A Brief Interview with Julie Doucet

Optimism, slowness, and why comic books still pay better than contemporary art.

Illustration by Julie Doucet

Online Only: Download a PDF of Julie Doucet’s Montréal: December 15.Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte (1987-98, Drawn & Quarterly) was one of the vanguard comic-book publications of the last two decades. A visceral but occasionally — very occasionally — tender examination of Doucet’s life in her twenties, Plotte was a huge influence on a generation of artists, both inside and outside the world of comics. Entertainment Weekly called Dirty Plotte “id with an ink bottle.” The blurb on publisher Drawn & Quarterly’s website is no less frank: “What lies between the covers would make most parents cry.”

Here’s “If I Was a Man,” an excerpt from My Most Secret Desire (1995, D&Q):

TW: Is Montréal an influence on your work?
JD: I don’t know… it’s been an influence in the sense that it’s only in Montréal that I can afford to have a silkscreen studio… and there is more freedom because I need less money to live.

TW: Is it more difficult to have your artwork seen in Montréal? Would you prefer to have more recognition?
JD: It’s true that I have a lot more recognition in the US and in Europe. But I have more recognition in the rest of Canada than in Québec. I suppose that’s because I was first published in English. You get used to it… maybe a little more recognition wouldn’t hurt. But not too much please.

TW: Your modern work seems a lot more optimistic than the comics you produced in the eighties and nineties.
JD: I may be more joyous, but also angrier, I would say. It doesn’t show in the pages I did for The Walrus but very much in my more recent work, which is mostly writing, in French.

TW: Do you miss making comics — or at least, do you miss the specific storytelling conventions of comics? Is narrative still important to your work?
JD: No, I don’t miss drawing comics and its conventional laws. There will always be words in my work. I would very much like to write short stories, maybe eventually a novel. But I need to write in a visual way… for example, with cut-out words. Writing is what I am all about.

TW: Is it frustrating to still be considered a comic artist when you’ve more-or-less ditched the medium for nearly a decade?
JD: Yes it has been very frustrating. I knew it would be difficult to make people admit that I can do something different, but not THAT difficult! But it is finally changing now, at least here in Montréal, because I did many group shows, a solo exhibition, and last summer the Biennale de Montréal, that kind of did the job. It seems that the world of contemporary art got curious about comics in the past 3-4-5 years… and the comic world opened itself to more experimental work. So yes, it was natural… in the end. I still live from my royalties, and comics original sales… art is not very lucrative!

TW: Tell me about your current project, the Slow Action Movement.
JD: Uuuh, yes, I am still working on it, but very slowly. Le Mouvement Lent, or the Slow Action Movement is there to promote slowness. It started with a series of posters, that we (a friend, Benoît Chaput and I, the two founders) would post on the street. Then I printed some slowness-inducing tools, a membership card… we are working on a website… please be patient.

TW: You also just published a volume of poetry, À l’école de l’amour (L’Oie de Cravan, 2006).
Yes, that book just came out. Poems about love, written with cut out words from old women’s magazines and illustrated with collages. I am trying to get started on another book project, but I am having a lot of trouble to figure out where the hell I am going at the moment. So I cannot tell you.

Works include:
Dirty Plotte (1991-98)
My New York Diary (1999)
My Most Secret Desire (1995)
Lift Your Leg, My Fish is Dead! (1993)
The Madame Paul Affair (2000)
Long Time Relationship (2001)
Melek (2002)
Journal (2004)
Lady Pep (2005)
Sophie Punt (2005)
J comme Je (2006)
Elle Humour (2006)
À l’école de l’amour (2006)
365 Days: A Diary (2007)

Julie Doucet’s book catalogue can be viewed at Drawn & Quarterly.

(Thanks to Shannon Gerard for question assists.)

Paul Isaacs