Welcome to our new Blog@ feature! Weekend reviews is our (well, mine, Kevin’s and whoever else feels like joining in) attempt to offer reviews and critiques of various new and recently released comics and graphic novels. It’s also a great way for me to slowly clear off the intimidating pile of books on my table. Ha-ha! One book down! Guilt feelings lessened! (Somewhat.)
Anyway, this inaugural edition kicks off with a review of Julie Doucet’s latest book, 365 Days. Enjoy.
Reading Julie Doucet’s latest work, 365 Days, I feel like I have a better understanding of the whole “Art comix are dull, meaningless stories about dull, mopey people whining about their dull, mopey lives” arguement. Not that I have any more sympathy for that argument mind you, but I do think I understand where it’s coming from a bit better.
This just isn’t that compelling a comic (and as far as I’m concerned it is a comic. I don’t care what she constantly says about abandoning the medium). Essentially a cartoon diary, with each day taking up a page or so, 365 Days chronicles Doucet’s life circa November 2002 to 2003, and it reads just about the way you’d expect any ordinary person’s diary to read, which is to say frighteningly dull.
Doucet keeps each entry to a minimum, perhaps due to time and space constraints, perhaps fulfilling some self-inflicted Dogma 95-type rule. Whatever the reason, the end result is that the individual entries barely get fleshed out. It’s rarely little more than, “Today I went here and met this person for lunch. Then I worked on this project. Then I went home and watched TV.” Somtimes it’s “I was tired” or “I was sick so I didn’t do much today.” That’s really how a lot of these daily entries read. I’m not exaggerating that much.
Doucet mentions a lot of people (though she usually only gives initials) but we never get a clear sense of who they are or what her exact relationship with them is. I get the feeling she has close ties to the women who share her studio space (she travels with them at one point) and a bear-headed male she pals around with, but they’re all portrayed as having no personality at all and except for the bear-headed fellow I couldn’t tell any of them apart.
She mentions various art projects and occasionally she’ll note that she’s satisfied or upset with something, but there’s no actual insight into her artistic process — why she choses working in a particular style or what themes she’s hoping to explore in her work. She does complain about how stifling Montreal is to her and how she feels the need to travel, but she never really talks in-depth about why. She just does and that’s all.
At one point, she even admits she’s left out a major chunk of her life by not talking about her problematic neighbors who’ve been driving her crazy. Eventually the book takes on the feel of laundry list with “Went there, did that” as the common refrain.
The one theme that does come through loud and clear in 365 Days is the amount of hard work and constant scrabbling necessary to live as an artist today. Whenever she’s not slaving in her studio or apartment on a new project, Doucet is hopping around trying to apply for grants, getting ready for an exhibition or figuring out if she can attend an overseas festival (Does she need a new passport? Is her visa in order? Will this one organization help sponsor her trip?). For any romantics who imagine the artistic life to be full of frolics and praise, this book will serve as a good dose of cold water.
Despite my extremely negative summary up till now, I’m still tempted to recommend the book, because while the content itself may be dry, Doucet’s designs are astonishing. She crams her pages with as much detail as possible. The characters seem to all but literally fighting for space, and in danger of breaking out of the panels. The words themselves refuse to stay in one direction but move at right angles or spiral around. She slaps magazine and newspaper collages in, perhaps just to amuse herself (at one point her nose becomes the letter R). Even when she just decides to present an abstract image or (if you prefer) “doodle,” the intricate patterns are breathtaking.
It’s this constant re-invention of design, of not knowing where Doucet will take you visually, that made me want to keep reading 365 Days. As a memoirist, she’s not terribly compelling, at least not here. As an artist, I simply can’t get enough.
365 Days: A Diary
by Julie Doucet
Drawn and Quarterly