Julie Doucet's "Carpet Sweeper Tales"

The iconic feminist artist takes control of the narrative.

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We are thrilled to bring you an excerpt of Julie Doucet's newest work, Carpet Sweeper Tales. It's a fantastic little book (no, really, it's just 5.5 by 6.4 inches big) whose collaged storytelling had us turning the pages again and again. Julie's best known for her Dirty Plotte comic and is an iconic feminist artist. But don't take our word for it, she was featured in Le Tigre's seminal song "Hot Topic," right between Billy Tipton and Yayoi Kusama. 

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Carpet Sweeper Tales is what a graphic novel might have looked like if the Dadaists had gotten a hold of it. Images of vintage romance novels are collaged with speech bubbles in which the characters repeat sounds and phrases. At first it looks like gibberish, but as you work your way through the book, a narrative starts emerging (or maybe we're just projecting?), but either way, it's a wonderful way to get lost for a few minutes. We talked to Julie about deconstructing words and why working only for yourself is good, but not necessarily popular.

Laia Garcia: Where did the idea for Carpet Sweeper Tales come from?

Julie Doucet: I've been working with cut-out words for quite a long time now; I did quite a few different projects. Usually how I work is, I start from the leftover words and syllables from the last project and then I just pick one word and improvise. I start writing something around that. My goal was to make up words and make everything sound phonetic, or readable out loud. It's not like I had any plans or any written stories or ideas, anything special to tell. 

LG: Is this the first time you explored a more phonetic concept?

JD: Yeah, the moment I started to use cut-out words and words without pictures, I realized that there was really a song to it, so it was really good to read out loud. I did some other projects. I wrote my autobiography from zero to 15 years old with cutout words for 200 pages, and it looks more like poetry, it's a full page of text. I did another project where I created a new language with syllables left over from the autobiography, so I made a dictionary of 700 and such words, and that was mostly sounds. 

LG: That's really interesting, because you were doing comics before, which are story based, and now you're doing something more abstract but you're still keeping "the words." Was that a conscious change because you wanted to free yourself to tell different stories, or did it come naturally?

JD: It just came naturally. I'm not the sort of person who really thinks about what I'm going to do in advance, or what I mean to tell to the world. I'm very impulsive, so I just do things, and much later I just sit down and look at what I've done and kind of figure out, "Oh, OK, that's what it was all about."

LG: Now you're working on some short films. I know you worked with Michel Gondry before. Is this one also a collaboration, or are you working on your own?

JD: I'm working on my own, except for the soundtrack. For that, I'm working with a woman who does sound art. Michel Gondry definitely inspired me to do animation films, even though I was not crazy about the film we made together. He mostly made all the decisions, so … it was supposed to be a collaboration, but it ended up not really being that. [Laughs.] He's a really nice guy, I couldn't be angry at him. [Laughs again.]

LG: But you prefer to be in control.

JD: Yeah. And once again, the animated film is about words. It's an exploration more than anything else, it's very short, maybe one minute. But I'm not going to do any more because my eyes are too sensitive to light now.

LG: Do you see them living in an art gallery or online?

JD: They've been in art galleries, they've been in festival circuits, but more artsy and experimental film circuits. It's not like I've been trying very hard to distribute them or anything, it just happens. I've been very lazy for that, and also it's not my crowd, you know, it's not that easy to deal with. 

LG: I get the impression that you really, truly work for yourself, just because you feel the need to make something.

JD: I never really cared what people expected from me, which is important I guess, but it's not always popular. 

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Laia Garcia is the deputy editor at Lenny.

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