Julie Doucet (Canada) – interview, Stripburger 58, December 2012
Mrs. Doucet will remember well this year thanks to a double homage to her work from Slovenian cultural institutions. Apart from having her first graphic novel My New York Diary translated into the Slovenian language, she’s a special guest and jury member at this year’s international animation film festival Animateka in Ljubljana as well. How come so much attention to her? Must be something about personal acquaintance and connections, but also because she’s an artist with many different talents. Although she’s into animation and other art forms now, she was also famous for her elaborate comics that she created in her own recognizable style and without a hint of shyness or decency. Then she said ‘adieu’ to the world of comics and ventured into other arts, but nonetheless left a huge impression on the international comics scene. It is too early to evaluate her eventual influence on the following generations of comics artists, but an artist that appears in Crumb’s Weirdo magazine right after a few self-published DIY zines cannot be taken lightly.
Julie has been annoyed by Ana and Bojan.
We saw on your homepage that you create both illustrations and poetry using the technique of collage, where words and images converge into ‘textual images’ and ‘imaged text’. This is still quite close to the world of comics. What kind of relation in your opinion exists between images and words in your creative context?
Words and images are the essence of my work. They both will be present, whatever the art form or technique I will use. This was not that clear when I was drawing comics, but with time and experience and experiments, it has become obvious. I’d say that words: narration is more important than pictures in my work – comics included, and is becoming increasingly more and more important. Quite close to the world of comics … I don’t think so. That’s what you want to see. I don’t feel it is. I am writing poetry, visual poetry made with cut-out words from magazines. All of what I’ve written since I quit comics is in poem form: short texts, full of imagery (but not lyrical at all), plays on words … the words I use in actual collages are not narrative at all.
For your collages you’re using the material taken from women’s magazines. Why do you find them so inspirational? You’re transforming stereotypical images from these magazines into witty and critical collages. With the change of context comes the change in meaning. What is your message here?
I started to use these old women’s magazine for this one writing project, which was my autobiography from 0 to 15 years old, all written with cut-out words. It makes 200 pages and is written sort of like poetry. I like these old magazines because there is a big variety of fonts in them. Not as much in modern ones, and very often in those the texts are in the middle of a photo, which is not good. Also for the vocabulary: the words you can find in a fridge advertisement from the beginning of the 60’s are exquisite. You can create very good poetic accidents with these and that’s what I was after. I guess the topics were close enough of what I wanted to say, childhood, young love … Picture-wise I guess I prefer the aesthetics of those days. I also use architecture magazines, hobby magazines … Pictures are easier to cut out for the same reason as for the words: there are too many words in the photos nowadays, it spoils it all. I don’t think there really is a deep message in my using women’s magazines … They are fun and easier to find. I am a very down to earth, practical person.
You stopped making comics (your fans presumably already know why, we’re not going to delve into this) and focused on linocuts, silkscreen printing, collage and other graphic arts. What’s responsible for this genre-hopping? Is it a disillusionment with the genre and medium, some kind of artist’s formation & development through different approaches, pure desire to experiment, financial viability/lucrativeness or something completely different? What do you think of a contemporary artist’s professional career development nowadays? Can’t a cartoonist remain a cartoonist, does he or she really need to do other things as well?
It is mostly the desire to experiment, to try different things, which I didn’t have time or energy to do when I was drawing comics. I wasn’t making tons of money out of comics, which means that I had to work all the time. It seems natural and obvious to try different art things when you come from the contemporary arts milieu, but for some reason not at all when you come from the comics crowd. You are met with quite a lot of unwillingness of understanding. Maybe disbelief is a better word. I used to say quitting comics is like being a priest who defrocks: it’s scandalous, it’s unforgivable. EVERYBODY would tell me “You’re going to come back to it”. Well … 12 years later … here I am, not drawing comics. I have to admit I was tired of the comics crowd. I didn’t feel comfortable in this male environment anymore. I used to be, of course, but I needed to move to something else in general. It certainly wasn’t a financial decision! I have been since then in the (local) contemporary arts field, but more as a satellite, I don’t feel a part of it. I am not sure how it is elsewhere but here in Québec the artists have become very much like entrepreneurs, very business-like, into promoting themselves through texts about their own creative reasoning. An awful lot of them have a masters degree in fine arts. It is the norm, now. It seems like you have to have one to get anywhere, or so they think. A friend of mine, who’s also a satellite but in her case coming from the music field, says they are domesticated. I think it describes it well. It’s not for me, really. I do my things, see what happens. What happens is more often a book.
You went to a Catholic high-school for girls which is not the most obvious background for a rather controversial artist. You’re saying in your biography that it was only in college that you started reading and doing comics. What have you been reading back then, then? What are the artists that have influenced and inspired you the most? I can’t imagine much thought and inspiration inducing literature in a library of such a school, but we know that Christian religious press made heavy use of comics to spread its teachings and convey their message. Since you went straight from there to printing arts, you must’ve at least known about the comics medium. Are we wrong?
