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Julia Wertz’s Latest Graphic Novel Is a Love Letter To ‘Impossible People’

Julia Wertz's newest book, original art cover.

The interconnectedness of this job astounds me sometimes. When I first started writing for The Mary Sue, I decided to kick off this step in my career with an article about one of my favorite authors: Julia Wertz, author and cartoonist of the cult-favorite comic series The Fart Party. One year later, Wertz emailed me asking if she could send me a copy of her newest work, Impossible People: A Completely Average Recovery Story. Obviously, I said yes.

The timing couldn’t have been more chaotic, as the book arrived the day before The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was released. I certainly had a lot on my plate, for work and for pleasure, so I made sure to deliberately balance out my reading schedule.

The conclusion I’ve come to is: if you want to start anywhere with Wertz, this is the place. She’s always been a uniquely talented writer within the world of graphic novels, and Impossible People is the product of several years of refining her talents both through practice and lived experience. I’m so excited to be able to talk about it with you all today.

And You May Ask Yourself: Well, How Did I Get Here?

Opening page, courtesy of Julia Wertz.

The opening of Impossible People is reminiscent of Wertz’s first full-length memoir, Drinking At The Movies, released in 2010. Both books open with Wertz finding herself in a predicament. In DATM, that predicament is waking up after her 25th birthday in a laundromat in NYC, unsure of how she got there. In Impossible People, it’s wondering what to do next after crashing her rental car in Puerto Rico on her 30th birthday. As in both books, the answer lies in going back a few years.

Impossible People is a book about many things, with an underlying focus on the importance of loving, and being loved, in overcoming hardships. Wertz is very candid and vulnerable about said hardships, detailing everything from her prior tendency towards isolation as a trauma response, to her recovery process as an alcoholic. The tone regarding these things is markedly different from her prior works, in the sense that her humor is much subtler, less deflective.

In DATM, for instance, we get a couple asides where Wertz’s brain jumps out of her skull in search of whiskey. This allegory for a bender has her searching for her brain for several days, enlisting the assistance of a couple of detectives (parodies of Holmes and Watson). We know her struggles are real and concerning in DATM, but in true early-twentysomething fashion, she chooses not to linger on them for too long.

Impossible People reflects on the latter half of her twenties, written from her thirtysomething perspective, in which she’s forced to finally confront her demons. As such, the tone is much more grounded. And while it’s not a devastating tone, it certainly was a departure from what I’d come to expect from Wertz. When I graduated college, I took a lot of comfort in DATM, in the sense that its whacky take on being young and reckless made me feel a bit more “normal.” But now that I’m older and going through some of the things Wertz goes through in Impossible People, Wertz’s more emphatic writing forced me to touch upon my own ugly inner-feelings. And my god, it’s uncomfortable.

Ultimately though, Wertz’s mastery of storytelling answers the book’s central question–How did we get here?–quite naturally. She doesn’t add unnecessary frills to her stories, nor does she play them up for any sort of frivolous dramatic effect. She tells her stories as they come to her, sometimes playing into to her sense of humor, but in a way that doesn’t detract from the moment at hand. As such, we get our answer to that question. Wertz got to where she was because life is full of absurdity. The most we can do is take it day-by-day, and hopefully learn from the things we go through.

The best thing is, the book continues past that terrible trip to Puerto Rico (seriously, FUCK Jeff) and ends on a note that’s beautifully celebratory of the people she loves most. We get an answer in that, too: though we might find ourselves in awful situations, they do in fact pass. And when we let them pass, we get to enjoy the rewards of survival with the people we love the most.

Lovers of “Impossible” Souls

The book’s title is so cleverly deceitful, it makes the lit-nerd part of my brain do a little dance. Considering the context of the book, and Wertz’s many antisocial jokes in previous books, I figured it was about the ups and downs of dealing with hardship, and how other people make things worse. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The title of the book comes from a conversation with her best friend, which goes as such:

“A lot of people fail to get sober because they don’t let people in, they don’t follow advice, they don’t seek real help. They just keep struggling alone. Change is impossible under those circumstances.

The world is full of impossible people, don’t be another one of them.”

Impossible People, pg. 229

And yes, in typical Wertz style, she goes on to joke with her friend how that’d make a good book title, before smirking in an aside. But the beauty of that quote, oh my god. I had to put the book down and sit quietly with my dog for a bit after reading it. So much of the book is dripping with love for the people in Wertz’s life, from her closest friends, to her family (every scene with her brother made me smile), to the many people she’s met through comics, and even the people she met just briefly through AA.

The core of this book, how every connection we make matters, is something I find so relevant in the world we live in, where it’s becoming easier than ever to feel alienated. And truthfully, a larger discussion about that is a bit above my pay grade, but it’s likely that you too have felt, at some point in your life, at odds with society as a whole. The pains of being alive can be overwhelming at times, and most people aren’t given many tools to deal with them. It can be so, so easy to just retreat inwards, as we’re told to focus on work, focus on savings, focus on retirement, buy this to make yourself happy, fuck everyone else, focus on you. And there’s probably pearls of wisdom within these sentiments. But we’re taught to take them at face value, when the truth is that recovery, existence, and survival are best achieved when we let people in.

Impossible People is perhaps the most graceful ode to these connections I’ve seen in a book in recent memory. It might touch upon some sensitive nerves, but it’ll also bring you to a place where you feel understood, heard, and encouraged to press on. Whether you’re already a fan of Wertz, a graphic novel enthusiast, or a stranger to both, I really can’t recommend this book enough.

(featured image: Black Dog & Leventhal)

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Madeline (she/her) is a staff writer with a focus on AANHPI and mixed-race representation. She enjoys covering a wide variety of topics, but her primary beats are music and gaming. Her journey into digital media began in college, primarily regarding audio: in 2018, she started producing her own music, which helped her secure a radio show and co-produce a local history podcast through 2019 and 2020. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz summa cum laude, her focus shifted to digital writing, where she's happy to say her History degree has certainly come in handy! When she's not working, she enjoys taking long walks, playing the guitar, and writing her own little stories (which may or may not ever see the light of day).