Itís the summer of 1984. Through no fault of your own, you find yourself suddenly expelled from college due to bad grades you received because three of your professors wouldnít allow you to retake your finals, even though you were in the hospital because a mole that had started bleeding had to be removed. You donít want to let your mother know about your problems; youíre embarrassed, and you donít want to have to mooch off of her and have her be critical of you. Youíre no longer able to live in student housing, you have no more meal plan, no more classes, no more school dances, and the streets of New York are much harsher and colder reality than the hallways, classrooms, and dormitories of Columbia University. The job situation is difficult at best, and youíre one step from becoming a street person.
Thatís the true-life situation author Ted Rall faced and has powerfully documented in his and artist Paul Callejoís new collaboration, the graphic memoir The Year of Loving Dangerously. What would you do? Give up, go crawling back to your mother, commit suicide, or maybe none of the above - maybe end up sleeping with the women you meet in chance encounters until a job comes through? Ted Rall lost everything heíd counted on, and though he eventually got back on his feet and got a job, for an entire year for him, as the blurb on the cover of the book says, ďSurvival meant breaking all the rules.Ē
With an introduction by Xaviera Hollander, author of The Happy Hooker, you know right from the start that there will be some adult subject matter involved in the telling of Rallís tale. There also is some nudity, though not of a gratuitous type, so The Year of Loving Dangerously is not for younger kids and teens. The illustrations, product of three years of work by artist Paul Callejo, are lovingly inked in brilliant colors; the panels, backgrounds, and characters are rendered realistically with expressive features. The story line and art work nicely together and aid each other in telling Rallís story. Iím sure that Rall, a political cartoonist as well as an author, could have done the artwork, but itís difficult to say if heíd have done as good of a job as Pablo. Callejoís artistic skills are impressive, and I hope that the two might do another collaboration in the future.
So, how ďadultĒ in subject matter does the novel get? How does a guy manage to luck out in such a difficult situation, and end up sleeping with so many beautiful women, seeming to turn a terrible situation to his advantage? There is some female nudity but no depictions of intercourse - if the book was rated in the same way movies are, maybe itíd get a PG-13 rating. The nudity is fairly tasteful and necessary to the plot.
Though the notion of having sex night after night with attractive women youíve just met definitely sounds pretty awesome to most heterosexual males, Rall had tremendous luck in this one aspect of an otherwise sucky year. He also felt guilty at times, knowing he was taking advantage of women so that he could have a place to sleep, food to eat, and women to have sex with; still, the women seemed cool with it and enjoyed their time with him in a reciprocal way. None knew that he was sleeping with other women on other days of the week, each believing that Rall was only having a relationship with her, however, and that was one of the things that disturbed Rall about the many relationships he was in.
The Year of Loving Dangerously is just the second book Iíve read of Ted Rallís, the first being his account of his travels along the Silk Road in Silk Road to Ruin. I quite enjoyed the latter, how he combined his memories of the trip with accurate descriptions of the people and political climes of the countries he visited along the Silk Road. This book didnít disappoint, either. A graphic memoir that presents this one particular year, a year of many hardships to Ted Rall, realistically and often humorously, it shows what a person can do if he or she doesnít give up when faced with a seemingly insurmountable roadblock. Though Rall considered suicide at one point in the book, he fortunately toughed it out and carried on. This story gives hope to us all.