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 © Paulina Stulin (detail)

Marie Schröer in conversation about "The Right Here Right Now Thing" and travelling
Krakow nights are long

After a conversation with Paulina Stulin, selecting a handful of quotes (to put the finishing touches on this review) is not an easy task. In the 10-page-long transcript of our Zoom conversation, I have underlined about 80 per cent of Paulina’s passages. The interview is peppered with spontaneous aphorisms; you really want to continue talking to her, continue following her thoughts.

No wonder Paulina Stulin has such masterful command of the art of compression, so essential for the graphic novel.  Not only can she draw, she can also write. Actually, I’ve arranged to meet her to talk about her novel The Right Here Right Now Thing, and, of course, primarily about what makes Krakow the ideal setting. We end up talking about much more: her relationship with graphic novels and other media, her next podcast projects, her artist role models, her bestseller Bei mir zuhause, the fine line between fact and fiction, and, last but not least, about travel.

The rhapsody of the night and the allure of the day

But let’s take one thing at a time: it doesn’t take long to summarise the plot of The Right Here Right Now Thing. The protagonist (called Paulina below), who is clearly based on the author’s life, says goodbye to her apartment and her partner, takes a plane to Krakow, and is visibly excited about revisiting the city, one with which the author nurtures ‘a relationship bordering on kitsch’, as she says in the interview. This is apparent on the fourth page itself. A wistful scene of Krakow’s Market Square with pigeons and street music. Continuing to the hostel, Paulina meets her old clique, draws a line with her friends, and then it’s out into the Krakow night. In a dimly lit and extremely cosy bar, people are smoking, laughing and socializing.  

The group meets two pleasant men from Sweden and, as is normal for a good night at the bar, the small talk over beer begins to tackle the really big issues: ‘You don’t believe in a soul?’ Paulina is asked by her neighbour at the table shortly after they have met; a toast is raised to ‘the end of everything that ever existed.’

The source of the toast, the quieter of the two young men, stands apart from the rest of the clique because of his sartorial style. He wears a dark hoodie; yet the hood frames a face that is not clearly defined but is a black spot – the light Grim Reaper touch is certainly no coincidence. While the unknown man with whom Paulina falls in love in the course of the night may be mysterious because of his undefined image, in no way does he instill fear – his words and gestures are much too charming for that.

Or, put differently – despite his external image, he is definitely more carpe diem than memento mori and, because of the way he looks, he offers an ideal surface onto which readers can project themselves.  After all, not least the celebrations of love and life combined with an awareness of transience give excessive nights their special flavour.

The conversation between the two becomes more and more intense; in the meantime, the group moves on cheerfully through a night, which develops an allure of its own. The settings change: from the taxi to the club, then through Krakow by night with its splendid sea of lights to a rave in a private apartment, and out into the night again, but this time just the two of them. The next morning, life in the clique is on the agenda yet again, as well as a meditative walk along the river, which illustrates just how effective a silent graphic novel can be. Together with the protagonist we enjoy the quiet, we enjoy nature, and, of course, the memories of the previous night.

What would have happened if…?

The appeal of this book lies, among other things, in the fact that the story spontaneously calls on us to go over a list of our own legendary nights – with a love story being narrated en passant, a story that may have no future, but that savours the moment to the full. And this, of course, explains the title of the comic, taken from a dialogue of the one-night lover, but one that also works perfectly as a title for the entire night as well as the entire book.

‘Hey, don’t be sad. Let’s just enjoy the time we have,’ he suggests. ‘You’re right. Let’s appreciate the right-here-right-now-thing,’ she answers. In the words of the author, The Right Here Right Now Thing is about nothing less than ‘life, death, and what it all really means; it’s about the banal, about transcendence.’

Stulin mentions the song The Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song by Jeffrey Lewis as an important source of inspiration. The wonderfully laconic, post-modern folk piece narrated in the first person talks about a missed opportunity to make more of a chance encounter (and, hence the title, of animated conversation about Leonard Cohen’s Chelsea Hotel): “And I never got her name and she never got mine but in this couple short minutes, we had a pretty good time.”

If you listen to the entire song you will soon notice the bit of nostalgia and plenty of humour, and that fits Stulin perfectly. For a synaesthetic experience, a reading of the book should be accompanied by the music of Jeffrey Lewis. After reading the book, you must take a look at the snippets uploaded by the author herself on her YouTube channel. The Right Here Right Now Thing is narrated differently here, in excerpts accompanied by carefully selected piano pieces. 

About Krakow, Darmstadt and travel

Bars and clubs, old building facades and nature walks, sea of lights at night, and a shimmering river: Krakow provides the ideal setting for a fast-paced night and for the night framed by daylight.  Stulin explains the charm of the setting for her story: ‘I was there 10 years ago as part of an Erasmus exchange programme, and my stay made a deep impression on me. I also simply love the rough and the ornate, the medieval architecture coupled with prefabricated buildings, and, of course, also the nature of the Slavic soul, as one says. At first it’s all a bit grim but then very warm and sincere.’

And even if the setting for the love story lends it a special atmosphere, for Paulina Stulin, travel does not necessarily mean a change of location. Bei mir zuhause is the title of the much talked about graphic novel, which landed her a surprise success in 2020 and enraptured the arts and culture sections of the media. Even her hometown of Darmstadt in Germany can have such magical moments of travel, something Stulin has demonstrated over no less than 600 pages. She repeatedly underlines this aspect in the interview: if you are open to discovering new things, you can find them everywhere. ‘I would still like to stress the fact that travel doesn’t really have to be about a change of geography, that even in my small town of Darmstadt, I have the opportunity to discover the newest things every day. All I need to do is walk into a new backyard to discover a new universe, get to know new people, and this opens up spheres that have remained closed to me throughout my life.’

The here and now can be in Krakow, or even in Darmstadt. And Stulin is a past master at collecting intense experiences and archiving them in graphic novels or, more recently, also in podcasts. That works just as well over 600 pages as it does over just under 50 pages, in image and text and audio. The quicker you read the slim book, the longer it resonates with you. Just the way it is with a pleasant memory.

The RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW Thing. Published by Jaja Verlag; 1st Edition (1st April 2014)
Language: ‎English, German. Broschure: ‎52 pages. ISBN 978-3-943417-48. 12,00 EUR. Not available at the moment.