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.

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.

References

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.