Berlin-based cartoonist Ulli Lust’s Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life is a harrowing account of her adventures as a young teenage punk on the road. Set in 1984, this autobiographical tale begins with the restless 17-year-old Ulli spending her days wandering the streets of Vienna meeting interesting people and doing her best to avoid Nazi skinheads. She makes out with her boyfriend, learns how to give stick-and-poke tattoos and is constantly insulted on the street for her punk style.
Ulli meets Edi, who suggests that they hitchhike to Italy and sneak over the border. What follows is an epic road trip. The book weighs in at nearly 500 pages and Lust pays close attention to the trials and triumphs of the no-budget travel of her teenage protagonists. In addition to hitchhiking, Ulli and Edi also hike treacherous mountain paths populated by wild boars, and later they reluctantly attend the opera in Verona and even visit St. Peter’s Basilica.
In Rome, the wandering pair find a tribe of street kids to call their own. On their first night with their new crew they sneak into a Clash concert and Ulli remarks “we had arrived in paradise.” But following a summer living on the streets of Rome, Ulli migrates further south, finding herself alone in Palermo. Lust sensitively depicts the predicament faced by her younger self; without money she is vulnerable to the men who offer her food or a place to stay, and when she refuses the inevitable propositions she is either insulted or attacked.
Eventually Ulli gives up on Italy, returning home to her parents’ house, leaving a black ring of dirt around the tub after bathing for the first time in months. Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life is a gripping read that feels like a story a close friend might tell you after returning from a long voyage. Lust’s lively illustration style and enthralling narrative voice make this graphic novel a feminist On the Road for the twenty-first century.
Montreal cartoonist Joe Ollmann’s new book is about the dissolution of a relationship, but the circumstances which bring about this domestic unravelling are deeply weird. Together for six years, Mark and Sue are lower-middle class, slightly depressed and totally in love. One night while watching an alien abduction scene in a rented movie, Mark suddenly recalls his own abduction by aliens years before, breaking down in tears and shaking in fear. Sue is initially sympathetic but refuses to believe Mark’s recovered memories.
The couple remain locked in this stand-off for weeks, growing increasingly distant and unable to communicate. Mark begins to unravel, staying home from work, refusing to wash, and spending countless hours on alien abduction message boards. Meanwhile, a distraught Sue seeks emotional support (and eventually more) from her boss.
Ollmann’s story is entertaining throughout and often quite funny, using these unconventional circumstances as a vehicle to lampoon the boredom and comfort of domestic life. Ollmann’s illustration style is rough and cartoony, and conveys the high emotional charge of the story, slyly drawing the reader into Mark and Sue’s strange conflict, one which has no clear resolution by the end of the book.
Scottish cartoonist Tom Gauld’s second book from Drawn & Quarterly, You’re All Just Jealous of My Jetpack, collects his comic strips originally published in the Guardian’s review section. These strips mix high culture with low, creating a rare alchemy that is pitch-perfect and full of fun.
Gauld is a master of hilarious combinations. In one strip, a semi-nude Allen Ginsberg is Spiderman’s new crime-fighting sidekick. The webbed wonder advises Ginsberg “I’ll catch the crooks in my web, then you blow their minds with a poem.” Elsewhere the novels of the Bronte sisters are adapted into a videogame. And in one of the most mordant strips in the collection Samuel Beckett’s version of Tintin wanders a bleak landscape and mutters “Life might be slightly less horrible further on.”
All the strips offer a humorous engagement with the tropes of fiction and the banalities of literary creation, including self-aware literary characters who complain that their indecisive writer keeps changing their names, and Barbara, “a complex literary creation,” who is forced to break up with Michael, a mere sci-fi character. Many of the funniest strips involve absurd and erudite conceits such as “The Mouse, The Bird, and the Difficult Novel,” or “Feminist James Bond.” Throughout the collection, Gauld’s comic strips are smart, silly and hilarious. ■
Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life by Ulli Lust, Trans. by Kim Thompson, 460 pp. $37 (Fantagraphics)
Science Fiction by Joe Ollmann, 2013, 128 pp. $18 softcover (Conundrum)
You’re All Just Jealous of my Jetpack by Tom Gauld, 2013, 160 pp. $19.95 hardcover (Drawn & Quarterly)
Jeff Miller is the author of the award-winning short story collection Ghost Pine: All Stories True. He lives and drinks coffee in Little Italy.