The Year of Loving Dangerously (NBM/ComicsLit)

Controversial political cartoonist Ted Rall teams with artist Pablo G. Callejo to reveal his days as a college student, broke and on the verge of suicide until he finds an all-new way to get by in this graphic memoir.

128 pgs., color; $18.95

(W : Ted Rall; A: Pablo G. Callejo)
1984 was a Very Bad Year for Ted Rall: he flunked out of Columbia University, was unable to find a job and unwilling to return home or ask his family for help, so he became a thief and hustler, sleeping with a succession of beautiful women in order to have a roof over his head at night.
Wait a minute, I can hear you saying, that doesn’t sound so bad: live without working (in one of the great cities of the world, no less) and get laid with no obligations? Can I flunk out of Columbia too?
And there is the main problem I have with The Year of Loving Dangerously: Rall presents it as a cautionary tale (anyone, even an Ivy League college student, can fall through the social safety net) but it sounds more like bragging with a bit of a how-to manual thrown in. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film version goes into production soon because the tale Rall tells hits a lot of male-fantasy buttons, including a threesome with two lesbians and a girlfriend who discourages him from using a condom.
Truth be told, The Year of Loving Dangerously is not a bad read on a superficial level (it’s certainly lively enough) and the graphics by Pablo G. Callejo really capture a sense of how crazy New York City was like in the mid-1980s. I suspect that men and women will have different reactions to Rall’s story, as will people of different generations, and that’s something of a compliment to the book: it puts an unmistakable point of view out there, without apology, and for that reason will elicit strong reactions from people.
I’m not trying to be a scold: we were all young once and have done things we’re not so proud of today, although recounting them without reflection 25 years later is another story. Maybe this book should be retitled “I was a teenage asshole” (or twenty-something asshole) because that’s a better reflection of the contents and even retains the riff on a movie title. The only “danger” involved with loving in this tale is a pimple which turns out to be innocuous.
Which leads me to another source of annoyance: the refusal of Rall to reflect on how much his ability to survive was based on his good fortune in being born a straight, white, male. A gay man sleeping around as much has he did in 1984 would likely have been dead of AIDS years ago, a young black man would have been less able to skulk around the corridors of Columbia stealing electric typewriters (fenced for $400 each, the equivalent of over $800 today), and a woman sleeping rough or with an indiscriminate selection of partners is in much greater physical danger than a man, not to mention that she gets labeled a slut rather than a stud.
But few reflect on their privileges and why should our young hero be any different? You can check out a preview of The Year of Loving Dangerously here (published here on PLAYBACK:stl last August) and read an interview with the author here (courtesy of Graphic Novel Reporter). | Sarah Boslaugh

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