Special Exits

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208

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED

July 2014

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“One of the best long-narrative comics I've ever read, right up there with Maus... I actually found myself moved to tears.” – R. Crumb

Joyce Farmer's memoir chronicles the decline of the author's parents' health, their relationship with one another and with their their daughter, and how they cope with the day-to-day emotional fragility of the most taxing time of their lives.

Elderly parents Lars and Rachel, who have enjoyed a long and loving married life together, are rendered in fine, confident pen lines. Set in southern Los Angeles (which makes for a terrifying sequence as blind Rachel and ailing Lars are trapped in their home without power during the 1992 Rodney King riots), backgrounds and props are lovingly detailed: these objects serve as memory triggers for Lars and Rachel, even as they eventually overwhelm them and their home, which the couple is loathe to leave.

Special Exits is laid out in an eight-panel grid, which creates a leisurely storytelling pace that not only helps to convey the slow, inexorable decline in Lars’ and Rachel’s health, but perfectly captures the timbre of the exchanges between a long-married couple: the affectionate bickering; their gallows humor; their querulousness as their bodies break down.

Though Lars and Rachel are the protagonists of
Special Exits, Farmer makes her voice known through creative visual metaphors and in her indictment of the careless treatment of the elderly in nursing homes. Special Exits gracefully deals with the hard reality of caring for aging loved ones: those who are or who have been in similar situations might find comfort in it, and those who haven’t will find much to admire in the bravery and good humor of Lars and Rachel.

Joyce Farmer, best known for co-creating the
Tits 'n' Clits comics anthology in the 1970s, a feminist response to the rampant misogyny in underground comix, spent 11 years crafting Special Exits, a graphic memoir about caring for her dying father and stepmother, in the vein of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home or Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, and Frank Stack's Our Cancer Year.

“With
Special Exits, Farmer delivers a wonderful memoir about her aging parents and their aging process. ... This is no quick read, nor is it an easy one. It’s intentionally difficult at times, because it’s unflinching. This story will resonate and it will haunt you. But it will also impress you. Farmer doesn’t pull punches, but she doesn’t go for self-pity either. Special Exits is a loving tribute to life’s final moments, and the love that is left behind after we leave.” – John Hogan, Graphic Novel Reporter

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REVIEWS

Booklist

•Literary review magazine

“Emotional and physical crises are depicted naturalistically, never hyped up to tug the heartstrings or extort pity, and the parents’ personalities are convincingly and lovingly evoked. The end-of-life literature is vast and mostly practical and advisory. Though not without value as counsel, Farmer’s contribution is primarily a work of art, moving and beautiful.” – Ray Olson

Page 45

•Comic and graphic novel shop

“No punches are pulled, this is life, specifically the twilight years and subsequent demise of elderly parents, told with such honesty, candour and compassion that I actually find myself welling up again as I’m typing this… Special Exits becomes a testament to the human spirit and the value of a positive outlook on life, especially in one's latter years when faced with failing health.”

The Comics Journal

•American comics magazine

“In Joyce Farmer’s powerful Special Exits the people are more people-like than I have encountered in comics in a long time … It is moving without being sentimental. Real without being pedantic; a solid graphic novel that reads, well, like a novel! … Special Exits is packed with details that can only come from observation and experience. Farmer is a close observer.... Special Exits is one of the most engrossingly human comics and, ultimately, one of the most moving ... Joyce Famer has brilliantly conveyed what it is to be human. To live, to die. To ripe, to rot. And thereby hangs her tale.” – Paul Karasik