By Ted Rall & Pablo G. Callejo (NBM/ComicsLit)
If you live long enough you’ll experience the pop culture keystones of every definitive era of your life at least twice more. The base, tasteless and utterly superficial aspects of the 1980s are currently doing the rounds again as the current generation – which was too young to remember them – get all nostalgic for the good bits and blithely ignore all the bad stuff: same as it ever was…
…Except for Ted Rall. The contemporary essayist and American political cartoonist, like everybody who was actually there, also recalls the decade that most tellingly shaped his life and has now written a largely autobiographical graphic novel memoir for rising comics star Pablo G. Callejo to beautifully illustrate.
For us Brits it was Union-Bashing, loads-a-money, poverty, excess, daft hair and Thatcher, whilst America endured trickle-down Reaganomics, insider dealing, covert warfare and poodle rock – so nobody really got off lightly either side of the pond…
In 1984, through a series of concatenating disasters and no fault of his own (well, not too much) college student Ted Rall was expelled from Columbia University, lost his apartment and was dumped onto the streets of New York with only a couple of dollars in his pocket.
Homeless and desperate in a land with no safety-net (not much different from Britain in the 80’s, in all honesty) he faced a short, bleak future, with very few options, the best of which was jumping off the dormitory building roof…
His happy salvation came as he sat in a diner. Accidentally picking up a young woman he spent a night at her pad and discovered a new career. For nearly a year he bounced from pick-up to assignation to one-night-stand, not for cash but only bed and board.
This book follows his narrowest of escapes from poverty, addiction, sexual infection and extreme loss of self-respect as, with the dubious aid of the luckiest dope-fiend in the city, Ted claws his way back to semi-respectability and security (as a stock market trader!) by means he clearly still doesn’t quite understand decades later.
What ought to be a salutary parable about the wages of sin is actually a sincere, sensitive and immensely humane tale of triumph over adversity, free from bragging, tawdry prurience or sordid machismo and truly funny in a heartwarming manner. Rall the student gigolo is a charming, if hapless, protagonist and the non-judgemental treatment of casual sex is wonderfully refreshing, as is the good hard look at the heart and soul rather than the surface veneer of the decade.
Not a book for everybody, but rational adults with an eye to an endearing human drama will love it.
© 2009 Ted Rall & Pablo G. Callejo. All rights reserved.