Carpet Sweeper Tales from Drawn & Quarterly is Julie Doucet’s latest exploration into a very experimental medium of collage comics. One of comics’s most creative artists, Julie Doucet began her work with the breakout Dirty Plotte, which began its life as a photocopied fanzine in the 1990s. Her hand-drawn work was accented by collages from clipped magazines then, hinting at later works to come. Her drawn comics continued with such works as the acclaimed My New York Diary, yet she continued to experiment with collage, moving further and further until her completion of Carpet Sweeper Tales, which takes something old and makes it completely new.
Carpet Sweeper Tales is like a forgotten home, taken and remodeled into something that reminisces the past while at the same time bringing out new life. For the basic pieces of Carpet Sweeper Tales, Doucet worked with old fumetti, Italian photonovels popular in the 1970s. While many Italian comics maintained the creation-by-drawing that could be seen all over the world, a bold cultural step was taken in creating the images via photography, a technique which became widely used in the fotonovelas of Spain and Latin America. Here fumetti were given a particularly Italian flair with style and fashion.
Doucet harvested the old images from the photographic fumetti along with numerous blocks of text from other magazines. The mix of different fonts creates a feeling of chaos, like many voices speaking with many different accents. The use of advertisements creates a layer of metaphor, such as the nun character telling the protagonist to sweep her chimney with a visual tone that says she should avoid advances from her male companion. Much of the meaning is left to mind of the reader, where it can percolate into a life of its own.
Yet Carpet Sweeper Tales is not meant to be simply read: it is meant to be read aloud. Much of the dialogue is onomatopoeia with living sounds bursting from the mouths of the characters. While driving a car, characters may mutter about horsepower or they may make the sounds of an engine’s roar. The visual collage is striking, but it is the experience of reading the work and immersing oneself into the cacophony that makes Carpet Sweeper Tales a trip of its own.
Doucet calls her stories “lightheartedly absurd,” yet they touch on dark matters and the passion of the old fumetti comes through. The absurd certainly comes through in the Dadaist take of juxtaposed nonsensical wording with the serious images, and it hits its amusing peak with one character being referred to as Ford or Chevy, depending on how pleased others are with him. Best of all is the motorcycle gang who mumble “women,” “women,” and “women” over and over, giving a perfect portrayal of their one-track minds. As the scene soon becomes dark with their advances on a lady walking, the juxtaposition becomes fully realized with madness and seriousness all at once.