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.


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.

Fun Home: A Comic and a Musical


                         Fun Home              Fun Home musical

Read the original comic.  See the musical adaptation.

Marvel at the “repetition without replication” (Hutcheon, 2012, p. 7).

Alison Bechdel’s ‘tragicomic’ memoir, Fun Home (2006), is achingly moving as it propels readers through her childhood and young adulthood in a family which struggles yet copes, explodes yet has love and fun, and gets through painfully yet emphatically.  Comics panels depict and convey Bechdel’s desire to connect with a demanding, enigmatic, secretive gay father, as well as her growing recognition and eventual celebration of her own lesbian identity.  All the while, frank images, sumptuous captions, and plentiful samples of literary-text-as-illustration saturate the pages with poignancy, family history, and her father’s suicide.  Bechdel’s yearnings, pluck, and compelling sequential art are so absorbing that readers will want to experience her memoir in a cover-to-cover sitting.

Adaptation of this comic into Fun Home, the musical, presents Bechdel’s memoir within the wonderful accouterments of live theater (as seen on May 18, 2016 at the Circle in the Square theatre on Broadway in New York City).  Changes in presentation are distinct; stage replaces page, music voices characters’ views and readers’ reactions, a succinct and passionate script supplants eloquent text, and audience members are in a social group setting for the story rather than experiencing a comic solo.

Despite changes from the comic, the audience is propelled through the musical as well.  The basics of Bechdel’s memoir are present in the musical’s characters, scenes, and events.  (A similar idea , i.e., “enough familiar pieces,” is presented by Andrew Sparling in his blog.) The underlying visual guidance of a comics author/artist, however, is replaced with the ingenious incorporation of an adult ‘Alison’ [Bechdel] who roams the stage throughout the ‘years,’ providing intermittent narration and a number of descriptive or explanatory ‘verbal captions.’  Instead of comics panels which connect via layout, perspective and view, there is constant connection of moments and scenes on stage — in full view with no curtains, actors move, scenery changes, lighting transforms, a conductor directs, and musicians play.  Instead of gutters of space on comics pages, there are gutters of expectant silence in the theatre.  Instead of a cover-to-cover read, audiences are swept along a start-to-finish production with no intermission.

Lisa Kron, creator of the “book & lyrics” for Fun Home, the musical, notes the “deep river of yearning that flows through [Bechdel’s comic]” (Ross, May 2016, p. 21).  As explained above, a number of features in the musical create that “deep river of yearning” on stage as well.


Bechdel, A. (2006). Fun home: A family tragicomic. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Hutcheon, L. (2012). A theory of adaptation, 2nd edition. London, UK: Routledge.

Ross, B. (Ed.). (May 2016). Playbill: Circle in the Square. New York, NY: Playbill.




Sequential Art Enables Trinity to Provide History and Readers to Share Questions


J. Robert Oppenheimer was an academic prodigy, a central figure in the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, and eventually an anguished scientist.  On the front cover of Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (2012), Oppenheimer’s eyes stare at the reader.  An atomic-bomb cloud glares above.  Readers of this title will stare as well; the visual energy on each page will rivet their eyes and minds on science, history, and the formidable powers inherent in ‘The Manhattan Project’ that created the first atomic bomb.  Readers will be held in an imagistic grip, and will surely feel compelled to look at other comics and related media.

There are 152 rich and efficient pages in Fetter-Vorm’s comic about the development and use of the atomic bomb by the United States during a secretive, deadly campaign to force Japan’s World War II surrender.  The sequential art makes many facets of this history accessible, and it includes images, terms, and historical figures that readers have likely encountered before in academia or in popular culture.  These include ‘atomic fission,’ ‘nuclear chain reactions,’ Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, U. S. President Harry S. Truman, U. S. General Leslie Groves, Trinity, Los Alamos, and Hiroshima.

A particularly effective use of graphic panels, layout, and text boxes appears on page 49, where essential processes jigsaw together and the essence of “criticality” is explained:

Trinity page

Broad expanses of black and white on several pages of Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb represent the profundity of science and its ability to destroy peoples at war.  The predominance of ashen gray backgrounds, however, illustrates the involvement of moral, ethical, and philosophical questions and uncertainties (i.e., ‘gray areas’).  Two examples are “Does the need to end a war justify the propagation of phenomenal destruction?” and “How do common folk participate unknowingly in massive violence or other aggressions?”

