Author: Julia Wertz
Publish Date: May 2023
Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers (Hachette Book Group)
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-0762468232 (EBook) 978-0762468256 (Hardcover)
Author website: https://www.juliawertz.com/
by Gene Bild
Reading Julia Wertz’s new book, Impossible People, is akin to a series of comfortable, chatty afternoon visits with an old friend. It is 300 + pages, and I spent a series of enjoyable afternoons reading it. Beginning with a debacle of a vacation on her 30th birthday, where Julia starts to take responsibility for the mess alcohol has made of her life, the book then flashes back 4 years and starts chronicling her slow journey to sobriety.
Unlike other “My Sobriety Struggle” bios I’ve read, Wertz doesn’t go into detail about scary childhood traumas and dysfunctional family life, horror stories which other writers seem to relish, although she and her brother, who’s also in recovery, occasionally hint there’s a story there. Family and upbringing may contribute to future alcoholism and drug addiction, but the fight to get sober and stay sober involves repairing yourself, not your family. Your family may have installed your buttons but removing them is up to you.
Wertz’s work is familiar to me through her occasional Raising Felix strip in the New Yorker, but Impossible People is the first graphic novel of hers that I’ve read. (Editor’s note: graphicmedicine.org has reviewed Wertz’s The Infinite Wait and Other Stories (2012), which can be found here.) In Raising Felix she draws herself and her son Felix as elaborated stick figures, but the artwork in Impossible People is more detailed and fully realized, with enough cross-hatching to satisfy fans of Alison Bechdel and R. Crumb. And like Crumb and Edward Gorey, she hand-lettered the entirety of this graphic novel – there’s no set type in this book.
She’s not much interested in drawing backgrounds when the scene is conversational and indoors (an exception being the elaborate cover depicting her in her basement apartment in Brooklyn) but street scenes are detailed, with loving attention given to storefronts and buildings, as befits a self-proclaimed “urban explorer.” (Editor’s note: Wertz’s just prior graphic work was Tenements, Towers & Trash: An Unconventional Illustrated History of New York City, 2017)
Wertz’s publisher, Black Dog & Leventhal, did a great job with this book. Its heavy covers, high quality paper and strong binding justify the $30 cover price, though its weight prevented me from reading it in bed or while lying on the couch, my preferred positions for consuming literature. Not a quibble, just sayin’.
Retired high school math teacher Gene Bild has been a comic fan for most of his life. He has published pieces in The Italian-American Review and The First Literary Review East, and lives contentedly in Chicago with his wife and two cats.