Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz Review

Last year, Neil Gaiman gave an inspiring speech called "Make Good Art" in which he told graduating students that whatever happens to you in life - make good art. Though not connected to Gaiman and his speech in any way, Julia Wertz did just that when she was diagnosed with systemic lupus, an incurable autoimmune disease, and started to make comics. "The Infinite Wait and Other Stories" is Wertz's fourth comic book (The Fart Party Vols 1 and 2, Drinking at the Movies being the previous three) but the first to directly address her illness - and it's a fantastic book.

The title is deliberately lofty-sounding as the comic instead takes a breezy and defiantly unsentimental tone to talk about crappy jobs, discovering comics, becoming a comics artist herself, her illness, and her hometown library. While you might think that a memoir about such mundane topics from someone so young (Wertz is barely past 30) would be too self-centred to bother with, you'd be wrong. Everyone can write about their lives and nearly everyone doing it would bore you with their efforts - Wertz can write about her life and completely immerse you in it. Reading about Wertz's dishwashing jobs, waitressing, and teenage rebellion is the kind of material many people can relate to but few could write about in a way that's worth reading about.

And herein lies the reason this book is so brilliant: Wertz has lived a life less ordinary but the moments she chooses to write about are often the least exciting. Boring jobs, reading comics, libraries - this is a memoirist who stringently keeps the reader at arms' length while telling you about her personal life. But the experiences resonate with an honesty that is reflective in a way that many people in their 20s and 30s can relate to. Who didn't have crappy jobs growing up? Who doesn't feel miserable and disappointed with the state of their lives during this time? Underachievement? Who doesn't feel a nostalgia for their childhoods when all the time they are moving further away from it?

Moreover - and this quality might be more limited than the others - who doesn't hate being around people? Making friends, having a social life, dating, are all things Wertz dislikes and are viewpoints any bookish person can well understand. The feelings and experiences of this generation are plainly mapped onto Wertz's work but in a signature unserious way. Wertz is curmudgeonly but entertainingly so, presenting her disappointments, misanthropy, and misfortunes in funny, smart, and enjoyable stories that, what should be depressing subject matter, becomes the stuff of great comics.

Combining these stories with her own dramas that include substance abuse and addiction, a hilarious but mentally unstable father, and a successful career in comics written with her unique voice, makes for a thoroughly great read. The Infinite Wait and Other Stories is a frequently brilliant, often entertaining book that any fan of non-superhero comics would do well to check out.

The Infinite Wait and Other Stories

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