It’s hard to look away from the science, history, possibilities, dilemmas, revelations, and cautionary tales in Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic BombFor further exploration in several media formats, start with these titles:

Bird, K. (2011). American Prometheus: The triumph and tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer [Electronic resource eBook]. New York, NY: Random House; available electronically via Overdrive.

Chute, H. L. (2016). Disaster drawn: Visual witness, comics, and documentary form [Comics format]. Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University.

Gonick, L. (1991). The cartoon guide to physics [Comics format]. New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

O’Neal, M. (1990). President Truman and the atomic bomb: Opposing viewpoints [Print]. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven.

Pellegrino, C. R. (2014). The last train from Hiroshima: The survivors look back [Audiobook on CD]. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor.

Wells, H. G. (1914). The world set free: A story of mankind [Print]. New York, NY: E. P. Dutton. [This title is described on page 6 in Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb.]

World War II [Videorecording DVD]. (2005). [Place of publication not identified]: Komax Licensing.


Fetter-Vorm, J. (2012). Trinity: A graphic history of the first atomic bomb. New York, NY: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Experiencing Panels and Gutters in an Art Gallery: Thoughts on Comics, Art, and Literacy

Sample comics-page from Daytripper (Moon & Bá, 2011)

As a student of comics (i.e., sequential art), my thoughts often turn to the effects of panels and gutters as literary components.  Panel delineation draws the reader to consider pieces of story, and gutters are intentional spaces which assign control to the reader (McCloud, as found in Chute, 2014, p. 25) – thereby allowing the reader’s cognition, context, curiosity, and imagination to mingle.  Story and ‘visual silence’ combine in sequential art; it is a unique form of literature that draws readers forward while allowing for pauses.


SBU Gallery SUMOn March 23, I experienced the effects of panel-like components and gutter-like spaces in works of art in the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery at Stony Brook University.  The gallery currently showcases works by Logan Marks, Myda El-Maghrabi, Ye-seul Choi, Heather M. Cruce, and Victoria Febrer in “SUM: MFA 2016 Thesis Exhibition.”

Within the remarkable art in the exhibition, there are squares and rectangles delineating and forming fields of color, pattern, shape, and images.  There are also ‘silent spots’ that allow for pauses and reflections.  Just as in comics-reading, such features enhanced my visual experiences, enriched my interpretations, and increased my appreciation for the works.

Although the sequential nature of the art in comics and graphic novels is not necessarily characteristic of the art I viewed, it was interesting to experiment with both sequential and non-sequential visual navigation within the works.  Also, incorporating assemblage tasks which occur during navigation through a comics page (Cohn, 2013, pp. 95-100; Eisner, 2008, p. 41), and then altering the visual process was an intense but rewarding way to enjoy the art from different perspectives.

Some tangential notes (and food for thought) for librarians and literacy specialists:

Each of the approaches above formed a distinct experience, and this brings to mind many possibilities in the experiences of readers of comics and graphic novels when they explore images, text, and layout.  This also brings to mind the benefits of multidisciplinary approaches for literacy support in general, which Vukelich, Christie, and Enz point out in their discussions about literacy development (2008); they note that creating art is important (pp. 97-98).  Inspired by my visit to the Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery, I will add that readers benefit when art for viewing is included in library offerings – in the form of trips to galleries and museums, or in a multi-media community gallery housed in the library.

To conclude, I recommend a visit to “SUM: MFA 2016 Thesis Exhibition.”  In particular, readers of comics and graphic novels will be intrigued by the ‘panels’ and ‘gutters’ waiting to be discovered there.  The exhibition runs through April 9.

The following works in the exhibition inspired this commentary:

SBU Logan Marks     Logan MarksStatic, Remote Control & the Leftover TV Dinners, 2016

SBU Myda El-Magrhabi  Myda El-MaghrabiEach body is a strange beach, 2016

SBU Ye-seul Choi  Ye-seul ChoiAn Aerial Scene, 2016

SBU Heather Cruce  Heather M. CruceSee Canyon Veil, 2016

SBU Victoria Febrer.jpg  Victoria FebrerMoving Mountains #2, 2016 (Untitled Marine Vistas #173, 174, 175, 176, 177)


Chute, H. L. (2014). Outside the box: Interviews with contemporary cartoonists. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.

Cohn, N. (2013). The visual language of comics: Introduction to the structure and cognition of sequential images. London, UK: Bloomsbury.

Eisner, W. (2008). Comics and sequential art: Principles and practices from the legendary cartoonist (Rev. ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

Moon, F., & Bá, G. (2011). Daytripper. New York , NY: DC Comics.

Vukelich, C., Christie, J., & Enz, B. (2008). Helping young children learn language and literacy: Birth through kindergarten (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.


Sequential Art in the Public Library: Sorting, Shelving, and Service


M. C. Escher. (1948). Fish / Duck / Lizard Image (No.  69): Ink, watercolor. Retrieved from the website of the M.C. Escher Foundation and the M.C. Escher Company, B.V. at

Many public libraries are laying out the welcome mat for comics readers and sequential art (i.e., ‘graphic novels’ and ‘comics’).  Firm footing for connecting readers with titles is supported by effective cataloging, careful placement in library collections, and ongoing study.

This exploration highlights two related sources, and this blogger’s recommendations are listed.

Karen Green (November 9, 2010) speaks to a number of challenges in the academic library.  Although the Library of Congress (LoC) Classification Outline can be used to collocate graphic novels or comics by branch of learning (e.g., Theatre) [para. 2-3], this may not always place related items where one might expect to find them (para. 4-8).  For example, some items from one learning area may be on the ‘Literature’ shelves and others from the same area may be on the ‘Fine Arts/Drawing’ shelves.  Some items may not be categorized as ‘graphic novels’ because they were added to the collection before this LoC format heading existed.  Green notes that comics creators may not adhere to conventions that facilitate collecting or cataloging, such as applying for ISBNs and seeking nationally recognized cataloging copy (para. 14).  Given these considerations, Green has a personal record that tracks collections in order to help patrons who might not find what they want in the library catalog (para. 15).

Lessons in library science and public-library practicalities can be gleaned from Green’s comments.  These include the work that must be done to meet challenges in acquiring graphic novels and establishing them as searchable in both the catalog and on the shelf.  At this time, collecting graphic novels in the public library might only be acquired from certain vendors, and collection development might require scholarly review.  As a result, public librarians may not have access to materials in the comic market that are ‘underground’ or self-published.  Public librarians can consider the following ideas.

Quinn Recommendations

  • Pay attention to cataloging of new items to ensure that ‘Graphic novels’ is in the record to facilitate searching.
  • While weeding, identify old records for updating.
  • As per Green, keep note of as many details as possible concerning individual items in collections. This can expand and enhance skills in searching and readers’ advisory.
  • Visit local comics stores and bookstores to learn about items available.
  • During reference interviews, ask patrons about comics they read or like.
  • Seek out professional development opportunities related to graphic novels classification.

Laurel Tarulli (2010) speaks to challenges with the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) system, technical services operations, and changing library practices.  The article includes  an intense medley of earnest efforts to serve patrons, maintain cataloging excellence, and ensure high quality collection development.

Because graphic novels and comics might be processed in a technical services department before they reach a reference librarian, they might be catalogued according to “traditional . . . models” or catalogued without information such as illustrator names (Tarulli, 2010, p. 213).  In addition, current and recent cataloging may have placed graphic fiction and comics within the 741.5s and graphic non-fiction within a myriad of non-fiction collections.  Further, patrons may be interested in browsing comics by publisher or being presented with a variety of items collocated by character [not by format] (Tarulli, 2010, p. 219; What is, 2016, para. 2).

Tarulli also points to the importance of a “long-term view” that accommodates readers’ needs concerning series on shelves and in the catalog (p. 216), and processes such as applying “graphic novel sticker[s]” to identify new items before they hit the shelves.  The discussion goes on to include practices that may inadvertently censor materials, networking that can support the excellence of the library services, and possibilities such as opportunities to browse by catalog images instead of items in hand (pp. 218-220).

This blogger’s recommendations that follow are focused on public libraries.  They aim to consider Tarulli’s observations, to acknowledge that “pop culture moves quickly” (Lyga & Lyga, 2004, p. 13), to allow for prompt but careful change, to uphold a “long-term view” for assessing library practices, and to incorporate patrons’ needs.

