THE YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY
Written by Ted Rall, Illustrated by Pablo G. Callejo
Published by NBM
THE YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY is undoubtedly one of the most amazing graphic books I have ever read. An incredible story made all the more captivating because it is true, Ted Rall’s account of a year of his life in 1984 after he was expelled from Columbia University, evicted from campus housing, arrested and robbed is as tangible and real of a story as was ever put on paper. Rall opens himself up to the world in this graphic memoir, laying out in detail his struggle to keep from living on the streets of Manhattan in his most unfortunate, and unforgettable, summer. Raw, honest and completely visceral, this is a book for the ages.
When Rall woke up soaked in his own blood with a hole in his chest where a wart used to be, not only did he have no idea how the hell THAT happened, but he also was completely clueless as to how this dermatological terror was going to alter the course of his life. Having a wart normally sucks for any cosmetically conscious young adult, but having a wart which was attached to your aorta and upon bursting causes you to lose eight pints of blood during finals week is especially sucky. The profoundly bad luck did not stop there for a young Rall, but proceeded onwards with three out of six professors refusing to let him retake the final, which meant he failed his second semester junior year as an engineering student at Columbia. Soon afterwards he was evicted from his dorm and was forced to consider his options. He was granted a temporary stay of sleeping on the streets when he spent his last few dollars on a piece of pizza and gets the cheesy goodness, sex with the girl who hit on him and a place to stay for the night.
Of course the overriding message of the book is that being essentially homeless is one big emotional and physical screw up, but this graphic memoir does not dwell upon the surely countless hours he spent trapped in his own head, worrying about where he was spending the night and wondering why this happened to him. Instead, one of the aspects this memoir focuses on is the sex. The lots of fantastic, consensual and mind-blowing ‘Why can’t I be a homeless stud in New York?’ kind of sex. Which says something about the author, beside the obvious ‘He’s good in bed.’ It says that he lived that scary, evolutionary time of his life, and he remembers it, the good AND the bad, but these are the parts he wants to remember in Technicolor detail and share with the world.
Ted Rall is not a gigolo. He is not a player in the sense he gets off on fucking a lot of women and duping them into thinking he cares. He is a man who loves life, loves women, loves freedom, and loves not sleeping on the streets. He is a human, an intelligent man thrust into the world with nothing but his mind, body and soul, and he makes the goddamn most of it. He cares about the women he’s with but doesn’t understand why they care about him, which may sound a bit masochistic, but considering all he went through that year, I’m surprised he kept his shit together at all.
As for the artwork, Callejo is beyond the pale. This international artist is phenomenal in his presentation of Rall’s year of disbelief, and of NYC in the mid ‘80s. Each panel is a painting of passion, artistry and tangible emotional pain and pleasure. On one page depicting a view coming up from the subway, the right side of the panel is hazy and blurred, exactly how the city looks on a hot summer day emerging from the underground tracks. The cars themselves are covered in graffiti art and stale piss, while the hair, clothes and make-up of the main and surrounding characters transport you back in time to the days fashion still wishes to forget. The sex scenes are sensual without being overwhelmingly steamy, and each character is draped in loving detail, giving them depth and personality. Naturally Rall’s narrative is easy to get caught up in, but the graphic story itself would have lacked the extra emotional punch without Callejo’s simply beautiful artwork.
Inspirational, intensely erotic and at times heart-wrenching, this is truly a memoir which cannot be passed up. Rall is not standing up on his soapbox here, preaching to the uninformed masses. He is relating a nigh-unbelievable story of how fucked up his life became, almost entirely under circumstances he had no way of controlling, and how he handled the cards he was dealt. Some people will skim this book and mutter to themselves about how little he had to complain about, considering how much tail he was getting. Some will not believe a single word or panel they lay their eyes on. Some will fall in love with his unpredictable and free-roaming life style. Yet what all who read this memoir SHOULD see is a narrative of a man, admittedly smarter than the average bear, but still just a man, who found himself in an unbelievable situation. Rather than consistently trying to just wake up from the nightmare (though there were moments, and likely more than he put in his book), he consciously lived it nearly every step of the way. Like most bad dreams there were bright spots and dark times, and there was no clear light at the end of the tunnel, only…faith? Determination? A stubborn survivalist instinct? Call it what you will, Ted Rall undoubtedly had no words for it himself while he was experiencing it, but he does now, and it is not only comic book fans who should be reveling in that fact and reading this book.