Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Julie Doucet arrived in the male world of 1990s Canadian alternative comics loudly and definitely female with her series Dirty Plotte. The title was an instant provocative challenge: ‘plotte’ is Quebecois slang for vagina. Her stories of a woman in constant struggle with her body and psyche through sex, booze and drugs were drawn in intimate and densely-inked, elastically caricatured detail. Her strips revel in messy, grungey rebellion against tidy categories but the most powerful of all Doucet’s artistic weapons, strangely enough, is charm, an element conspicuously missing from other exponents of the autobio genre. Even at her most scabrous, when the onslaught of terrible details feels like Too Much Information, there is always an irresistible twinkle in her drawing that makes her cartooning hilarious. Perhaps it’s how gleefully she refuses to accept any boundaries to her subject matter as she wrestles with situations imposed upon her by the physical indignities of the human body, rather than the much lower stakes navel-gazing of her male compatriots.
A strip such as ‘Heavy Flow’ is quintessential Doucet for its exploration of what happens when a period begins without warning and there are no tampons anywhere in the apartment. So you think you have problems, boys? Try getting through your day while blood gushes uncontrollably from one of your orifices and then tell us how difficult your life is! Her work does not have the vanity that lurks beneath many autobio comics, no self-deprecation and she never attempts to flatter readers or ingratiate. Instead there is a simple acknowledgement: her problems are not unique. They have been suffered by millions before her and will plague millions more to come, but her expression of these situations is singular and distinctively inventive, presented with her fearless blend of absurdity, honesty and wit in drawings that fizz with expressive, cartoony energy.
Dirty Plotte: The Complete Julie Doucet is two hardcover books in a slipcase with a small mini-comic. Book one, 338 pages, contains issues one to twelve of Dirty Plotte published between October 1990 and August 1998, including My New York Diary. These are printed as if the actual comics themselves have been gathered and bound into one volume, the glossy colour front and back covers of each issue intact on coated paper with matt paper for the black and white pages inside. Book two, 264 pages, contains all her other work until she stopped making comics in 1999, including The Madame Paul Affair, and 118 pages of early strips, uncollected work for other publications and previously unpublished material. There are also essays, interviews and other texts on Doucet by Dan Nadel, Diane Noomin, Chris Oliveros, Adrian Tomine, John Porcellino, Geneviéve Castrée, Martine Delvaux and others featuring lots of sketches, photos and other memorabilia. Finally, there is an interview with Doucet conducted in 2017.
Purchasing this archive in a box will net you every scrap of Julie Doucet’s comics output (including the A5 booklet which is a facsimile of her very first photocopied Dirty Plotte mini from 1998) in one beautifully curated package, befitting one of the most original and influential creators to ever grace the alternative comics scene. The list price for this collection makes it extraordinarily good value. Don’t miss it.