Review of “The Year of Loving Dangerously” in Columbia Daily Spectator

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.

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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.”

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About the Author

Ted Rall
Ted Rall
Setting himself apart from the herd with a unique drawing style and a take-no-prisoners approach, Ted Rall began editorial cartooning in the 1980s with a handful of alternative weekly newspapers whose editors saw his photocopied work hanging from lampposts in New York City. In 1991 San Francisco Chronicle Features began syndicating Rall’s three-times-a-week editorial cartoons syndication with newspapers including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Des Moines Register and Philadelphia Daily News.

Universal Press Syndicate picked up Rall’s cartoons in 1996. Today the man often called “the most controversial cartoonist in America” appears in more than 100 newspapers throughout the United States, ranging from the Washington Post to the Village Voice.

His trademark “Generalissimo El Busho” is an iconic caricature of President Bush. It has drawn criticism from conservatives. He was called “treasonous” by the right-wing Weekly Standard and “anti-American” by the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial page. The Right Wing News website named him 2003’s “Most Annoying Liberal” and was named number 15 in Bernard Goldberg’s book 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America. He has received numerous death threats.

Rall has also won awards, including the 1995 and 2000 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for Outstanding Coverage of the Problems of the Disadvantaged. In 1996 he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

Rall also draws non-political strips for MAD magazine and cartoon journalism for EurasiaNet, a news website about the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.

"Editorial cartooning is an intrinsically negative medium,” Rall says, “but I’m an optimistic person. My hope is that, by calling attention to hypocrisy in our government and the inward focus of American culture in an amusing way, things will change for the better.”

Four collections of Rall’s cartoons have been published: Waking Up In America, All The Rules Have Changed, Search and Destroy, and America Gone Wild, as well as three award-winning graphic novels, My War With Brian, Real Americans Admit: The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done! and 2024, a parody of Orwell’s 1984. He edited an influential three-volume anthology of edgy alternative weekly political cartoons, Attitude. He wrote the bestselling 1998 “generational manifesto” Revenge of the Latchkey Kids.

Rall covered the war in Afghanistan in cartoon form, where his harrowing experience—3 of the 44 journalists with whom he traveled were killed—led to the critically acclaimed book To Afghanistan and Back. He released two books of prose during 2004, Wake Up, You’re Liberal: How We Can Take America Back From the Right and Generalissimo El Busho.

Rall’s most recent book is Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?, a detailed analysis of the region in prose and cartoons.

See his books from NBM!

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