Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Year of Loving Dangerously

This is Ted Rall's new graphic novel. Ted Rall is a New York based lefty cartoonist. I first found his work in the New York Times online edition. He also writes a weekly political column.

I must admit that I was attracted to this book not just because I like Ted Rall's work but also because I too lived in New York City in 1984. And, coincidentally, I was also having a horrible year in 1984. I was in the fourth grade at the time. My attraction was historical and anthropological--I wanted to see what was going on in the cooler parts of my home town as I was struggling with long division in the suburbs.

This graphic novel is a departure from everything else I have read by Rall. This is a personal memoir in graphic form about the author's experiences in 1984-his "annus horriblis"-and how he survived getting kicked out of college, being homeless and unemployed. In his introduction Rall explains that part of his reason for writing this book is to show "how easy it is for anyone-even a white male attending an Ivy League school-to fall off the merry-go-round of U.S.-style laissez faire capitalism."

That theme is certainly timely. I know how close I am to falling off the edge of the world and I'm sure most of my friends and co-workers do as well. But I suspect there's another reason Rall chose to write this book--misery makes for a great story. There are certainly some cringe-inducingly miserable moments in the book, but it's clear that the main character can still see humor in the weird situations in which he lands.

The_Year_of_Loving_Dangerously reminds me a bit of Alison Bechdel's _Fun_Home. This is not just because both main characters-Ted and Alison-have the same haircut. Both books are graphic-memoirs about personal events and neither is author is afraid to go where angels fear to tread. Bechdel talks honestly about her dysfunctional family, her parents reaction to her coming out, getting her period for the first time and her deceased father's homosexuality.

Rall tells of being kicked out of college, stealing, and how he avoided sleeping on the street for a year when he was without an apartment by having numerous girlfriends.

In both cases I was not shocked at what was going on in the stories themselves so much as shocked at the author's willingness to tell about the situation. I was not shocked that Alison's dad seemed to care more for his house than his family-merely that she would admit to it. I was not shocked that Ted dealt with his homelessness by having multiple girlfriends-just that he was willing to write about it.

The other similarity in my mind is that these are both cartoonists whose work I had read for a long time, so that reading their memoirs was a bit like finding out more about an old friend's past.

The_Year_Of_Loving_Dangerously is also another great "New York City" story. Strange things-stranger than fiction things-are more likely to happen in New York than elsewhere because New York has more people than most other places, but even so, Ted seems to experience more than his share in a 12 month period.

On another note, although Ted Rall is a cartoonist, the artwork for this book is not his. This took me by surprise at first, but the collaboration works out well. Over all it's an interesting and enjoyable read. It will never be Business Casual Stag Devil Death Boy, but then again it's probably better for all of us that there's only one of him running around.

No comments: