Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life: A Comics Memoir

Today is the Last DayNotions of free-form hitchhiking (no itinerary, just scraps of money, no end in sight!) can thrill or chill.  Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life (Ulli Lust’s comic translated from German to English, 2013), is a memoir that does both.

Impulsively at age 17, Ulli roams through Italy for a few months with her insistent new friend, Edi.  Eventually, they are ensnared at the beck and call of powerful men.  Each of the two women must decide to stay, to bolt . . . or go home.

Ulli and Edi are adventurous to the point of brashness.  Their journey is thrilling, with new sights, adventures, sex explorations, cocky plans for meals and shelter,  and lots of laughs.  The journey is also chilling, with encountering men (some aggressive, some pathetic, and most raring to go at it), taking street drugs, skirting violence, and spending time in jail.

Ulli’s journey fills 462 riveting comics pages.  Reading through is like being on a roller coaster, rising then plummeting, wishing the experience would never end, and working hard to suck in a breath.  There is a deluge to digest: tattoos, vomit, wine, murmurs in the dark, pubic lice, hairdos (prominent visuals in this comic), Nazis, music, rape, and hunger.  But there are also small, sweet oases of starlight, satisfaction, and dreams.

After absorbing Ulli Lust’s provocative memoir in comics form, readers will want more to feel, see, and ponder.  The following titles can keep the journey going:

MUSIC:  Kind of Blue (Miles Davis, 1959) ◊ A classic, accessible and profound jazz album to relish after the comic’s last page (or for listening while reading).

MUSIC:  Blind Faith (Blind Faith, 1969) ◊ Music about emotions, finding purpose, and facing the future.  [This groundbreaking album established firm footing in Western popular culture just preceding Ulli Lust’s journey, making its style a part of the social scene of the times.]

PHOTOGRAPHS:  Eye to Eye (Vivian Maier, 2013) ◊ “Eye to eye” portraits taken on streets around the world by a woman who kept these images with her personal belongings.

BOOK:  Living Through This: A Mother’s Memoir of Runaway Daughters and Reclaimed Love (Debra Gwartney, 2009) ◊ A memoir of family abandoned and family reconciled, told by a mother who searched for her daughters in San Francisco.

BOOK:  On the Road  (Jack Kerouac, 1957) ◊ A 20th century ‘Beat Generation’ classic about searching for meaning and growth on a cross country road trip.

BOOK:  Girl  (Blake Nelson, 1994) ◊ A literary look at the transition from stereotypical teen to non-conforming, satisfied young woman.

GRAPHIC NOVEL:  Little Fish: A Memoir From a Different Kind of Year (Ramsey Beyer, 2013) ◊ A girl from small-town America goes to college in the city, documenting changes and transitions in her life with a journal and artwork.

GRAPHIC NOVEL:  We Can Never Go Home (Matthew Rosenberg, 2015) ◊ Two teens leave home and can never go back.  They have music, a car, cash, a gun, and some unusual capabilities.

FILM:  Submarine (Mary Burke et al. [Producers]; Richard Ayoade [Writer/Director]; 2011) ◊ Based on a novel by Joe Dunthorne, a teenage boy’s coming of age is depicted amid family drama.

References

Beyer, R. (2013). Little Fish: A memoir from a different kind of year.  San Francisco, CA: Zest.

Blind Faith. (1969). Blind Faith (sound recording CD). United Kingdom: Polydor.

Burke, M., Herbert, M., & Stebbing, A. (Producers); Ayoade, R. (Writer, Director). Submarine (videorecording DVD). Beverly Hill, CA: Anchor Bay.

Davis, M. (1958; 1987). Kind of blue (sound recording CD). New York, NY: Columbia.

Gwartney, D. (2009). Living through this: A mother’s memoir of runaway daughters and reclaimed love.  Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Kerouac, J. (1957; 2003); On the road. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Lust, U.; Thompson, K. (Editor/Translator). (2013). Today is the last day of the rest of your life.  Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics.

Maier, V. (2013). Eye to eye: Photographs by Vivian Maier. Chicago, IL: Cityfiles.

Nelson, B. (1994). Girl. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Rosenberg, M. (2015). We can never go home. Vol. 1, What we do is secret. Los Angeles, CA: Black Mask.

Linus, War, and Mr. Orange

REVIEW of Matti, Truus.  Mister Orange. Ill. by Jenni Desmond. Trans. by Laura Watkinson. Enchanted Lion Books, 2012. 159 p. $16.95. 978-1-59270-123-0.

[VOYA codes:]  3Q  3P  M  J  S

Opening the covers of Mister Orange (a translation of a 2011 Dutch novel) is like opening a box of watercolor paints.  The book design, nimbly-sorted language, and short chapters are simple and pleasing.  Like many paintings, the story inside is comfortably familiar yet compelling.  And, just as artists bring life to their creations via subtlety and resolution, author Matti slowly builds an engaging, multi-layered account of family, friendship, fear, loss, hope, and the power of art.

Linus Muller lives in New York City with his loving, hard-working family, amidst the home front of World War II.  When his brother enlists, Linus becomes the family’s new fruit-and-vegetable delivery boy.  On his route, Linus meets ‘Mr. Orange,’ an intriguing artist who introduces him to a vivid world of color, imagination, and hope.  Mister Superspeed, an imaginary superhero, helps Linus picture the world in his head and sort out its complexities and realities.

Young teens will relate to Linus and be intrigued by entertaining characters who help him think about family, friends, war, and the future.  Older teens will recognize younger selves and be absorbed by a tale that holds plenty of food for thought.  All readers will paint mental images of 1940s city life and of a world that becomes both harsher and sweeter for Linus as time marches forward.  Many will also wish to learn more about World War II, the history of New York City, modern art, and artist Piet Mondrian.

Strongly recommend

Steal Away to a Book

REVIEW of Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. Illus. by T. White. Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. 550p. $12.99 Trade pb. 978-0-385-75472-9. A Readers Guide (About the Book. Questions for Discussion. Related Titles. Internet Resources. In His Own Words: A Conversation with Markus Zusak).

[VOYA codes:] 5Q  4P  S

Liesel is sprouting through adolescence in World War II Germany and becoming a stealer of food and books. The horrors of war creep into her needy neighborhood, until her smothering world is overrun with terror, anxiety, Nazi propaganda and oppression.  Liesel and her foster parents have secrets that threaten to extinguish them – a hidden Jew, adrenalined burglaries in the mayor’s mansion, compassionate deeds, and more.  Young Rudy Steiner doesn’t know all the hidden nightmares in Liesel’s sleeping and waking hours, but together they share the comforts of friendship and the thrills of wit, pluck, covert daring and twinges of desire that anchor their day-to-day survival.

There is something astonishing to rejoice about in this heart-wrenching, thought-provoking story, and that is the power of words, books, and writing. Liesel cannot resist them, and clutches them close to her in any way she can.  Death itself is the compelling narrator who teases the reader with hints of the future, begs for comfort, and twists the many notions of mortality.  Stolen books, crusty papers, profound announcements, and small, exquisite, pictured stories claimed from the heart and soul bring this award-winning title to life.  (The story has also been brought to life in a motion picture based on this title and released in 2013.)

In an earnest style that brings to mind Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, The Book Thief gracefully affirms the power of the human spirit and the ways in which words and books keep the lifeblood flowing when existence is critically wounded. Readers will be awed and very likely changed by the profound beauty and vigor in this one-of-a-kind book.

Highly recommended