Cartoonist Julia Wertz on Struggles with Alcoholism, "Impossible People"

Julia Wertz is a Brooklyn-based cartoonist who has been creating autobiographical comics and graphic novels for more than a decade. She started off with "The Fart Party," a comic strip about her life in San Francisco told through her signature character – a girl with a black bob and huge bug eyes. Wertz's career really took off though after she moved to Brooklyn, where she continued creating comics and put out two critically-acclaimed autobiographical graphic novels, Drinking at the Movies and The Infinite Wait and Other Stories. Both books give touching, funny, and introspective accounts of her life – including living with lupus, family drama, and the pains and joys of moving to a new place – in her witty, self-aware, self-deprecating, and totally likable voice. 

But at the height of her success and acclaim, Wertz was also struggling with depression and alcoholism. She went to rehab and tried to clean up, but found that the process was difficult, if not debilitating. She continued drawing comics, including a secret stash of comics about her alcoholism, which she mostly kept private, but also continued putting out works, including The Infinite Wait. And then she took a two-year long hiatus from drawing anything, and relearned how to live her life without a bottle in hand. 

Fortunately for the world, Wertz eventually decided to come back to comics! She's currently working on a new project – a book called Impossible People that will include those unpublished comics that she started back in 2010. (Psst! She's currently taking donations to help fund this project.) I'm really stoked that Julia is back and I reached out to her to ask her some questions about the project.

 Impossible People is a book about your history with alcoholism and its affect on your life. Why is the book called "Impossible People?" 

The title is more reflective of my character (which is me in real life during that time, of course) than people in general, even though it starts that way. At first I say it in a general sense, in regards to the difficulties I’ve had with family, friends, and relationships in the past, but it’s more indicative of my own cyclical, self-destructive behaviors, which for years felt impossible to change. 

From your blog, you explain that you started the project for Impossible People back in 2010 and 2011 – you drew more than 200 pages, but you kinda kept them secret. What was driving you to create this comic? Did you think you'd probably share it one day but you weren't ready for it at the time? Or was it just something you had to do, without really knowing why or what would happen to it? 

I started working on it then because it was the natural progression of how I’d been working on comics previously. I was aiming for a linear release of stories, all of which I’d made as they were happening. That meant documenting things from one day to a month after it happened. So I did the first part of this book as it was happening, but I realized it was really unhealthy and I needed to step away from the project in order to focus on real life. When real life mixes with your work, it can sometimes create an unhealthy, symbiotic relationship where the lines get blurred. I needed my complete attention on real life. So I put it aside and worked on a project unrelated to current times, which turned into The Infinite Wait & Other Stories.

In 2012 (is that right?) you took an unexpected two year break from making comics, unrelated to drinking or depression. What was the breaking point that forced you to stop, and what brought you back?

Yup, 2012 is right! Good paying attention. I never meant to take a long break, I hadn’t planned it at all. I finished The Infinite Wait in the summer of 2012, and then thought I’d take a week or two off of drawing, maybe take a trip and go explore some abandoned places upstate, which I was into as an infrequent hobby. And then I just didn’t go back to drawing. I worked a number of freelance jobs and was able to keep paying rent that way, but the months kept passing and I had no idea when I’d go back. I told myself I’d only go back if I felt like I really wanted to. I spent those two years doing a lot of urban exploring (stuff you can see a bit of on and photography and writing. I really threw myself into that hobby, I went into debt because of it, but I don’t regret it – those two years were really fun and I got a lot of insane stories from it. And then sometime in August of 2014, I randomly felt like drawing again, so I did, and then I remembered how much I love it and what a huge role it plays in my life, and I went back full time. I got an long term illustration gig and started working on Impossible People. It feels great to be back, but the urban exploring has taken a backseat because of it, I need to figure out how to balance the two, but man, it was a long, cold winter, so comics took up all my attention since I can do it inside where it’s warm.

You share a lot of your comics for free and online. Why is this important to you? 

I share a lot of work for free for two reasons: First, it’s just good business. It allows readers to keep up with you between books, and it introduces your work to people who might otherwise never see it if they never pick up the book. Second, I completely understand not being able to afford buying books, and I want a good chunk of my work to be accessible for those who can’t. A good chunk of my readers are the age I was in my previous books (my 20s) and that’s a chaotic time in life for many people, as it was for me. I was moving a lot, constantly broke, etc… and I want to remember how that felt, and to keep in touch with my audience. Just printing a book and having nothing visible otherwise is an isolating experience, I want my work to be accessible.