In this graphic memoir, Joyce Farmer chronicles the gradual decline of her elderly parents’ health and how that decline affects their relationships, their emotional well-being, and their day-to-day existence. Farmer’s parents, Lars and Rachel, face their suffering with a stoicism that borders on insanity, refusing to see doctors or simply just not telling their daughter they are seriously ill because they don’t want to bother her. Lars tells Farmer at one point, “Things get worse in such small increments you can get used to anything.”
Farmer’s parent live in a bad neighborhood in southern Los Angeles. They experience the 1992 L.A. riots as shut-ins, her mother not being able to leave the couch. Farmer’s father can see the flames from their front door. Their house is in disrepair, and like most elderly couples, they get to a point where they just can’t keep up with the cooking and cleaning. Farmer regularly visits to clean the house, shop for groceries, and learn about her parents’ lives; but it is too much for one person to do part-time. She hints throughout the years that they need assisted living, but both of her parents refuse until it is no longer an option. In fact, her father makes her promise that he will be able to die in his own house.
Anyone who has cared for a loved one in that last season of life, or witnessed their parents care for their grandparents, will attest to the heartbreaking truth about the human condition Farmer has captured in pen. This book, like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, will likely become a classic in the graphic novel medium for its artistic craftsmanship and emotional power.
This is the first The Sandman that I’ve read, and it was obvious that this is not the place to start. I imagine that you have to already know these characters and their stories to get much out of this. Each vignette focuses on one of the Endless, who are evidently some mix of mythological god-like incarnations of human emotions… or something. There is not a lot of explanation for anyone new to the series. Some of the vignettes are stories. Some are fragmented portraits of that specific character. I thought the stories were weak, but that could be because I came into the book knowing nothing about the characters.
The artwork in The Sandman, on the other hand, made it a worthwhile read. I particularly enjoyed the artwork in “Fifteen Portraits of Despair” by Barron Storey and, of course, “Delirium Going Inside” with art by Bill Sienkiewicz. Storey’s portraits of Despair are fragmented and bizarre, capturing the terror and hopelessness that accompanies despair.
Pick up a copy here.
Sienkiewicz is a personal favorite. Delirium actually has a story, but I couldn’t make much sense of it. Maybe that’s the point, seeing that it is Delirium, but I got the feeling that there is a back story that I didn’t know that would have explained it. However, Sienkiewicz’s collage and watercolor style is brilliant as always.
I read the first volume of Maus by Art Spiegelman several years ago. It is a classic in the graphic novel medium, and I felt I didn’t need to add much to the plethora of reviews and praises out there in Internet land with my amateur musings. The book is part of college English and history curricula now. But honestly, now that I have read the second volume, I think Maus II is the better book. I think the two volumes are now technically considered to be one book, but volume two was published in 1991, five years after volume one. The collection won the Pulitzer Prize Special Award in 1992.
A lot has been said about the book’s value as a Holocaust narrative, and how it illuminates the cost war has on families generations later. The second volume picks up the story of Spiegelman’s parents as they enter Auschwitz and are separated. Spiegelman’s father recounts his time in the prison camp and his eventual release. I think what really makes Maus interesting is how Spielgelman weaves together his father’s Auschwitz narrative, his own difficult relationship with his father, and Spiegelman’s struggle to make sense of it all by writing the book. I have seen it mentioned many places, and it is true: the last page of volume two is heartbreaking.
There are still many who don’t give the same weight to good graphic novels as they do to traditional literature. I have to stress that Maus is not just a graphic novel or comic book. This is literature, deep and wide and heavy. If you have never read a graphic novel, do yourself a favor. Pick up both volumes of Maus and read them. I guarantee you will have a new appreciation for the medium. You can find Maus II here.