Quinn Recommendations

  • Place distinct stickers on the spines of graphic novels and comics – both new acquisitions and items already held. This is both a service for patrons and a stopgap process that does not alter cataloging and location until they have been carefully assessed.
  • Have local technical services staff meet with on-the-desk librarians to discuss cataloging and processing.
  • Support awareness of graphic novels and comics with displays.
  • Be aware that not all public librarians learned about graphic novels and comics in library school.
  • Attend or ask for seminars about graphic novels and comics at library systems.
  • Discuss the possibility of working relationships with local comics stores.
  • Create a short survey (on paper and online) that invites patrons to voice their needs concerning graphic novels and comics in the library. The paper surveys could be placed at reference desks and on the shelves where such items are located in the library.
  • Offer graphic-novels/comics discussion programs for children’s age groups (About good, 2016, para. 2) and for adults, where readers and librarians can share their enjoyment (Jacobson, 2010, p. 29) and knowledge about individual titles or this literature in general.


About good comics for kids. (2016). Retrieved from the Good Comics for Kids blog of School Library Journal at

Green, K. (November 9, 2010). ‘Whaddaya got?’: Finding graphic novels in an academic library.  Retrieved from the website of Publishers Weekly at

Jacobson, A. (2010). Party on! at your book discussions: Shouldn’t a book club be for the fun of sharing? American Libraries, 41(8). Retrieved from!%20At%20your%22~~SP~28~~IU~8~~SN~0002-9769~~VO~41&lm=DA~120100000&sw=w

Lyga, A. A. W., & Lyga, B. (2004). Graphic novels in your media center: A definitive guide. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

Nyberg, A. K. (2010). How librarians learned to love the graphic novel. In Weinger, R. (Ed.). Graphic novels and comics in libraries and archives: Essays on readers, research, history and cataloging. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Tarulli, Laurel. (2010). Cataloging and problems with Dewey: Creativity, collaboration and compromise. In Weiner, R. G. (Ed.). Graphic novels and comics in libraries and archives: Essays on readers, research, history and cataloging. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

What is appeal?/Some examples/Character. (2016). Retrieved from the website of Novelist at


Reflection on ‘Fairy Tales in Comics’ Seminar


Free Google Advanced image – Dale Chihuly – glass in boat – morning – Palm House

I had a profound sense of my topic’s timelessness while presenting this seminar.  Given that fairy-tale adaptations in the form of comics are part of a folklore process that has churned and persisted for thousands of years, I was excited to share my interest and findings with my classmates.  I felt humbled and honored to be part of a larger process.

It was a pleasure to receive positive feedback about ‘setting the mood’ for the seminar with a photo of a Dale Chihuly glass creation.  Libraries serve and operate within multi-faceted communities, and works of art speak well to the importance of including multidisciplinary components in our services. For a comprehensive source about Dale Chihuly and his work, visit – the Timeline (, in particular, is mesmerizing!

Presenting my seminar within a class on superhero comics was serendipitous in a way, as it made me think about Ranganathan’s library-science laws, especially the third law (“Every book its reader”) and the fifth law (“The library is a growing organism”) [Rubin, 2010, pp. 407-410].  Since there are many comics styles with which both fairy tales and superhero stories can be told, adding such comics to our library collections can add a wealth of literature choices for our patrons.

Not presented in the seminar, and possibly a topic to include in a seminar on censorship, is an idea that I came across in Linda Hutcheon’s theory of adaptation (2013).  Hutcheon comments  that “Adults . . . ‘censor’ adaptations, deciding that some are appropriate for children and others are not” (p. 118).  Our responsibilities as librarians behoove us to consider and to discuss this.  Views and information on child development, morals, and ethics should be part of such a discussion.

An aspect of my presentation that didn’t fit was my plan to share resources with my classmates via the PowerPoint slides.  I had thought that this would be efficient (I am an avid note-taker), but realize that a different format may better serve my classmates.  My recommendations are, therefore, listed here:


The Visual Literacy Toolbox: Learning to Read Images


SurLaLune Fairy Tales


Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tales  (Marina Warner, Oxford University Press, 2014)


Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts


The Graphic Canon of Children’s Literature  (Russ Kick [Ed.], Seven Stories Press, 2014)


Linda Hutcheon, Bill Willingham, Jane Yolen, Jack Zipes


Willingham, B. (2012). Fables: Volume 1, Legends in exile. New York (NY): DC Comics.


Duffy, C. (Ed.). (2013). Fairy tale comics: Classic tales told by extraordinary cartoonists. New York (NY): First Second.


Hutcheon, L. (2012). A theory of adaptation (2nd ed.).  London, UK: Routledge.

Rubin, R. E. (Ed.). (2010). Foundations of library and information science, 3rd ed. New York, NY: Neal-Schuman.