Review: The Infinite Wait by Julia Wertz: bio, booze and books

The Infinite Wait by Julia Wertz

Koyama Press

waitcover

I have a complicated and knotty relationship with auto-bio comics, beset by apprehension and cynicism. There’s no doubt the genre produces some interesting material- Art Spiegelman, Seth, Robert Crumb, to name but a few, but more recently I’ve found a lot of it to be, quite frankly, boring. The popular sad-boy view where nothing much happens, the narrator questions his existence in a supposedly deep and meaningful manner, where banal routine events and turns are things into which the reader is expected to imbue STUFF.

It’s a viewpoint I’m much fatigued of, and one that I’ve observed to be pretty prevalent in male creators who go the introspective self-analysis route- there’s an emphasis on the seriousness of it all, perhaps because men are traditionally not expected to be tapped in to their emotions and feelings, so when they explore that plateau  there’s a need to present them in a valid way. Women, on the other hand, as we all know, are hysterical, wild, emotional wrecks, giving them -rather ironically- a greater freedom of expression and approach.

The boring, uneventful auto-bio comic reminds me of the trend (at least here in the UK) of ‘celebrity’ memoirs by pop stars/sports wonder kid foetuses- a 250 page book ‘written’ by a  17 year old on his experiences of kicking a ball around. Most of us, whilst happy with our lives, recognise that quite naturally, it’s of most interest to ourselves. Many creators recognise this too. So to overcome the boringness, there’s the incorporation of fictional elements and exaggeration for greater dramatic and humorous effect. That mediation can imbalance the text. Thus the auto-bio comic becomes a strange mixture of truth and fiction, leading to a remove, a dilution of essence, a loss of the honesty in the work. Not truth, necessarily  but honesty.

infinite3 Truth is a concept I’m incredibly wary of, referring as it does to an actuality or universal consensus. What I do expect from auto-bio work is some form of honesty, which, as a more subjective notion, is trickier.  My criticism isn’t that often auto-bio comics don’t ring true, but that they seem to lack any kind of honesty. That’s not an accusation that you can level at Julia Wertz.

Whilst the ideals of truth and honesty are upheld as values to which we should all aspire, in actuality people are comfortable only with a certain level of honesty, which when surpassed becomes embarrassing and even impolite. Conversely, we’re pleased when we think we’ve been honest with ourselves, usually because it’s the facing or acknowledging of something unflattering, unattractive or negative. This small act of pseudo acceptance is enough to makes us feel inordinately pleased, giving a sense of superficial achievement that is deceptive in itself.

We are all, I think, prone or able to dissect other people in a scathing and thorough fashion, but find it difficult to reconcile truths about ourselves.This where Julia Wertz comes in. With an internal gaze that’s unflinching and unforgiving, Wertz  blows all comers out of the water. Her honesty is searing, caustic, strengthening and yet not without fear. Her truths are coated in an equally zingy humour, a cloak that makes them less scary and more manageable. Wertz’s honesty is the ultimate defense mechanism, you cant criticize her or say shit about her, because she’s going to get in there first and do it better than you.

infinite1 There’s a lot of material in The Infinite Wait, enough to easily make 3 separate books; a point Wertz muses briefly on, but hey you get 226 pages of fantastic comicking so who’s complaining? Wait comprises of 3 stories, one which deals with Wertz’s lupus, one with her drinking and a short and lovely ode to libraries and books to close out.

Wertz’s documenting of her relationship with drink is portrayed terrifically. It’s a story of her life, of which drinking is a part. There’s no sympathy-baiting scene after scene  ‘hey life crapped on me repeatedly which led me to become an alcoholic’ or repeated expositionary incidents of her staggering around caterwauling the streets at night, but instead she simply shows us her life and in between you get hints of a problem developing. Wertz too recognises it pretty early, but continues to drink anyway. Sometimes she doesn’t see it as much of a problem, sometimes she thinks she can handle it, sometimes she feels like the lowest of low.  The combination of as yet undiagnosed lupus and lack of direction and purpose do little to help.

Wertz appears to be a chronic hard-worker, needing to be in employment, needing to be doing something, needing to be tired at the end of the day with the blank, thoughtless release that provides. The party line is that acceptance of a problem is the first step to overcoming it, but Wertz accepts and acknowledges her problem with alcohol early on- and in Wertz-like fashion it’s a deflection, a covering of sorts- like saying ‘I know I’m a bitch, but I genuinely think…,’ while the first statement implies insight, the second cancels it out in a way. It’s not easy reading by any means; it’s relentless and  the pain lupus leaves her in is palpable, but it’s genuinely rewarding and entertaining. It’s funny and engaging, cringe-worthy and embarrassing, relate-able and interesting, painful to the point of self-flagellation, and very, very honest.

infinite4 A quick and final mention for the library/books story that closes out the book, all the more surprising for it’s change of subject and tone, and also because it’s not what you expect after having been emotionally tumble dried for the past hour or so. If you have been a child of libraries and books, you will read this with a warm familiarity and love, the recognition of vast, wonderful worlds encased within unassuming pages of paper- that feeling of anticipation and discovery is conveyed beautifully here. I would encourage you to buy The Infinite Wait, it’s a book that is so much, and does so much, and one that I believe will manage to surprise you even after having read a 1000 word review on it.

