Comics artist and writer Joyce Farmer came up in comics’ indie scene in the 1970s. Her work back then was a direct response to the “old boys’ club” atmosphere of the comics industry (some—perhaps many—would argue that it still exists, but that’s neither here nor there). Now, with Special Exits, Farmer delivers a wonderful memoir about her aging parents and their aging process.
Lars and Rachel are elderly and living on their own in Los Angeles. Their loving marriage is warm, but as old age continues to wither away at their independence, Lars and Rachel are faced with tough choices (“We’ll either have to make some big changes…or we have to make the best of it,” Lars tells his wife while explaining why they shouldn’t move into the retirement home, as she would like). Their stubborn independence often leads to heartbreaking moments, such as when Rachel faints and falls in the tub and her weakened husband is forced to help her out.
Lars’ daughter witnesses the unfolding events as both mental and physical abilities decline, and she attempts to help as much as she can: sponge baths, visiting more and more often, cleaning, doing things around the house. It’s a story all too familiar to anyone with aging parents, and you’ll be instantly moved by Farmer’s treatment of the humanity at the story’s core. Farmer is “Laura” in the story, but the book is billed as a graphic memoir—this is her story too, and perhaps she has relegated herself to another name out of humility, to turn the story away from her and onto her father and stepmother.
Special Exits winds its way through almost 200 densely packed (but never overcrowded) pages. There is heft here. 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.
Reviewed by John Hogan on July 17, 2012