(Spoiler Alert: And The Mountains Echoed Next Week!)
A couple weeks ago, I mentioned my trip to the awesome Fantagraphics flagship store in Seattle and the cool dudes I went there with. While I left with the nightmarish The Furry Trap, one of my friends took home Julia Wertz’s The Infinite Wait And Other Stories on the manager’s recommendation. He had told me how much he enjoyed them while we watched the Trail Blazers sneak a win over the Rockets, and was generous to burst into my office and leave it along with Swamp Thing Vol. 3 for some light weekend reading (still haven’t gotten to ole’ Swampy).
I wasn’t clear on what to expect with Wertz’s long-form comic stories, which mostly revolve around
her battle with lupus in her early 20’s, and her blossoming comic career that she says started as a result of the time she spent nearly bedridden during the early phases of her treatment. Having read plenty of autobiographical comics, Ariel Schrag’s Likewise series and Harvey Kurtzman’s American Splendor for starters, I had my expectations pretty low for how this book would compare, and a quick skim left me unimpressed with Wertz’s drawings. However, last Thursday I started reading the first story in the collection, “Industry,” while procrastinating an assignment and found myself hooked by Wertz’s humorous narration that follows her early entrepreneurial years that leads into her long tie with restaurant work. From these early pages, it became evident that despite a lack of detail in her character designs, Wertz was able to convey more emotion with a set of eyebrows than some Big Two artists can with entire bodies even with the added physiologically impossible muscles.
Wertz does a masterful job maintaining a tone throughout her three stories that is cynical, but rarely dour or unlikable. Even in scenes where she is clearly in the wrong, such as when she shoplifts from what she considers the morally off-limits library or when she treats others in a manner that couldn’t be construed as anything other than thoughtless, we’re still rooting for her when she gets too stoned to find the exit at a mall.
Joined with a great supporting cast built up from Wertz’s family, cartoonist and childhood friends, Wertz is also portrays some of the strong and complicated bonds she develops in her early adulthood. Her relationship with her older brother as depicted in the titular story, during her time living in San Francisco, proves touching wholly because Wertz never veers into sentimentality or rests on any clichéd situations that a book concerning a person’s struggle with a chronic disease can often have. At a moment during one of their conversations, her brother attempts an earnest consoling conversation with her that Wertz brings to a halt, saving herself and the reader the trouble of going through a conversation that’s more melodramatic than we’d all like to see in a book with this much humor. The details of their relationship such as their propensity to reply with “No. False” whenever the other says something even slightly absurd, or their game that requires the other to spontaneously dance tell us more than any ‘I love you’ can about how much these two value each other’s company.
I was also surprised to see how insightful this book was about a period in recent comics history when independent comic books started gaining mainstream attention. While Wertz doesn’t spend much time going through her creative processes, other than to say that there was lots of masturbation and drinking interspersed between drawing session, I appreciated seeing the surprise and trepidation with which her and her New York City-based cartoonist friends treated their successes. Even though it still might be too close, I’d be interested to see an article that tracks the indie comic bubble, which seems to have burst only a few years ago, but it might be arguable that comics are only now seeing their heyday.
While I’d be remiss to not talk about how Wertz depicts her struggle with lupus and alcoholism at different periods of her life, I feel that to talk about either would do a disservice to Wertz’s ability to candidly illustrate both and keep the stories’ momentum going. My main issue with the book is the sometimes distracting author’s notes that constantly refer to her other publications, but I’d be lying if it didn’t make me add Drinking At The Movies and Fart Party Vol 1 and 2 to my wish list.
Read this book if you are into laughing and throwback Arrested Development references. Do not read this book if you struggle with alcoholism and get the hankering for a drink even by just a cartoon illustration of one.