Comments

  1. The Beat says:

    A huge fan of Wertz and I loved this book. Interesting thought on autobio comics, a much maligned and yet inarguably great comics genre, as well.

  2. Keith says:

    Thanks for the review. I didn’t even realize Wertz had a new book out. I immediately bought this.

  3. Zainab Akhtar says:

    Yep, I’m a big fan. I think another(!) thing that bothers me with auto-bio comics -and this may be just my experiences- is that it seems to have become the genre of choice for indie/small press creators, and with diary comics, the net it’s all a bit ubiquitous. I don’t think it helps the image of indies as arty, cliquey and a little self-absorbed. I would love to see more imaginative and ‘original’ work- world building, great characters, story- weaving. People like Wertz are incredible though, she manages to blow away all cobwebs.

  4. RDaggle says:

    “Interesting thought on autobio comics, a much maligned and yet inarguably great comics genre”

    Huh. I thought that, in fact, this was exactly the point the reviewer was arguing.

    A bare handful of great works doesn’t constitute a genre, let alone a great genre.

  5. Chris Hero says:

    @Zainab Akhtar

    “I think another(!) thing that bothers me with auto-bio comics -and this may be just my experiences- is that it seems to have become the genre of choice for indie/small press creators, and with diary comics, the net it’s all a bit ubiquitous.”

    Hmmm…I have no idea what indie/small press comics you’re reading, and try as I might I can’t read the entire field, but with the exception of Eddie Campbell’s books, I can’t think of an autobio indie/small press book I’ve read in years…unless you count Sammy the Mouse or that How I Made it to Eighteen, but that’s by a woman and not what you were talking about.

    I just bought a pile of mini-comics this past weekend and they’re all sci-fi or goofy stories about ridiculous characters. I’m not questioning your assertion, it’s just I haven’t come across much autobio indie/small press stuff in years.

    Maybe my library of books by women creators is just too small? I’ve been trying to grow it, but all my favorite women creators do either stuff almost exclusively for the web or mini-comics.

    But yeah, I’d be interested to know what books you’re reading that make you feel like it’s the genre of choice, because I honestly thought that genre just about died out.

  6. Zainab Akhtar says:

    Hey Chris:

    Here’s some by female creators of the top of my head(not sure whether you wanted both men and women, couldn’t make it out from your post). Most of these are excellent:

    Flocks by L Nichols
    Sunday in the Park with Boys by Jane Mai
    Single, The Monkey in the Basement (and other minis) by Corrine Mucha
    Please God! Find Me A Husband by Simone Lia
    Radiator Days (and other books) by Lucy Knisley
    Gray is not a Colour by Sally Madden
    But I Really Wanted to be an Anthropologist by Margaux Motin
    Dotter of her Father’s Eyes (mixture of auto-bio and bio of historical figure) by Mary Talbot
    Persepolis, of course, by Marjane Satrapi etc etc

    Best,

    Z

  7. Chris Hero says:

    Ooh! Good list! Jane Mai is one of my absolute favorite cartoonists! I’ll look into the rest. I have a bunch of minis by various talented women, but I don’t know how many of them are still making comics. Like the funniest comics I’ve ever read were by a woman named Lauren Burnett. I haven’t come across a comic from her in a while, which is a real shame.

    My question was more what are all these autobiographical books you’re reading that make you feel like it’s the genre of choice? Because, honestly, that genre appears near dead to me with the exceprion of a few women cartoonists. But honestly, I could read autobiographical stuff from women all day because they’re better. Women seem to focus more on the emotional connection between people and I like that. Like, they mine the humor out of human interactions much better than men do. I dunno…I could probably word that better.

  8. Chris Hero says:

    BTW – I forgot to tell you this article was awesome! Please review more stuff! You’re really good at it!

  9. Zainab Akhtar says:

    Hey Chris,

    Sorry it’s taken so long to reply- I’ve been swamped with uni work. As for autobio being the genre of choice, I’m referring to indie comics here. Apart from that list of fine creators in my previous post, I suppose I’m referring to diary comics (and collections) which I put under that category. Too many to list but people like Gabrielle Bell, Marc Ellerby, Adam Cadwell, JP Coovert, Jeffrey Brown, Dustin Harbin, James Kochalka and so on. Or perhaps somehow I just end up reading a lot of it…!

  10. Zainab Akhtar says:

    And thank you for the kind words :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Posted on Mar 1, 2013 in News The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz (9780987963024 | September 2012 | $15.00 | Trade Paper) has been reviewed by The Comics Beat. “With an internal gaze that’s unflinching and unforgiving, Wertz  blows all comers out of the water. Her honesty is searing, caustic, strengthening and yet not without fear. Her truths are coated in an equally zingy humour, a cloak that makes them less scary and more manageable.” – Zainab Akhtar, February 19, 2013. http://comicsbeat.com/review-the-infinite-wait-by-julia-wertz/ [...]

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