Canadian cartoonist Julie Doucet retired from comics in 1999 after the publication of her critically acclaimed My New York Diary. Her straightforward depictions of life as a broke artist and of her rampant id, as well as her imaginings of what she would do if she woke up as a man (for the most part, delightedly shaving her face, finding alternate uses for her penis, and dreaming about performing homosexual acts with the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz), were exhilarating for their honesty and bluntness.
That was the old Julie Doucet: Unafraid to share her dirtiest thoughts, she transformed her diaries and dream journals into comic books and welcomed the reader into her broken-down world. Because her writing was fast-paced and humorous, there was none of the residual ickiness one gets from, say, trolling certain confessional sex blogs by sad girls needing attention. Doucet was too self-aware for that.
Meet the new Julie Doucet: She’s given up binge drinking, men, and mixing LSD with her epilepsy medicine. She’s also given up the personal revelation that made her work so exciting. In her new book, 365 Days, she illustrates her daily diary from November 2002 through the following November. From the first page, it’s clear the topic of conversation has changed: “I have to buy myself a winter coat,” she writes. “I had a dream about it last night.”
Doucet’s attempts to make a living as a visual artist without sacrificing her ideals are the most fascinating parts of the book. She applies for grants, getting some and not others. She sells original artwork from her comics to pay for a trip to Paris. She fights to maintain control over the film adaptation of My New York Diary. However, when the subject matter gets too personal, Doucet becomes self-protective and quickly changes the subject. Her reluctance to explore some of the larger problems only hinted at—her return to Montreal, a city she vowed at the end of My New York Diary never to move back to, or the loneliness of not having a loved one or a child—means that page after page reads like filler. On a few occasions, the frustrations of feeling stuck come to a head, and she rampages: “I am in a rage. I should be doing much better, I should be around people who are like me, working hard, doing things.” But by the next page, she’s back to simply drawing herself working on a collage that the reader never sees or reads about.
365 Days isn’t, however, a return to comics. Doucet blends her old visual style—inky black-and-whites, large heads, sexual characteristics clearly visible through clothing—with new techniques, including more realistic sketchbook illustrations, collages, and cutouts from French-language magazines. Visually, the book is deeply personal, but the writing is at a far remove. It’s a relief to discover that Doucet is much happier—not that her earlier work involved only bleakness and despair—but 365 Days can be infuriatingly shallow. It consists more of discussions of the weather and three-word reviews of films (on Punchdrunk Love: “Loved it. Yes”) than psychosexual musings or dreams about giving birth to deformed cats.
It’s a shame that, for Doucet, gaining stability has meant losing dramatic tension and narrative drive in her work. The year the book was written was clearly one of transitions—Doucet was still deriving most of her income from her comics and was having trouble being taken seriously for her nonnarrative artwork. Here’s hoping that when she finishes her metamorphosis, she’ll let readers back into her world.