Wertz’s webcomic Fart Party (or its collected editions) will already know that Wertz has a less-than-serious nature in the majority of her comics, more than willing to make fun of herself as much as the people and places around her. Like her regular comic, Wertz isn’t afraid to dip into serious territory here, but on the whole it’s light-hearted, a real lack of woe-is-me present.

This was the first extended narrative I’ve seen from Wertz though, even as it’s broken down into short vignettes. Because the focus is slightly tighter in how she’s telling her story of moving to New York and adjusting, it’s a fairly smooth flow from start to finish. Every time you start to think, "Hey, what happened to that crappy job she was working at?" an update is provided, and regular faces (including cartoonists Aaron Renier, Laura Park, and Sarah Glidden) start to weave their way into the greater whole. I was also impressed with the way she handled some family issues that were taking place throughout this time period; there’s something both funny and sad about Wertz getting angry about not being allowed to talk to her brother in rehab and relieving the stress by binge drinking. Wertz herself sees the irony in it and comments on it, letting you as the reader in on the joke with her. She’s laughing at herself and giving you the nod to do so as well, but all the while it’s those sorts of scenes that will stick the most with you after reading Drinking at the Movies.

The art in Drinking at the Movies is stripped down but still expressive; in just a few lines Wertz is able to have her comic book alter ego deliver a withering glance, look lost and confused, or even just in a zen sort of peace. Her pages generally stick to either 6- or 9-panel grids and often have no backgrounds, but don’t let its simple overall look trick you. There’s still a strong pace from one panel to the next (Wertz really is the master of delivering a joke) and I never felt like the art needed more details added to it. Wertz’s simple style serves to deliver her monologues, and it’s effective at its job.

If I had to narrow down what I liked about Drinking at the Movies to a single item, it would probably be how Wertz is the first to make fun of herself. Self-depreciating humor can get old quickly, but with Wertz it never gets to that point. As she points out her own flaws and stupid decisions, she invites you into her world and lets you hang out. Reading Drinking at the Movies makes you feel like you personally know Wertz and have been friends for ages. It’s fun hanging out with Wertz, even if it is in a creepy apartment or a particularly loud bar. Whenever Wertz wants to invite us back in for another visit, I’m ready and waiting.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

1 comment to Drinking at the Movies

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