Dirty Plotte (1991-1998)
Writer/Artist: Julie Doucet
Drawn & Quarterly
Most diehard comics know by now that Daniel Clowes, one of the greatest contemporary exponents of the form, has given up on serialised comics: titles like his own Eightball, filled with short stories, one-page strips, cartoons, fake advertisements and a set of characters who live in a shared universe. Notable examples include Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur, Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve, Seth’s Palookaville and Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library. Unfortunately, of these, only Tomine persists with Optic Nerve, while Clowes has declared that he will never return to the serial format. The others have also decided to concentrate on standalone graphic novels. But there was a time in the mid-90s when all of the aforementioned titles were active, along with several others like American Splendor and Love and Rockets. One of the first serialised strips of this period that was written and drawn by a woman was Canadian cartoonist Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte.
Normally, I would be loathe to focus on the female-creator aspect of a book, but with Dirty Plotte, there is good reason for this. Serialised comics took their cues from the underground “comix” movement championed by Robert Crumb and other ’60s and ’70s veterans. There was plenty of subversive, taboo stuff being published here: a time of sex, violence, anarchy and fearless polemics. But somewhere along the line, the aesthetic freedom enjoyed by these creators started to manifest itself only in phallogocentric concerns: you could make indexed lists for every outlandishly large penis drawn by Crumb, Clowes and company (it’s pertinent to note that Doucet herself was noticed by fans after her work appeared in Weird, Crumb’s anthology title). Into this alphabet soup of phalluses stepped Doucet and her autobiographical stories.
As she explains in the first strip, the word “plotte” is a Quebecois French colloquialism for female genitalia, used interchangeably for a woman who dresses provocatively. Right from the first issue, Doucet’s pet concerns are presented in a bizarre, over-the-top, yet curiously believable manner.
There’s a story where we meet two cats: a tom called Living Dead and a female named Monkey. Living Dead calmly marks a spot in front of the wash basin, urinates and even ejaculates, thus marking his territory emphatically. Monkey, on the other hand, enjoys water: she spills a few splashes while spraying herself with a faucet. Guess which cat gets a rap on the knuckles? In another story, Doucet describes the struggles of a day where her menstrual flow seems to be more torrential downpour than easy-go trickle. In a surrealist twist, she levitates all the way to the toilet while still supine, thus avoiding a mess on her bedroom floor: this can be read as a commentary on how women are expected to be neat.
The style employed in these early strips is a far cry from the kind of art seen in more recent works like My New York Diary. But for sheer weirdness and risk-taking, Dirty Plotte marks Doucet’s salad days. It’s a pity that Doucet has quit comics to focus on newspaper cartoons: she could have been the spark that the currently out-of-vogue serial format needs.