My Girl. Troll dolls. Old diaries. These are just a few of the things that inspire the work of illustrator, artist, and friend Julia Pott. Her storybook-like name is fitting for her otherworldly animations that live outside of time and place — a world in which animals grapple with coming of age and first crushes get a second chance. These vignettes of longing and talking whales have earned Julia honors from Sundance to SXSW and have named her one of the "25 New Faces of Film" by Filmmaker Magazine and "Best Friend Forever" by Mallory Blair. British-born and LA-based, her friends in NY wish she would visit more often.
Introduction by Mallory Blair
Photos by Julia Stotz
Girls At Library: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a life-long reader?
Julia Pott: Children’s books introduced me to the idea that I could write and illustrate books for a living. I was obsessed with Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. My mother told me that the monsters in the book were based on Sendak’s Jewish aunts and uncles coming over for dinner and telling him how big and fat and tall he was getting. Lines like "I’ll eat you up I love you so" then became even more appealing because I knew their origin. Learning that you could take everyday experiences and transform them into something universal and fantastical was a revelation.
I still have my original copy of the book. Having seen my parents receive inscribed books from their friends, I inscribed the book to myself. On the first page inlay I have written in crayon ‘To a Real Wild Thing – Love Ben’. Ben was imaginary.
GAL: What is the power of story? Describe some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
JP: Every evening my mother and I would write a story about a scuba diving detective who was trying to overthrow King Titan, and in the morning over breakfast I would draw the illustrations to accompany the text. This activity with my mother solidified story telling as one of the most pleasurable activities I could think of.
Much like different foods or music, I associate different books with different points in my life and enjoy going back to them when I am feeling homesick or nostalgic. When I moved to LA from New York, my friend sent me books to comfort me. One was Nora Ephron’s Heartburn and it made me feel like I still had one foot in New York – I could live in both cities. It also felt like my friend was nearby when I missed her.
I love that you can read the same book as someone else and have an entirely different experience depending on what you’re going through in your own life at the time. You can crawl right in and it's yours.
GAL: How often do you read?
JP: When I lived in New York it was a little easier because I could read on the subway. Now that I live in LA I try and make time every day to read but that often ends up with me face planting into a book at bedtime because I’m too tired to give it my full attention.
GAL: Who is your favorite author? (If impossible to choose please name two).
JP: I love Jon Irving. The Hotel New Hampshire, A Widow for One Year and The World According to Garp are his greatest hits to me. The way he writes about teachers in Massachusetts, writers in London Island or hotel owners in New Hampshire make you feel like you are right there, right then – completely immersed.
GAL: Do you have a current – or “forever” – favorite book?
JP: The three-book series His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I read all of them every five or so years and I bring it up in conversation more often than a normal person should. People will sometimes remind me that I already told them to read it.
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to reread for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
JP: My Sanity Shelf would be filled with books that I find soothing and more often than not are works that center around New York. Nora Ephron’s Heartburn, Not Me by Eileen Myles or Eloise at the Plaza would all be on there. Nora Ephron’s books make you feel like you are hanging out with a wise mentor who writes beautifully. When I am feeling like I need a familiar face I read a chapter from one of her books, or watch When Harry Met Sally.
This is one of my favourite extracts:
“I want to be the kind of woman who can gracefully deny herself treats and food. Whose cheekbones stick out and who doesn’t have to cross her legs all the time. But I’m loud and and I yell at people when I’m cross or anxious about driving and I eat all the donuts and I’ll eat them secretly after I offer to carry them into the kitchen.”
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot? Where is it?
JP: It has to be the perfect mix of comfy but not so comfy that I’ll fall asleep. I like to read in in between places – on a plane or train – waiting for a friend to arrive - so it feels I’m moving towards a goal even if I’m sitting still and reading. Trails café is my all time favourite place to read – they have pumpkin pie and it’s in the woods so its basically heaven.
GAL: Or – can you read anywhere - place is not important?
JP: It really depends on the book – great books allow you the luxury to zone out, be completely absorbed in something regardless of your surroundings. I know I am not really enjoying a book if my surroundings are distracting me.
GAL: Is it important for you to physically hold a book you read? Or can you read on a device with no problem and no impact on the experience?
JP: I had a Kindle for a while but I really didn’t like it. When I lived in New York it had an appeal because you could take hundreds of books with you anywhere but I couldn’t underline things or physically touch the pages and that bummed me out.
GAL: Do you prefer non-fiction to fiction? If so, why?
JP: I am most drawn to stories that take a real experience and translate it into something fictional. My work tends to be quasi-autobiographical so I like seeing how other people do it.
This quote from David Michaelis’ biography on Charles Schulz sums it up well:
“As he would do with other injuries in his life, when Judy broke his heart, he treasured the hurt that Judy had inflicted by putting her into a cartoon.”
GAL: If you read non-fiction, what genre do you prefer?
JP: I really enjoy reading essays or journals –
I also really enjoy listening to autobiographies while I’m driving. My current favorites include Stephen Fry, Charles Schulz, and Stephen King's On Writing.
GAL: Also do you have any books that have influenced your work?
JP: I have a folder of book quotes which I have been keeping since 2005. I go through them every time I start a new project and pick out the ones that resonate with me at the time. Often they fall under a similar theme and that helps me clarify what I would like to make a film about. Literature and animation pair together quite well because the language of literature is so descriptive and animation allows for that description to translate into the visuals more so than a live action piece might.
When I was making my film Belly I was reading Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer and this line stood out to me:
“She went home with her father, the center of me followed her, and I was left with the shell of me.”
I developed the concept of the film out of that sentence – as the story centers around a child coming of age, I used the idea of something being taken away from you as you cross over into adulthood and leaving you as a shell: less whole than you were before.
GAL: Please name a few books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
JP: The Unsinkable Charlie Brown by Charles M. Shulz – there is no one more maudlin than Charlie Brown and no one more profound than Linus.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman – I can’t promise this is the only time I recommend it to you.
Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins – A wonderfully written novel with a lot of real life observations about the problem with romance.