Ulli Lust brings punk to comics

Today Is The Last Day of the Rest of Your Life is a hefty technically innovative graphic novel of daring, rebellion, and anger

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Picture from: http://www.ullilust.de/aktuell/basel_fotoreport.html

clocks in at 450 pages. It has dark and depressing moments, it’s about a girl on a pretty scary adventure, but overall, it’s light, and a breeze to read. Ulli never forgets, despite the close-shaves, how much fun she had: the amazing and odd people she met, the hot guys she hooked up with, the beach swims, the glory of sleeping under a starry sky and the amazing concerts and dances she attended. The author prefers a naive style of illustration (another artist who reminds me of her style is Noah van Scriver), which helps lighten and advance the mood of the work, but the use of form-shaping shadows, the expressive anatomy, and the mark-making vocabulary represent an understated talent for quite amazing abstract representation.

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By her own admission, her work being autobiographical, she’s kicked men in the nuts if warranted for protection. But it doesn’t always work. The rules are different when you are a minor girl, far from home. Ulli ran away seeking adventure, tattooing punks in Vienna, befriending a woman with no impulse control, the two of them somehow making it all the way to Sicily without papers or travel documents, and often living on the streets. She shrugs off one horrible sexual assault with revulsion, anger and disgust, and offers these stories, perhaps as caution, perhaps to reflect on a turbulent youth, but with a clear-eyed perspective that never gives over to melodrama or pontification. She keeps the focus on how weird and twisted masculinity can be. You wish she was your professor at graphic design school, so you can love, respect and admire her 50:50 mix of sangfroid, talent, work ethic and ideals. People like her approach comics in its undiluted badass, punk art form. To paraphrase the Sex Pistols, God Save Ulli Lust. For Ulli Lust is the queen of punk comics.

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The most unique thing in the story-telling of this novel is the rejection of the “ladies should not be heard” view that being a girl requires apology. Whether tearing fabric to crafting her own swimsuit or taking on Sicilian mafia to secure her friend’s release from captivity, Ulli doesn’t need anyone’s permission to be who she is. She is brazen in discussing her body, whether her anxiety about growing breasts, being help captive by one particularly odd creep (who kept her above his garage to pee and poop in a bowl and even wanted to watch her go), or the weird bodily malfunctions of her friend, it is refreshing to read something where one isn’t shy or coy about communicating that being a girl is very different from what the world says is “normal”.

What really gives Ulli material for this graphic novel is the weirdness of Italian masculinity. From the very beginning she arrives, she notices the habitual preference the boys have for anal sex, possibly the result of a gender segregated society. An open and honest person, she is left frustrated by the preening and dishonesty. If you say yes, you’re a slut. If you say no, they want to rape you. They cannot accept a woman as an equal, with a right to consent, or being confronted, and she gets into some pretty big scrapes when a man thinks she’s slighted their honour. She is advised not to rub things in, to understand the secret codes of behaviour that must be respected, but she can’t be bothered by the stupidity and unfairness of the nonsense. Additionally, some of the men are really attractive, and they don’t play these stupid games, and she is happy for their company.

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The Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen album cover: the definitive piece of punk art

Punk has come to denote a pejorative, not that different from comics as an art form. However, punk was the major vehicle of counter-culture in the 60s and 70s, which served causes including fighting racism, police brutality, or equal rights for women. Punk is the philosophy of opposing authority as a fundamental civic duty.

The most amazing thing in the adventure is Italian generosity: so many cafes and trattorias feed her, without payment, when they see she is starving. Some treat her like a paying customer, seat her, and provide table service and many courses. They give her bread to takeaway. And it’s fucking: SICILIAN FOOD. I’ve eaten an arancini in Palermo. It was as delicious as anything in Calcutta (the highest praise possible for food), and as big as my head.

It’s pretty crazy that a girl that young gets into a tangle with the mafia of Palermo and manages, in the end, to walk away. That’s a city where the airport is now named after two anti-corruption magistrates who were blown up by a car bomb for their public service.

But then again, she’s a punk. And, that means being true to yourself and never backing down in the face on injustice. After all, today may just be the last day of the rest of your life. Live it to the max.

I write about culture, books, and graphic design. Life goals include a graphic novel, and a hand stand.

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