SEAS grad draws ‘sketchy’ life
With the edgy, graffiti-swathed New York of 1984 as its stage, “The Year of Loving Dangerously” tells the rousing coming-of-age story of the now renowned political cartoonist in the year his life fell apart.
By Tommy Hill
Published Thursday 19 November 2009 07:24pm EST.
View post history
For the cockeyed Columbia student who took his acceptance letter as a one-way ticket to the upper crust, Ted Rall’s autobiographical graphic novel “The Year of Loving Dangerously” is a wake-up call. With the edgy, graffiti-swathed New York of 1984 as its stage, the full-color memoir, to be released next month by Nantier, Beall, Minoustchine, tells the rousing coming-of-age story of the now renowned political cartoonist in the year his life fell apart.
Long before he became an award-winning journalist and artist, Rall was a dedicated Columbia engineering student, committed to the grueling undergraduate marathon of interminable nights holed up in Butler, striving for the inevitable six-figure paycheck at the finish line. In the work, however, the young Rall is sidelined by a freak medical condition, forcing him to miss his exams in the first semester of his junior year. A series of unfortunate accidents over the course of the next few months sees him arrested, fired, broken up with, expelled, and evicted. In the blink of an eye, Rall is booted from his high-flying life in the Ivy League and comes crashing down on the mean streets of a still gritty New York. Suicide looks like a welcoming exit.
“The message I wanted to get out there in this book,” Rall said, “was that this could happen to anyone.” But as depressing as its premise is, “The Year of Loving Dangerously” is no mere sob story. As the title implies, Rall’s is also a tale of freewheeling sex and endless lusty exploits. The homeless, desperate Rall discovers very early on that sometimes a comfy bed is just a smooth grin away. He becomes, in effect, a gigolo—“For day after day, week after week, and month after month, I ended up crashing at women’s apartments.” What started as a hopeless nightmare turns into a gripping adventure that is at once a steamy quest and a struggle for survival.
Working alongside renowned illustrator Pablo Callejo, Rall has created a work that is as visually striking as it is emotionally moving. The intricately detailed panels, many of them based on photo records of New York at the time, vividly reconstruct the context of Rall’s most trying year in all its grimy, punky detail. Illustrations of Rall in his old haunts—bars, record stores, underground concert halls, and Columbia’s campus—are as rich and evocative as photographs.
By the story’s end, Rall has managed to piece his life back together. With a job and a place of his own, seducing women has lost its existential urgency. But, as Rall assured, “The Year of Loving Dangerously” is not the whole story. “This is only the first part of what’s going to be a ‘sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll’ trilogy,” he said. “I’ve got a whole lot more to tell.”