JULIE DOUCET in The National Post

Julie Doucet's comic-book days are behind her, but her drawings continue to win new fans

The National Post    |    Mark Medley    |    January 24, 2008

Part of Julie Doucet's November 8th entry in her impressive visual journal, which has recently been released as 365 Days.
Every morning between Oct. 31, 2002. and Nov. 7, 2003, Julie Doucet woke up, sat down at her drawing table, and illustrated what had happened to her the previous day. There was no sketching beforehand or editing after the fact: For two hours, the Montreal artist simply drew what came to mind. When she didn't feel like drawing she simply wrote, and when she was travelling she took notes, which she later illustrated. Over the course of a year (and a few days) she compiled an impressive visual journal, which has recently been released as 365 Days.

The book is a hybrid creature: part dream-diary, part daybook, part travelogue, rendered in illustration, words and collage.

"You know, there aren't that many things you can tell about a day," says Doucet, on the phone from Montreal. "It's pretty repetitive."

That's true, and Doucet doesn't shy away from the mundane details of an artist's life, whether it's filling out grant applications, updating her CV or doing the laundry. But at the heart of the book is a woman in transition.

"Those years," she says, "were kind of a turning point between the world of comics and the world of visual arts."

365 Days -- which was originally published in French -- often feels like a reporter's notebook, with Doucet jotting down the things she saw around her.

"I didn't want to put too much of myself in it," she says. "It's kind of funny, because it's a description of what I'm actually doing but I almost never talk about how I feel."

Born and raised in Montreal (with stops in New York, Seattle and Berlin) Doucet, 42, first gained acclaim for her mini-comic Dirty Plotte, which debuted in 1987. A francophone, Doucet drew inspiration from comic artists like France's F'murr rather than the North Americans she's often compared to: "I must say, everybody says that [R. Crumb] was my biggest influence, but definitely it's more the European artists."

Her worlds -- brought to life in such works as My Most Secret Desire (1995) and My New York Diary (1999) -- are comprised of feverish dream-scapes, combining the pyschosexual and the surreal.

"She is probably the most acclaimed or respected female cartoonist of her generation," says Peter Birkemoe, owner of Toronto comic shop The Beguiling (which also sells Doucet's artwork). "Her style is so particular that she doesn't even have a lot of imitators. She doesn't really have imitators at all."

Since leaving the world of comics in 1998 (she returned for the one-off novella The Madame Paul Affair in 2000) Doucet has focused on other art forms, including engravings, linocuts, sculpture and collage. But though she sometimes finds it frustrating, comics are still inextricably linked to her name.

"I knew it would be hard to change. But I didn't expect it to be so hard," she laughs.

Her work has been exhibited in galleries around the world and she runs a silk-screening studio in Montreal, which she says is "probably the only place in the world where I could live off my art."

Drawn & Quarterly publisher Chris Oliveros has been impressed by her post-comic career: "It's really funny to see how she keeps on progressing," he says. "She certainly has not stayed in one place."

But had she stayed in one place -- comics -- it's likely she would be as well known as some of her Canadian contemporaries, such as Chester Brown and Seth. Oliveros remarks that "had she done a graphic novel now, she probably would have had maybe some more mainstream acceptance." Birkemoe calls her "very much ahead of her time."

Doucet, though, doesn't feel like she missed a gold rush.

"Oh, I really don't care about that. I felt so trapped," she says. "You know, when you're a cartoonist it's like being a priest: If you quit, everybody around you goes crazy … I mean, when you're a cartoonist you're supposed to be doing the same thing over and over again until you die. And I didn't want that. It was very frustrating and I needed to try a different thing."

Eventually, Doucet wants to write short stories and novels, but jokes she's too "scared" to try. She also began work on a fictional journal, but gave up after about 40 pages. "It doesn't make sense to do the same thing all over again," she says. "You kind of have to reinvent yourself."

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