Drinking at the Movies
I thought I was tired of autobiographical comics, but after reading this gem by Julia Wertz, I realized I was only tired of diary strips (or to use the upscale term, “graphic memoirs”) with nothing to say.
In contrast, Wertz has in Drinking at the Movies a simple concept for a through-line: how and why she moved to New York (Brooklyn, specifically) from San Francisco. It’s not an unfamiliar story — and that makes it more relatable, as most of us have wound up in a new city and struggled to become comfortable there — but her observations are unique and well-told.
Plus, New York is The City for many people, the only one that matters, so everything there takes on a bigger significance, bringing more depth to her challenges. Anyone who’s been there can relate to travel confusion, the city’s heat in summer, the dirt, crazy people, and the problem of finding a decent place to live.
The older I am, the more I appreciate reading about struggling young people, because I get the fun of thinking “thank goodness those kinds of decisions are behind me.” I’m thankful, for example, that I don’t have to walk blindly into locations and ask if they’re hiring, as Wertz does. (On the flip side: she doesn’t seem to much care about getting fired, while adults are more paralyzed by the financial responsibilities that puts in jeopardy.) Although younger, Wertz has a good sense of history, placing her acts in the context of bigger happenings. In other words, it’s not all about her, which makes the focus on her more palatable.
Wertz’s style is simple but skilled, comfortable but capable of telling her story. The flat figures are still expressive, and without flashy graphic tricks, the reader can concentrate on the meaning of what she’s telling us. The first four pages sum up how quickly things can change, taking us from what sounds like a pretty good time to an unsatisfying existence, full of loss — loved ones, job, and so on.
Once she’s moved, the book settles into moments that make up daily life, with (as suggested by the title) plenty of drinking when she doesn’t know what else to do. She perfectly captures the problem of not being happy with who and where are you but not knowing where you want to be. Her willingness to make herself look foolhardy or addicted or unpleasant provides a lot of humor, all the funnier for having more behind it, whether it’s hints of alcoholism or a brother’s rehab or depression.