hobart logo
I'm an Asshole and My Life is Retarded: an interview with Julia Wertz by Elizabeth Ellen and her daughter, Andie V. photo


Julia Wertz's first two books are called Fart Party, a great, attention-grabbing title. I remember grabbing the book off the shelf at the comic bookstore, poking my boyfriend and laughing mischievously while pointing at the book. I went home and read the entire thing in one sitting, and then started recommending it to everyone around me (namely, said boyfriend and my daughter).

* * *

How old were you when you started drawing comics? 

I was 20 when I started drawing comics. I was a late bloomer. But I’d always been into drawing and used to draw the same thing over and over obsessively as a kid, which maybe is why I can draw the same character over and over. For a year in second grade, I drew nothing but hot air balloons. 

What were you like in high school? 

Depends on what years we’re talking about. Freshman and the first half of sophomore year, I was just a shy nerd who really wanted to be cool. But then I got a car and started drinking and smoking weed, and everything changed almost overnight. I did the classic teen thing where I reinvented myself after I figured out that the cool kids actually sucked. I cut a lot of class but generally stayed out of trouble. I was so disinterested in high school that by senior year, I’d figured out how to cheat the system and only be on campus for two classes, and I barely attended even those. But I wasn’t really out doing anything all that cool, I’d either go hiking and smoke weed and listen to Guns N‘ Roses, or more often I’d just go home and read in my room. Most of my friends were older than me or at other high schools. I’d be surprised if anyone from my graduating class really even remembered me. 

What would your fifteen-year-old self think of you now? 

I’d probably think I was pretty fucking awesome, since I’ve pretty much achieved the (loose) idea of a dream future that I had at that age. Comics and New York weren’t involved in that dream, but I definitely always wanted to be a professional writer or artist of some sort, and I’ve done that.  

Did you excel in English or art when you were in high school? 

English, for sure. I only dabbled with art in high school but I always loved my English and journalism classes. I always got A’s in them, but my writing style was pretty embarrassing. Really flowery and angst. I was tediously loquacious in my writing style. Comics has helped edit that down. 

Do you have anything to say to your high school teachers? Were they for the most supportive or assholes? 

I’m actually still friends with one of my high school teachers who taught English and journalism. I send her my books and she’s really supportive. I didn’t have much ambition in high school though so there wasn’t much for my teachers to be supportive of back then. I only had a few asshole teachers, one gym teacher who made me do pushups for being a loud mouth and one math teacher who always tried to look down my shirt at my (nonexistent) boobs. Gross. 


Since your comics are so personal, do you ever struggle with what to put in or leave out?  

I usually just err on the side of leaving things out. I don’t disclose a lot of what I’m up to in real life. It seems like I’m telling all, because I put embarrassing stuff in there, but there’s a lot that goes untold between the lines. I do comics to entertain myself and others, not every part of my life needs to be on paper to tell a good story. Here, I’ll give you an example: I’m working on this comic about when I tried dating for about a minute last year right after I got out of rehab (also known as the WORST time to try dating ever because I was totally out of my mind) and I’m writing all about this one guy I kinda dated who was really great, actually, but I was a disaster so I called it off. But what I don’t write about in those pages is that at that time, I started sleeping with a girl. It’s just this weird thing I did and distracts from the overall story, so I’m leaving it out. I hope my mom isn’t reading this. 

Does your family ever request that you leave stuff out? What about boyfriends/girlfriends? 

I have a pretty good sense of what I can and can’t write about in the comics. And if I ever wonder, I always check with family first. Unless it’s about my dad. He hates my work and is very vocal about it, so I don’t really give a shit about getting his approval first. But before I post or print a comic with family or friends it in, I always run it by them and ask their permission first. Relationships with friends and family is way more important that getting’ a laugh. 

Do people talk shit because you use “offensive” language like “retarded”? 

Yeah, my use of the word retarded upsets a lot of people on the Internet. There are just certain words that I grew up with and are hard to shake. We always used to say that things were retarded or gay, and I totally understand why those are offensive, so I try not to use them, but I certainly have used them in the past. But I think it’s silly when people get offended. They should just realize it was poor taste and move on. 

Do you listen to music when you work? If so, what? 

I rarely listen to music while I work, but if I do, I tend to play quieter stuff like Okkervill River and Cat Power. You know, girl stuff. I mostly listen to podcasts while I draw though. My two favorites are WTF w/Marc Maron and the Ink Panthers w/Mike Dawson and Alex Robinson. Then I listen to a smattering of podcasts from How Stuff Works and other comedy shows. 

Do you blaze? Do you smoke weed when you work? Are you pissed that you moved from Cali right when they're making weed legal? 

Blaze... haha that’s not what we said when I was in high school. And no, I don’t. I smoked a lot when I was a teenager but after age 20, smoking weed wasn’t fun anymore. It just made me lethargic, unmotivated and stupid. I’m all for legalization though, it’s insane to prosecute weed the same as other drugs and I fully support it for medicinal use as well. I’d rather live in a world where everyone was high on weed rather than everyone being out of control drunk or high on coke. Cokeheads are the worst. 


What's your favorite part about living in New York? 

Taking long walks across bridges into other boroughs. Every street in New York is different than the one before it, and there is a lot of old, preserved architecture that is amazing. I’m really into the history of the cities I live in, and New York is endlessly fascinating in that sense. When I lived in San Francisco, I studied its history a lot and eventually felt like I knew most of it, but I will never come close to knowing everything about New York because every neighborhood is a mini city with an intricate history. Also the people here are bat shit crazy and fun to watch. 

