Julia Wertz, The Fart Party (Atomic Books, 2007); $13.95, paper.
by Jared Gardner
If there is one thing the world does not need right now it is another diary comic by another twenty-somethig. For far too long now, this vast underemployed and over-inflated army have put pen to paper to tell us about their daily travails—apartment hunting, job hunting, boyfriend hunting—all in the ostensible service of hunting for something far more Profound. You want meaning? Here it is, kids: you’re twenty-three years old and because of the incredibly slow (and getting slower) maturation of the homo sapien, you are still a kid wearing adult body clothing. No reason to be ashamed or to panic. But no reason to tell us about it as if there were some key to universal understanding buried like a clue from The Da Vinci Code. You’ve been exiled from Mom & Pop’s, you’re hungry and you’re horny. Putting it down in black and white with dialogue balloons and thought bubbles doesn’t make it more any less mundane. It just makes you more embarrassing to your family and friends. Which is why we are so very grateful that there is The Fart Party, which promises us no profundities and which fully embraces the infantilism (rather than the “meaningfulness”) of daily life. And perhaps because Julia Wertz couldn’t care less about you think about her or her life, it is the most honest, funny, and (dare I say it?) profound diary comic out there today.
Published by Baltimore’s beloved Atomic Books, Fart Party collects comics from Wertz’s webcomic (fartparty.org), where she posts regular strips detailing the adventures (recently, for example, her wallet was stolen and she found herself stranded in Chicago). But the book is more than simply an anthology; Wertz has selected and organized the strips to follow the narrative of a crucial period of her life: her first serious “adult” relationship and the inevitable end of the relationship as the rip tides of early adulthood take them both in separate directions. But my account makes it all sound much more maudlin—or, as Wertz would put it, “gay”—than in fact it is. Wertz’s genius lies in the economy of the comicstrip, reducing life to four-panels and a punchline, all the more funny (and more vicious) for being so distilled. Rather than seeking out the meaningful, Wertz has the oldschool comic stripper’s love of the zinger. And she is not above Kantzenjammer Kids-style physical comedy, as when, in “Don’t Fucking Talk to Me,” she recounts her fantasy of defecating in the recently severed head of a particularly annoying coffeehouse patron. If this were Ivan Brunetti (who also portrays himself in various compromising positions with severed heads), the force of the fantasy would be to expose to the light of day the dark soul of its creator. But Wertz makes it all so innocent and natural, and the payoff lies in the contended smile on her face as she returns to her drawing, blissfully unconcerned by the blood and feces pooling across the table.
For the most part, however, Wertz’s humor has a more quiet rhythm, and she has a comic’s sense of the power of the pause. For example, after her boyfriend has decided to move to Vermont, in a strip titled “Misplaced Worries #1,” she goes to buy stamps only to discover that there are only flag stamps left. Wertz portrays herself staring at the stamps on the counter before breaking into sobs: “But I hate those ones!” If this were your run-of-the-mill diary comic, the silent panel would be excised, leaving room for a panel in which the author realizes that she is really crying over the loss of her boyfriend, not over the stamps. But the title does that for us, reminding us that despite the fact that the Julia we see in the comic seems remarkably blind to her own life and the consequences of her actions, the creator, Wertz, is well aware of who she is and why—otherwise she would not be able to make you laugh at her life. And she most definitely wants us to laugh at her life, because if one is not laughing, in the world of The Fart Party, one will surely be crying (or dismembering).
For those who are wondering, a “Fart Party” involves farting into balloons before hosting a party, so that when you are ready for your guests to leave (as guests never know when to do) you simply pop all the balloons. Martha Stewart wishes she came up with such a brilliant idea. But a “fart party” is also any occasion in which you take the embarrassing, unpleasant, noisy or rude aspects of daily life and turn them into something to laugh at. Part of Wertz’s implicit message in this book is that instead of looking for the profundity in the “poetics of everyday life,” we should be looking for ways of extending our childish capacity to laugh out loud and together at farts and their many, many close relations: hangovers, breakups, bad jobs, bad sex, boredom, loneliness, homesickness, etc. Everyone farts (and barfs, breaks up, gets fired, gets laid): we can ignore it, attempt to make meaning out of it, or laugh at it like we did when we were kids in the back seat. Wertz makes a strong case for the latter, and I am right there with her, trying to cut one of my own and hoping I don’t soil myself in the process.
Webcomics for the most part are not worth the paper they are printed on (which is really sad, since they are not, for the most part, printed on paper). But The Fart Party (and the recent Perry Bible Fellowship volume, The Trial of Colonel Sweeto) suggests that while the future of comics likely does not lie on the internet (sorry to break your icy heart, Marvel), the future of the comic strip surely does. God knows there is nothing worth reading in the newspapers any more, and without the comic strip life will surely be a poorer thing. I find my daily pleasures these days at fartparty.org and pbfcomics.com, and in my volumes of luscious reprints of Mutt & Jeff, Krazy Kat and Gasoline Alley. In “Nightmare” Wertz tells of a particularly bad dream, which at first sounds like pure bliss: “I dreamed that all the Sunday comics were comics I actually like, like Patches and P.B.F…” But then it all goes horribly wrong: “every strip was a tribute to Cathy!... I kept flipping the pages to see if it was a joke but it was real and everyone loved Cathy!” After her impassioned recitation of the nightmare, her brother responds, appropriately, “You fucking nerd.” But as a fellow nerd I can only say how glad I am that Fart Party and PBF are not in the Sunday paper, where they would surely be conscripted into doing a tribute to Cathy. Instead, in the vast wasteland of webcomics, a select few are emerging to carry forward the traditions of the masters of the strip into the twenty-first century. For this guttergeek, there is reason to hope that a long national nightmare is finally ending.