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Special Exits Hardcover – December 6, 2010

4.9 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Underground feminist comic artist Farmer's account of how she looked after her aging parents is a quiet wonder. Lars and Rachel are long retired and don't venture out much from their South Los Angeles home except to go to the grocery store. Lars reads the paper, and both eagerly look forward to visits from their daughter (named Laura but presumably Farmer's stand-in) as much as they don't want to trouble her. Over the course of years that cascade through Farmer's closely detailed story, Lars and Rachel slowly become needier, but do their best to hide their decrepitude from Laura. As the years pass (the 1992 Rodney King riots threaten to make their existence even more perilous), Laura teases out small facts about her parents that she'd never known--the bags of uranium ore that Lars, an engineer, keeps in the garage, Rachel's desperately poor Missouri childhood. Farmer renders everything in busy, densely packed black-and-white frames whose cluttered look mimics the dusty house, its surfaces thick with cat hair and memories. The story is stunning for its antisentimental realism, as well as for the glimpses of fantasy (Lars's hallucination of Hades' ferryman, Charon, rowing by in the hallway) that flicker by like ghosts.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Farmer, one of the first women underground-comics creators (Tits & Clits Comix), draws on her own experience of her father’s and stepmother’s last years to create this “graphic memoir,” which is in effect an autobiographical graphic novel though with the names of family and friends changed. The narrative proceeds like conventional realistic fiction, chronologically and without authorial commentary; it’s dramatic rather than ruminative and reflective. In a liney style similar to that of the late Harvey Pekar’s favorite artist, Frank Stack (Dorman’s Doggie, 1990; The New Adventures of Jesus, 2007), Farmer portrays a middle-aged woman’s ever-more-frequent visits to her parents’ house in south L.A. as they reach and surpass 80, but there’s much more of the old couple at home (nearly the only setting for the entire book) as first her stepmother, then her father, declines toward death. 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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics; y First edition thus edition (December 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 160699381X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1606993811
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 0.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #861,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Joyce Farmer's skillfully and painstakingly-drawn epic is a true work of art in every sense. It tells the deceptively simple story of a middle aged woman coping with the advancing age, increasing health problems and inevitable death of her parents--something almost all of us have faced, or eventually will--quite the opposite of the popular notion of "comic books" being all about fantasy and escapism. It is rich with so much detail, in the dialogue and interactions, "between the lines" and hidden in the detailed, well-drawn illustrations. We learn of the lives of these people as they are slowly ending, and of the quietly heroic efforts of the daughter to keep a measure of dignity in their lives. The creator is a well known pioneer of feminist underground comics in the early 1970s and 80s, co-founder of a women-run publishing company, and it is a joy to be able to experience a true masterpiece created in her later career. This book should appeal to anyone who can appreciate a heartfelt story of real life, in particular those who may not think they are readers of "comic books."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This graphic novel tells the story of the last years, and eventual death, of the elderly couple Lars and Rachel as they live out their declining years alone in their crumbling house in a shabby Los Angeles neighborhood. But they're not all alone: Lars's devoted daughter Laura attends them once a week, making arrangements to take this time off her business at some expense. She uncomplainingly--enthusiastically, even--cleans their house, bathes the bedridden old woman (her stepmother), does their shopping and cooking, takes their cat to the vet--basically keeps them going, and does so with affection and almost unbelievable good nature.

She has a husband, son, and grandchild who also play a small part in cheering the old people, as do a couple of nearby friends. There are tender conversations between the family members that let you know how much they have cared for each other over the years. The situation is somewhat dire: Rachel neglects her eye drops and becomes blind from glaucoma; Lars falls an injures himself, and the predictable horrors take place as the increasingly-helpless couple lives on semi-independently. They resist live-in caregivers, placing a greater burden on the uncomplaining family.

The graphic novel form does the story great justice. You can see the humor, exasperation, fear, and more ordinary emotions play on the characters' faces. Little side jokes give the story extra pleasure--the mean Siamese cat, which the old couple adores and which hates Laura. It's a wonderful medium; allowing the reader to also be the viewer, and bringing one closer to the characters and their very realistic drama. Farmer's illustrations look as if they want to tell a dark story, but not so. She captures facial expressions elegantly, both funny and tragic, letting the pictures themselves describe the scenes and emotions. Needless to say, this is the story many, many baby-boom aged readers are also right in the midst of coping with.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For the past few years I have been looking for this story...a story about middle aged people dealing with aging parents. There was the movie Diminished Capactity starring Alan Alda that sounded like it might fulfill that need. That was just a silly comedy (and not all that funny.) Then Savages was released (with Phillip Seymore Hoffman) and that movie, while OK, just didn't come off as memorable to me. There was something missing from the movie.

Then I came across this book and bought it because the two previous movies failed to fulfill me. This is the story that I was looking for in those movies. And, while this is a "comic book," it is far more complete than other movies I have seen that have tried to tackle this subject matter.

I think this book should be required reading for anybody who has to deal with this situation. Even required reading for people who normally would never pick up a comic book or would write this off as fluff because it's a graphic novel rather than regular prose. This book is not fluff, and it will stick with me for a long time.

My only complaint (albiet MINOR!) about the story telling is that I wish the author would have included dates with the story and as the story progressed. Instead we get things like "a few weeks later" and such. It is hard to keep track of how much time passes from the start of the story until the end (it's four years...I only knew that from reading the description of the book.) The only date mentioned is the date of the 1993 Rodney King trial riots, as it factors in the story. At first seeing that date took me out of the story...I didn't realize it was being told in the 90's and I wondered if at first it was a flashback.

That's just a minor nitpick of a wonderful work of art. And this is a work of art and fine literature. Make this a REQUIRED PURCHASE!
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Format: Hardcover
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.
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