French Canadian graphic novelist Julie Doucet is best known for her series “Dirty Plotte”, which was published by noted comics press Drawn and Quarterly (Seth, Chester Brown, etc) in the early 90’s. Doucet is a visual artist as well, and has transitioned from graphic novels and long-form comics into creating art in this medium exclusively. I found Doucet’s graphic novel “My New York Diary” to be unique in the medium of confessional autobiographical graphic novels, in that she has a capacity to be extremely transparent while laughing at herself and the world around her. This is not a person that takes herself “too seriously”, while still working with very serious subject matter. The short interview with Doucet was somewhat hampered by a language barrier (her first language is French, which I do not speak and cannot translate). I also found Doucet to be completely devoid of ego or attachment to the idea, image or “pay-off” regarding her position in the world of graphic novelists, and not a little… grumpy, in an apologetic sort of way. It became very clear that this (identity as graphic novelist) is not a defining characteristic of her personality, and that she has “moved on” to the next phase of her artistry. Information concerning Doucet’s new work can be found at: http://www.juliedoucet.net/
PH Julie, first of all I must say that your writing and artwork in Dirty Plotte and My New York Diary has some of the most revealing and transparent biographical writing I have seen in graphic novels. How did you come to be so comfortable with self-revelation?
JD That’s what people tell me all the time…it is not as transparent as you would think. I use only the one aspect of the event/story I am comfortable with. I do have my limits! I suppose working all by yourself at home you and pen and paper only you get very intimate and forget about the possibility of having somebody reading you. I never could imagine when I started drawing comics that I would one day be published. In 1988 it was unthinkable…
PH I know you are not doing graphic novels or long-form comics now. One of the things I am interested to talk with artists in this interview series about is the consideration of business and its balance with the artist’s artistic inclinations. Which has contributed more to you ceasing writing comics, business, or artistic considerations, or possible a combination of both?
JD The main reason I quit was the lack of open mindedness in the comics crowd and business. When you draw comics you are expected to do the same thing, have your comics series and stick to it, especially when it’s successful. To me it’s nonsense. How come in Visual Arts you are expected to try all sorts of different mediums? That sounds normal to me, it’s healthy. I felt stuck. I was also tired of the all-boy crowd…I was very comfortable with it at the beginning, but…I didn’t expect much from the business part of it, so I was not frustrated with that then.
PH The term “Dirty Plotte” the name of your seminal graphic novel series, could have several connotations. What are they, and why did you chose this name for the series?
JD Dirty plotte means dirty cunt. There are no several connotations, it is pretty straight forward. You have to understand that dirty plotte started off as a photocopied fanzine, that it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously and I certainly didn’t think so many people would get to read it. Dirty plotte sounded funny…it just popped in my mind, there is nothing much else to it. I have never been an artist who intellectualizes her work, especially at that time. It was pure art instinct.
JD The story of my art production is words and pictures. Whatever I have done, words were always involved. Even when it’s text only, I wrote a lot of stories and poetry with cut-out words in magazines…there will always be a visual aspect to whatever words I use. My work now revolves more and more around words…I have started to make short animation films. They are mostly abstract, utilizing words.
PH There are many graphic novelists and cartoonists that would undoubtedly cut off their extremities to have been published by a respected press such as Drawn and Quarterly for so many years. Please, burst their bubble and explain why it was not as glamorous as they would think it would be.
JD Well I don’t know what to say. I am very out of touch, now. It’s not like d&q is a big bad publisher. It is a publisher. You will never make a lot of money out of comics, unless you are Dan Clowes…it is no more or no less difficult than the visual arts, I suppose. Glamorous, I don’t understand what you mean. What the hell can be glamorous about it??
PH Who do you read? Who are your favorite filmmakers, and why does their work resonate with you?
JD I have been reading a lot of Herman Melville, Alfred Döblin…old French 70’s Sci-Fi comics (Yoko Tsuno, liked it very much as a kid). I love Michael Haneke’s films, documentaries by Ulrich Seidl, old Michael Powell movies…lots of different things, I like a bit of everything.
PH You were published in R. Crumb’s Weirdo early in your career. What is your opinion of the impact of Crumb on modern cartooning?
JD I am not much of a comics thinker, I am afraid I don’t really care about things like that.
PH No artist likes to be one-hand-clapping if we will admit it. We all want the work to be at least recognized by all of those that could appreciate it. How important has it been to you over the years to be recognized for your work?
JD It sure is nice…I’ve had success pretty early on in my “career”, so I can’t imagine my world without that audience. I am very grateful to it all…I feel very lucky. But…I have never worked FOR the audience. I never took them into account in the sense that I never tried to please. Success for itself alone is not interesting.
PH What has been the single best thing about living the life of an artist?
JD To be able to leave whenever I feel like it, to go away on a trip, to get out of the city in the middle of the week.