MONTREAL GAZETTE review the new edition of JULIE DOUCET’S My Most Secret Desire

Comic confronts angst, shame

Montreal Gazette    |    Jon Paul Fiorentino    |    July 29, 2006

After Julie Doucet's five-year hiatus from publishing comics, Drawn & Quarterly this spring reissued her highly influential comic-strip memoir, My Most Secret Desire, as an elegant hardcover with never before seen material. It's the perfect gift for the graphic-novel fan or emotionally unstable member of your family. Watch as Doucet's comic-strip persona loses her teeth, is stabbed in the eye with a syringe, is shot in a classic western, is humiliated by rock star Nick Cave, dies in various disturbing ways, masturbates in outer space and grows a penis, all in the convenient form of the classic comic strip.

When a book is reissued in a special edition like this, it signals that the work has canonical value. My Most Secret Desire meets this description and then some. It is a fiercely original and well-documented dream journal, but it is also a modern-day classic.
The promotional material claims that this is Doucet's most important work and, further, that Doucet is arguably the most influential female comic artist of all time. After spending some time with this book, it's easy to see why such bold claims are made.

Doucet has a knack for making the most familiar subject matter her own. And though we often know the material, we are nevertheless thrilled with the unique way it is being conveyed.

We've all experienced the classic dreams of losing teeth, being embarrassed at school, the narrative of wish fulfillment gone wrong, and so on. What Doucet manages is the always difficult task of taking recognizable subject matter, tropes and motifs and injecting new life into them. The key to her success is her highly developed persona. Julie, the comic-strip character, is delightfully sympathetic - even as she reveals too much, she remains humble, charming and inquisitive.
Many of Doucet's texts are focused on the theme of shame. Like Toronto artist Shary Boyle's 2004 masterpiece, Witness My Shame, My Most Secret Desire mines the territory of female sexuality and psychosexual angst. It is also indicative of a kind of comic-strip lyric poetry: a confessional style of text coupled with a rough, dense and highly skilful drawing style. I don't think it's a stretch to say that the groundbreaking female comic artists of today like Boyle and Jillian Tamaki owe a great debt to Doucet.

In one series of strips, Doucet explores what it would be like to be a man and has perverse adventures shaving - and downright perverted adventures testing the limits of her new penis. In another strip, she gives birth to numerous kitten-like creatures (even breastfeeding them) and explores the identity issues surrounding motherhood. There is a peculiar sense of pride in the retelling of these dream narratives; and so through the reportage, the fear and angst encoded in the original dreams are stripped of their power. Doucet always develops fully the dramatic, comedic and philosophical possibilities of her surreal dreamscapes. In my readings of the text, I was consistently taken aback by how economical each strip is - how much can be said in sometimes as few as six frames. It's a testament to how skilfully Doucet works her craft and avoids the traps of her genre.

It is not the material that is particularly new in My Most Secret Desire. In fact, the idea of a dream journal as a viable literary project may seem dubious to some. What makes this book so compelling, so vital, is Doucet's insistence on her own psychic exhibitionism, her own emotional nakedness. This is a highly literary book about the neuroses, pathologies and intricacies of female desire. But it's not just a book about desire. It's more important than that. It's a step toward conquering shame.

Jon Paul Fiorentino is a Montreal writer.

You might also like


Select Your Location: