I love Julie Doucet’s comix.
I have loved them ever since I was a teenager and laid my lucky hands upon a copy of Diane Noomin’s anthology Twisted Sisters: A Collection of Bad Girl Art. That book (now woefully out of print) included five of Doucet’s varied stories: a necklace made of teeth, a runaway conscience, a woman with a 140 degree body temperature, and a “stupid dream” about buying a bra, and tamponlessness. Doucet tells stories in such a unique way and her panels are so packed with images that I find myself reading slowly, savoring, going back and reading over again.
Doucet’s work is not for the faint of heart. For starters, there can be language issues; French, English, and sometimes German. She moved from Montreal to New York City to Seattle to Berlin and eventually back to Montreal over the course of a few years. And, like others from the Drawn and Quarterly publishing house most notably Joe Matt, but also Chester Brown she does not shy away from the strange, the grotesque, the self-scathing . . . or the bodily. More often than not, she manages to mix them all up into one frightening, surreal, fabulous sequence. For example, the title character in her comic, Dirty Plotte (“plotte,” incidentally, being Quebecoise slang for “c*nt”), named Julie, has a love affair with a bottle of beer. Of course, it explodes in a spray of foam, chases her seemingly slutty but kind-hearted conscience through the streets, and pleases itself among other things.
Her first collection, Leve ta Jambe, Mon Poisson est Mort! (translated: Lift Your Leg, My Fish is Dead!) published in 1993, is a collection of her early work. Star Trek‘s Kirk and Spock reappear, “possessing” whatever poor planet they’ve stumbled onto (often by peeing on it), as do gender issues throughout the book from penises who want to see what a tampon tastes like to Doucet’s explanation of precisely what “plotte” means. This book, her earliest, is recognizable as such mostly because one can still easily see Montreal’s influence on Doucet as her words are endearing frenzy of both English and French. English can be a miserable language to learn all strange tense shifts and plurals masquerading as singulars. Doucet’s voice is so present in her books, from the cursing (sometimes English, sometimes French) to the tiny nuances of elusive English grammar impossible to master, that the reader can easily imagine not just the words but the character giving them voice. Her second book, 1995’s My Most Secret Desire: A Collection of Dream Stories continues in a similar vein. Sex change operations, variations on “If I Were A Man,” babies (which all turn out to be cats), epilepsy, and a beautifully colored sequence in which Julie has a recurring school nightmare. By this book, Doucet’s panels were even more crammed with detail, but her pacing’s so much stronger. The early strips were often jammed together, leaving it difficult to know where one ends and the next begins.
Four years later remember, lots of moving Doucet’s My New York Diary (winner of the 2000 Firecracker Alternative Book Award and nominated for a Harvey Award) details her life in New York City. It is the tumultuous story of her move to Washington Heights in 1991 and her move away from the apartment (as well as the city) within the following year. Two other stories are included in the collection, but it is the detail of Doucet’s daily life that catches the reader. Over this course of her year, readers peek at her life as she suffers through dealing with illness, a boyfriend who seems well enough at the beginning of the relationship (even though the well-trained reader ought to be suspicious from the start), and the demands of her art career’s increasing pace. We also begin to see characters who are not Julie, from comix cameos (like Charles Burns, Leslie Sternbergh, and Art Spiegelman) to the aforementioned boyfriend to some very lively college housemates.
Now her current book, The Madame Paul Affair, details forty mini-strips from college where Julie and her boyfriend Andre (who Madame Paul, the vanishing landlady, dubs DeDe) deal with the never-ending array of odd characters in their apartment building. The man across the way just got out of jail and smashes his kitchen to bits one night. An upstairs neighbor sticks his head in the oven and is saved by Julie calling the cops only because the suicidal neighbor’s roommate had brought his television set down for Julie to look after (in case something happened). Julie and her friend Sophie discover a bed and lamp set up in the basement. Some fistfights and a bottle of absinthe later, all is explained . . . sort of. Like Doucet’s other books it is charming, witty, horrifying, scathing, and brilliant. I would not, however, suggest reading all of Doucet’s books in a single sitting. They are slow reads, so that one can go through and look for all the detail, all the ways in which language plays a part in the comix. In addition, I find that one book alone is exhausting, visually, to read, but is always worth it by the end.