Screwed: The Year of Loving Dangerously

Posted by on February 15th, 2010 at 5:41 AM

Rob reviews Ted Rall’s new memoir comic, THE YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY (NBM), drawn by Pedro Callejo.

Ted Rall’s THE YEAR OF LOVING DANGEROUSLY is a fascinating trainwreck of a comic, whipping the reader around with jarring shifts in tone–both in story and in character.  The art, and especially the colors, by Pedro Callejo are a constant distraction.  The colors are frequently muddy, the figures stiff and often out of proportion and the overall storytelling is bland, with character-to-character interactions in particular feeling awkard.  Callejo is the sort of artist who works better with a moodier setting, and the frequent brightness of this story seemed to be a poor match for his style.

I was also disappointed that Rall didn’t pencil this story himself.  I greatly enjoyed his over-the-top, scratched-out storytelling in his high school memoir MY WAR WITH BRIAN, and I’m not sure why he chose to work with an illustrator.  At a guess–and given that he describes his own story as “sensuous”–he wanted a more naturalistic (sexy?) approach for this book.  The problem was that Callejo seemed a poor fit in that area as well; despite some of the situations Rall found himself in (threesomes, four different girlfriends at once, developing the sort of patter that could land himself nearly any woman), the way the scenes were depicted was far from erotic.  I would have greatly preferred to have seen Rall’s own scratchy line in depicting these events; it certainly would have been more interesting to look at.

The central thrust of this memoir concerns Rall in college.  For a variety of reasons, he found himself expelled from college in New York City in 1984, with no job, no place to live and 8 bucks in his pocket.  He survived because he was able to exploit his looks and charm.  What was odd about the way Rall told this story was the mixed messages he sent as a storyteller.   On the one hand, he was clear that he had mixed feeling about sleeping with a different woman every night.  In the course of the story, he didn’t play up the erotic angle of this sort of lifestyle as much as one would think.  Indeed, Rall noted that he was still heartsick for an old girlfriend and it was obvious at the end of the book that when one of his girlfriends told him she loved him, he froze.  The experience seemed to almost cauterize his ability to feel emotion toward a sexual partner.

That emotional distance seemed to mask a fairly obvious sense of self-loathing, which is ironic given that Rall noted in his introduction that this book was a call to autobiographical cartoonists to stop portraying themselves as losers who couldn’t get laid.  Rall may have been getting laid, but it certainly didn’t make him happy.  Rall also vacillated between blaming others for his state and blaming himself, between putting himself down as weak because he couldn’t stand up to his mother and boasting for an extended period in the book about how good he became in his Wall Street job, between being sympathetic and off-puttingly arrogant.  The result was a book that was all over the place: frequently entertaining, often baffling and contradicting itself at any number of turns.  If only it had been Rall’s own hand depicting these events, then this messiness might have held a greater appeal.

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One Response to “Screwed: The Year of Loving Dangerously

  1. […] much more scathing reviews of late on that note of Rall just showing off, including Rob Clough on The Comics Journal’s site where the art was also criticized which surprises […]