SPX 2018: Julie Doucet On Dirty Plotte’s Journey From Minicomic To New Collection

by Hannah Means Shannon

Julie Doucet’s panel at Small Press Expo celebrated the new, collected edition of Dirty Plotte and more, hosted by Rachel Miller, a feminist media scholar.

Dirty Plotte started as a minicomic that was picked up by Drawn & Quarterly over 12 issues. Her work also extends to silk screen and animation.

Asked about how she views this new collection, Doucet said it makes her feel old. She’s been drawing comics for 20 years now, and it’s nice to have a “big book” now, including stories that were never published.

The ‘zine life of Dirty Plotte starts with Doucet’s life as an art student, when she met some people into comic, and later dropped out. She published one issue a month for 14 months, though some were only 8 pages long. Working on comics was a form of “desperation” because there were no jobs and felt like there was “no future” among her friends. There were very few women, really only one, who she looked up to, but seemed out of her reach.

Themes she included felt “foreign” even to Doucet, talking about modernity and women’s lives, since that wasn’t common in comics at all. When she was distributing the minicomics in bookstores and record stores, the shops told her the comics were “too violent” and there was “too much violence against women” and yet she was not considered feminist enough for feminist outlets.

Some of her comics in Dirty Plotte feature Doucet’s dreams, many of which contain violence. She feels she’s a “compulsive” artist who doesn’t really reflect on what she’s doing as she creates, so it’s hard to analyze these dream comics, she said. She would have ideas, write them down, and it would take a while to get to draw them. She’s always loved drawings that are “filled with detail”, however, and brought that to these stories.

Doucet has “super radical” portrayals of her own body, spanning into fantasy worlds, and felt “troubled” by her “femininity”, Doucet said, since she felt “boyish”. She didn’t know anyone else who fit that category. There was a conflict between who she was and who she felt she “needed to be”, which fueled the comics. She also never felt she’d be published at all, so she held nothing back in the comics. But in her own mind, this was not autobiography, she said.

In some of her comics, she imagines what it would be like to be a man, and those comics now have a lot of meaning for queer and trans readers. Doucet said she didn’t really imagine this might happen, thinking her own work was “miniscule”, though now there is a much larger, more visible comics community to pick up on her work.

Asked if she was thinking in feminist terms, Doucet said no, because she couldn’t really relate to other women. She felt she had more in common with the men in comics who she worked alongside. It came as a surprise to find that some women related to her comics, she said.

She discovered American Underground Comix very late, and didn’t know much about Phoebe Gloeckner or Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Doucet said.

Asked about reactions to “gross” or “violent” material, and whether she was surprised by it, Doucet said were reactions were what she expected, but she was surprised to get letters from guys saying that her strips about menstration “really troubled them” and made them “uncomfortable” rather than the much less natural stuff.

There is a theme of cutting in Doucet’s work, and she currently works a lot in collage, so she was asked if there’s a connection between the two. Doucet doesn’t think so. It was kind of “in the air” at that time to talk about cutting, just like talking about getting tattoos. It just existed and this was her “contribution to it”, Doucet said.

The original zines contained letters pages where she invited readers to participate, including pictures of their tattoos sent in. She doesn’t recall how that all got started, but she was probably just “testing people” to see what they would do. She had to eventually ask readers to stop sending in pictures of their genitalia.

Doucet was asked about her influences in comics or fine art, and she said that her main influence is a French writer who she read at age 12. It was the first time she could identify with characters, since her female characters were not very feminine. It contained a lot of ideas about children’s rights. Magazines with comics, pictures, and fumetti also influenced her.

365 Days is a record of different arts practices, and Doucet isn’t working on comics now, but rather collage and fine art pieces. She used the comics format to document the improvisation process. It could have been repetitive and boring, but instead people love the book. Her diaries have never been about putting her emotions down, but instead, recording “what’s happening”.

Carpet Sweeper Tales is a collage book, and it started with text, a kind of “sound poetry”, but that alone seemed like it wouldn’t work well for a book, so she added pictures. In some ways, she didn’t want to make sense there, and instead wanted to “non-communicate”, she said. She prefers to make work without considering whether it will be published, which might mean it becomes unpublishable, but now it’s solely for her own benefit. She tried to stop making art at some point, she laughed, but that only lasted 24 hours. She has a “big problem with art these days”. Diary comics are too time-consuming so she isn’t making them these days, Doucet said.

Living in Montreal, she’s part the visual arts community, including animation, with friends in different fields, but not expressly comics, she said. Her work in animation started as “something to try”. Working with abstract shapes and language is time consuming, too, but worth it, as the “basis for everything”, Doucet explained.

Asked about artists who have inspired her in comics, Doucet said Chester Brown, certainly, and lots more. Brown’s drawing style and the way in which he tells stories, using silences, appeals. She also likes John Porcellino’s work. His idea that the “moments in between” are important in his work is something she relates to.

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