You are not wrong. I started to read comics as a child. Strange but true: my mom was the one who was bringing comics at home. She loved Tintin, Astérix and Lucky Luke. She was also buying Pilote magazine, which had more adult content. They published Bilal, Moebius, Druillet and many more. So quite young I was exposed to the strangest comics authors. I was also reading a lot of literature, just like my mom. I would go to the public library with her every week … I have to say my main influence as an artist is this French woman writer Christiane Rochefort. I read her for the first time at 12. It was the very first time I felt I could totally identify with a female character. Rochefort wrote with a very sharp sense of humour, she was so angry, but in a constructive and positive way. Anybody, anything goes in her books. So much freedom … I never stopped reading comics, though. Eventually I discovered the French cartoonist F’murr, who is definitely the one who inspired me to draw comics, who made me think I could do it. Everybody think I have been influenced by Robert Crumb, but not really. I started to read American comics later, after I was already on my way to self-publish. I loved his comics, of course, when I finally got to read them.
Your comics stories are mostly autobiographical. Do you find it hard to share your intimate world with others? Is this about some kind of exhibitionism, typical for artists in general, or is it perhaps about the authenticity of the autobiographical material? On the other hand: female comics artists seem to make use of their first-hand diary-like experiences more often than their male colleagues. Would you agree with that? Do you think this distinction on male and female artists is relevant at all?
No, I don’t find it hard, but I do have my limits. There are some things I would have never touched in the comics form, like: family. I did later with writing … somehow it was OK to do so. You have to realize that I choose only one or two aspects of ‘one event-story’ and put the rest aside. So in a way it is edited, even though the facts are 100 % true. The one story I regret doing is My first time (from My New York Diary). I now feel that that one goes too far, I am a bit embarrassed about it. Way too intimate!
Oh well … of course artists are very self-centered and draw from their own life experience. I guess that makes good stories, right? In my case I started to draw comics using my own character/persona to tell rather imaginary over the top stories. Then I illustrated my dreams. In both cases I don’t consider it is autobiographical. I came to autobiography because I needed to move on to something else. One must not make a career out of autobiography, one MUST explore! It’s true that female cartoonists tend to use it more than men. Why? I don’t really know … Fortunately it’s changing, there is an evolution towards fiction. Autobiography can become a bad habit, a trap, a mental illness!
You’ve become known as a controversial, critical, even feminist comics artist. Also, we’ve recently published your My New York Diary. Do you think this work of yours captured the spirit of some other, past times and if yes, how can it be relevant to the contemporary reader as well? What is the status/condition of comics and other female artists today like?
My influence and relevancy, that is definitely not for me to tell. I don’t know how it is like today, I have been out of it for too long, but Dan Nadel, the publisher at Picturebox Inc in New York told me a couple of years ago that female cartoonist’s books are still way harder to sell than men’s ones. I was rather shocked. Still! I am not sure the comic artist’s status has changed that much … People hear more about them, yes, but still think they are some sort of clowns, not to be taken too seriously. That’s what I get, at least.
You’re the main guest at the Animateka international animation film festival in Ljubljana this December. What was your transition from a static medium to a dynamic one like? We presume you didn’t learn about animation for your printing arts degree … was this a sort of natural transition, if not evolution, to a different kind of storytelling, or just a contingent random decision that you happened to like?
I did a short film project with the French film maker Michel Gondry. He is a great inspiration … The collaboration was rather frustrating and the result OK, but not amazing, but still, it made me want to try to make animation films. An animator friend of mine, Amy Lockhart, taught me how to do it in a very DIY way with any digital camera and free animation software. I was very surprised to find out that the notion of rhythm is completely different from comics to film. You can’t think a project the same way, can’t make a decoupage the same way. So no, it wasn’t as natural as I expected, not at all. I was rather lost, I have to admit. Also the technical aspect of it all nearly drove me crazy and I wanted to quit every two days. I am used to pen and ink and total independence, to not have to spend money to make art. That part I found very hard to take too, indeed even absurd! I liked the repetitive drawing part, had no problem with that. I love to see my drawings move, it’s totally magic.
The best part is my collaboration with the local sound artist Anne-Françoise Jacques. I wanted her to create soundtracks that would take a lot of space in the films, a 50-50 thing between sound and image. A perfect collaboration. It turned out exactly that way … my films totally came to life with her music. I had to mention it.
We know your work mostly from Dirty Plotte and My NY Diary, where you dealt with issues like relationships, sex, drugs, comics and an artist’s professional maturing, if not coming of age. What are your themes and topics now that you create animation films? Is it the same issues from a different, perhaps wiser perspective, or are you dealing with other things in your work now? What is your recent work actually about? What can we expect to see on this year’s edition of Animateka from you?
My animation films are mostly abstract experiments or words that move … not always very narrative … often only one sentence. It’s hard to talk about them, about their content. They talk a lot about the absurdity in life, I guess, despair, but expressed with humor, as always … In their forms they are drawings, except for one, which is a series of words on photocopies that are crumpled. Oh, yes, and ink on film, letraset on film. You have to go to the exhibition and watch them!