Tuesday 4 August 2015

Two outstanding graphic memoirs on ageing and death

The subject of ageing and end-of-life care is difficult and always very personal. Two American cartoonists, Joyce Farmer and Roz Chast, have each written and drawn graphic memoirs of the last phases of their parents' lives. These two books, although in an American setting, are extremely important reads. 

The doctor telephoned to say the father has lung cancer. A scene from the album.

Joyce Farmer (b. 1938) is a pioneering feminist underground cartoonist and her 200-page book "Special Exits" is her first full-length graphic narrative. The story is about her father and stepmother, whose lives and circumstances deteriorate in a poor South L.A. neighbourhood. 

Farmer has to take charge of their lives and balances between what is practical and what the parents want. The parents' opinions are often also conflicting and Farmer has to thread carefully in the crossfire of strong wills. Both parents have their own collections of things from the past that fill the house. The stepmother manufactured dolls in her past and collected pieces of cloth etc. The father has his collections of rocks.

The parents have a cat, which in the end is taken to Farmer's house. The cat has never liked her but in the very last scene the cat cuddles up to her. That is like a reward for her efforts and all frustrations.

More about the album: http://www.fantagraphics.com/specialexits/

The cover of Special Exits

A page from Can’t we talk about something pleasant?

Roz Chast (born 1954), is an accomplished American cartoonist and a staff cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine. She has made a 228-page graphic memoir about the last years of her parents. It’s called “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?” and goes through the struggles faced by adult children that come into a new position when they have to start taking care of their ageing parents. 

The memoir covers all possible emotions involved, exhaustion, despair, guilt but also love and empathy. There is an increasing number of practicalities to take care of as the parents’ health declines.

All this Chast records with admirable directness and although the story is delivered with humour the inevitable end is all the time present. The reader follows with increasing suspense if new surprising difficulties will turn up, and how will Chast be able to cope? 

Ageing and end-of-life care is a difficult subject which is normally treated with a string of positive-sounding euphemisms. Roz Chast treats the subject putting all her cartoonist’s genius at work. When you start to read the album, it is difficult to put it down.

Chast received the Heinz Award (a stunning 250.000 USD) for the book. Read more about it: http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/cant-we-talk-about-something-more-pleasant-9781620406380/

The cover of the album

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