Do you date other cartoonists? (And do you like the term “cartoonist”? Does the term make it hard to be taken seriously/respected as an artist and/or date due to the fact that most people watch “cartoons” as children and therefore have a kneejerk response to chuckle when someone describes themselves as such?) 

I don’t date, period. It’s not something I have the time, patience or interest in right now. I don’t have a problem with the word cartoonist, it’s how I describe myself. In fact I prefer it to, say, “graphic novelist” which sounds pretentious. And “writer” and “artist” are too common. Comics are still a vastly misunderstood medium so people are usually intrigued when I say I’m a cartoonist, rather than the gratuitous eye rolling that usually precedes someone saying they’re a writer. Not that there is anything wrong with that, I consider myself a writer as well, but New York is lousy with wanna be writers so people usually say, “yeah, sure, what’s your day job?” but no one says that when I say I’m a cartoonist. They usually just want to know what that even means. Everyone who’s a cartoonist that I know is fine with the term cartoonist. There’s something almost old and romantic about it. 

Do comic book artists/“cartoonists” 'do it better'? ;)  

I wish I knew, alas, I don’t. My previous dalliances have not been with cartoonists. I abide by the rule that one ought not shit where they eat. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer/comic book artist? Did you/do you ever experiment with other forms of writing such as fiction? 

I didn’t even know it was a thing I could do until I was 20, but before that I always fancied myself a writer. But I always rambled and went off track in writing, and comics helped shape and edit that out. I’m working on a fictional kids book right now, so it’s definitely something I’m interested in. Fiction is harder though, it requires more imagination and development rather than just documenting, which is what I do in autobio comics. Maybe I just do autobio because I’m lazy. 

What do you think you'd be doing if you weren't a cartoonist? 

I have a couple of answers for this, depending on the situation. If I was still just me, and I couldn’t be a cartoonist, I would probably be a waitress since that’s the only job I’m suited for. But, if I was still me and I could work hard and learn to do something else, I always liked photo journalism. But if I could totally change who I was and everything about me, my ultimate fantasy would be to play cossette in Les Miserables. Yeah, that’s right, I’d be a fucking Broadway star. I realize how ludicrous that is, but all I want to do is sing and dance. Unfortunately I can’t do either of those things outside the confines of my own apartment. I’d also really love to be a speleologist, but I’m claustrophobic and a total pussy. 

When and how did your love affair with whiskey begin? Do you have a favorite label? 

I don’t drink at all anymore, but when I did, I drank Makers Mark and Jim Beam Rye. I didn’t get into whiskey until my early 20’s and it pretty much ruined me by the time I was 26. I used to make fun of people who couldn’t handle their booze, but eventually it turned out that I couldn’t handle it. Joke’s on me! 

Who's the bigger douchebag? Jeffery Brown or Paul Hornshmeier? Give examples. 

Oh man, those two are the least douchiest guys I know, they’re both so sweet! 

Did you ever consider moving to Chicago?  Was it because they wouldn't let you into their Chi posse that you moved to NYC instead? 

I briefly entertained the idea of moving to Chicago when I was unhappy with my recent move to New York about 4 years back. But I got over it pretty quick when I learned to love NY. I like living on the coasts, either east or west, and I start to feel crazy when I stay anywhere in the middle for a prolonged period of time. While I answer these questions, though, I’m on a plane to Chicago to visit my friends Laura Park, Aaron Renier and Nate Beaty. There are a lot of good people in Chicago, but I don’t think I’d last long before I went off my nut and went running to the coast. 

Circle One: 

As far as women in comics, I believe there are:

  • not enough
  • too many
  • I don't give a shit 

Don’t give a shit. There aren’t “women making comics,” there are just people making comics. 

Do you ever wish you had a colorist (ala Caroline from Caroline in the City) so you could have him pose as your boyfriend to get back at an ex who has moved on?  Would you consider adding color to your comics in the future specifically so you could have this option? 

Haha no, I would never. I don’t wish ill will on anyone I’ve dated in the past. But that’s a pretty intricate ruse, changing the whole aesthetic of my comic just for revenge. I might tuck that in my artistic pocket for a rainy day.

How do you think the title (Fart Party) helped you? Were there any downfalls? 

It has helped and hurt, and for the same reasons. Some people think the title is hilarious, and they read it even if they’re not normally a fan of autobio, and some people think it’s stupid and refuse to read it, only to find out they like it later because it’s not what they expected. I think it helped initially, but hinders me in the long run. I never meant for one stupid joke I made to become the moniker of my career. Part of me still thinks it’s hilarious that I pulled it off, but the other part of me realizes it’s fucking stupid. I’ve since changed the title of the comic, but I don’t regret once using it. It’s hilarious that I made a career out of something with “fart” in the title. It’s like I April Fooled the world. 


Did you grow up a fan of comics? Did you read them regularly? What were some of your favorites?  

As a kid, I absolutely loved the Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, Tin Tin and Garfield. I seriously loved Garfield, back in the days when he used to hang out with Nermal in the 80’s. And I read the newspaper comics daily. I remember finding a copy of Playboy when I was about 10 and being like “whaaaat? There are comics in here? And they’re DIRTY!” and I was totally scandalized. 

Does anyone ever compare you to Cathy? Do you cut them?

Yeah, but they’re probably right. I talk about food and my cat way too much. I embarrass myself! But I never, ever try on swimsuits and yell about it. 

What's some (general) advice you have about being chill?  

Guuuuys, I don’t know what that means! I feel like I’m 80, I don’t know what crazy lingo the kids are using today. Do you mean “chill” like “cool”? I don’t know, I’m not cool at all. Or do you mean chill like relaxed? I don’t know that either, I’m a neurotic mess.  Haha I failed this interview. 


image: Julia Wertz