My New Relationship
I should begin with a few qualifying points.
First, Julie Doucet’s work has long been a favorite of mine, since my high school days when I happened upon a copy of the first Twisted Sisters book (now woefully out of print). Second, I studied German (also while in high school) and had the amazing luck to be in Berlin only months after the Wall fell. Third, I must say that I am generally convinced—judging from past work I’ve seen—that Drawn & Quarterly can do no wrong. This book at hand is a small hardcover book, and deceptively simple on the outside. In fact, the only issue I really have with Julie Doucet’s work is only tangentially related: people keep referring to her as either a female R. Crumb or a female Peter Bagge. She is neither, and, personally, I find her work far, far more accessible than those other two.
So, it should come as no surprise that I really enjoyed Long Time Relationship, even though it is not your typical Doucet. The style, of course, is much like her other books, where her characters have heads out of proportion with their bodies. But the work in Long Time Relationship—the title, I think, coming from her ongoing relationship with a Montreal printmaking studio called Atelier Graff—is stunning.
But let me explain why.
Relationship is, in many ways, as much an art book as a comic book. I do not mean that to imply that comics are not art—believe me, I know they can be art. However, Relationship borrows from fine arts traditions, maybe due to Doucet’s own work with new media. Some of the pieces in this book are reproductions of linocuts and woodcuts, while others are silkscreened, and still others are brushwork right onto the page without pencilling. In short, much of Relationship is experimental for Doucet. Historically, woodcuts have been used in graphic novels for decades (Franz Masereel, Lynd Ward, and others), but Doucet’s work is usually inked. (She at times draws herself working on, such as in My New York Diary, which won the 2000 Firecracker award.)
And there’s the concept to Relationship. The book is divided into different sections: “Men of Our Times” (drawn in Berlin and Montreal, and then published in France), “Das Herz”, “Long Time Relationship”, “Sophie Punt Number One”, “Sophie Punt Number Two”, “Sophie Punt Number 34”, and “Lost and Found Photos” (which are themselves divided into two parts: photos Doucet found in the trash at the Tiergarten and automatic photo-booth photos). “S.P. 34” was actually published before “S.P. Two”, because, as Doucet explains in her end-notes, “I already had announced the astrology special as ‘S.P. Two’ in ‘S.P. One’, but felt like doing the fortune cookie book first. That’s why no. 34 came before ‘Two’. I was 34 at the time, that’s why it’s number 34.” The woodcuts are breathtaking and a fabulous way to end the book, especially with Doucet’s self-portrait the last in the collection.
Though I find myself least fond of the “Sophie Punt” material—admittedly, however, what she does with fortune cookie fortunes is rather clever—each section has its own charm. “Men of Our Times” takes on gender with 20 drawings of men (and six of discouraged girls that includes one of Doucet). Most of these drawings include witty quips jotted down by Doucet next to the drawing, and she deftly deals with the Toronto Three: Seth, Joe Matt, and Chester Brown, who all also publish through Drawn & Quarterly. Though they are not listed by name, it is easy to figure out who is who, especially when one drawing is labeled “dandy of the old fart look” and another reads, in part, “sex maniac. masturbatory capacities: 20 times a day (he tried).” Weirdly, this section ends with a drawing showing a muscular, hairy grandfather in a Speedo, and most of the women in the following ladies section are either partially naked and/or weeping.
“Das Herz” (the heart) is a series of 14 images in which Doucet draws characters and identifies things on them in German. Done to teach herself German, this series was not intended for publication even though it ended up being exhibited in two museums and printed in an issue of Strapazin. What I find most charming is that they are in color. As someone who can stumble through German, I especially appreciate the quirks and changes in the language (represented in red). Doucet does two pieces on the female and the male body, both naked and surrounded by vocabulary words. Another is on Der Mann meiner Traume (the man of my dreams) who is “not so young” and taller than 5 foot 6. Doucet writes, “keine Haare auf der Brust, bitte!” which makes little sense if you do not know German (no hair on the chest, please), but with the illustration, one can easily decipher from context.
Plus, some German words are easy—der Schuh sounds sort of like the English counterpart: the shoe. Others in the series . . . well, I have no idea (ich habe keine Ahnung) why Doucet included a whole drawing for das Arschloch (you can look that one up on your own) showing a couple, from an angle I would not have otherwise expected, having sex. And, again weirdly, the series ends with a drawing of poor Andy, who has had an accident in which his right arm was broken and his left was amputated!
But of all the material in the book, I enjoyed “Long Time Relationship” most. In this series, Doucet includes actual personal ads trimmed out of the Village Voice and creates images of what she thinks those ad-placers might look like. All of the men end up looking completely bizarre and occasionally psychotic, which is not to say the women are let off the hook either. One ad reads—no joke—“Wild Black Freaky F (30s) WAITING 4 U,” and Doucet’s drawing shows a rail-thin woman with skull earrings, long red nails, and a smiley-face tank top grinning hugely.
Another shows a woman in S/M gear holding a flyswatter in one hand and a hammer in the other. These color reproductions are lively and rank among Doucet’s best work. They might not be comics, exactly—in quite the way we know them - but they do combine word and image in a most effective way. Overall, Long Time Relationship is a brilliant, colorful, vivid collection packed with fascinating visuals that do not fully represent Doucet’s past work. But, if this book shows the direction Julie Doucet is moving in as an artist, I eagerly anticipate what comes next.