Special Exits by Joyce Farmer

Special-Exits-HCIn 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.

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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.

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The Sandman: Endless Nights by Neil Gaiman

The_Sandman_-_Endless_Nights_c02This 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, 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.

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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.

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Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale by Art Spiegelman

Maus

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.

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Moby Dick – Comic Book Love 2

I recently bought a used copy of the Classics Illustrated Moby Dick drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz, and I was not disappointed.  This is the same Bill Sienkiewicz of Elektra and Daredevil fame, the same Sienkiewicz I thought was the greatest comic book artist of all time when I was a teen.

Sienkiewicz brings his unique brand of surrealism and expressionism to the great American novel about dark obsession and madness.  Sienkiewicz’s art captures Ahab’s madness perfectly.  As Ahab’s obsession grows, Sienkiewicz uses a recurring image of a scratchy black and white demonic face that appears in its own box.  This, of course, captures the book’s theme perfectly. Sienkiewicz’s feverish depictions of the crew show how Ahab’s madness spreads to even the most reluctant sailors, and his depictions of the monsterish white whale draw the reader into the fear and mystery that have twisted Ahab’s mind.

If you’ve never read the orignial Moby Dick, Herman Melville intertwined chapters of action and theme-driven plot with scientific chapters on whales and the industry of whaling.  It is a long and strange, but rewarding read. This graphic novel focuses on the action-driven plot and theme to capture the essence of the original story.  All of the famous images and scenes from the original are here: the opening scenes with Ishmael and the tattooed savage, Queequeg; the appearance of Ahab on deck; the making of the coffin and Ahab’s special harpoon; the tri-works, etc.

You can find all of these samples and much more on Sienkiewicz’s site:   http://www.billsienkiewiczart.com/

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Mutant Massacre

I guess I’m feeling nostalgic again for those innocent middle-school days.  I saw some X-Men: Mutant Massacre comics on sale on Ebay and was reminded how much I loved that series.  I had a subscription to X-Factor at the time, which was a spin-off featuring the five original X-Men.  My cousin got the X-Men comics.  Once the Mutant Massacre series started we had to borrow each others books to keep up, since it was a crossover series between the two teams.  Thor, Daredevil, and some lesser known comics were also involved in a minor way. 

The series had a certain mystery noir to it, and it was released around the same time as Elektra: Assassin.  A lot of the action takes place in the underground tunnels of New York with a band of assassins killing the mutant community that lives in the tunnels.  The continuing storyline over eight issues or so, and the, what seemed at the time, more mature action and theme grabbed me.  Characters were getting killed and some favorites were gravely injured.  That’s serious stuff for an eighth-grader in the 1980s.  Remember, there was no internet and no violent video games. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mutant_Massacrehttp://www.marvel.com/news/comicstories.1142.X-Men~colon~_Mutant_Massacre_Cover_Gallery

 

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Indiana Jones

I was eight years old when Raiders of the Lost Ark came out.  My mom, my aunt, and I went to a Chinese buffett before the movie.  I think I ate like seven egg rolls, which were my favorite at the time.

I remember sitting near the front in the theater and grabbing their legs when the boulder was chasing Indy. When the Nazis opened the Ark, I slid to the floor.  The face melting scene was too much.  Images from that film and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom are forever etched in my cultural consciousness.  Sad, I know.

With the fourth movie coming out soon, they’ve made Topps trading cards with some classic characters.  Check them out.

http://patrickschoenmaker.blogspot.com/2008/03/topps-indiana-jones-heritage-sketch.html

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Elektra: Assassin – comic book love

Elektra cover

The Zeppelin post put me in mind of my thirteen-year-old days.  I read the Elektra: Assassin graphic novel, which collected all eight issues written by Frank Miller and painted by Bill Sienkiewicz, until the spine broke and the pages fell out all over the inside of my locker.  I had never seen a comic drawn or written like it before.

Elektra is the daughter of a Greek ambassador who is assassinated.  She is trained in childhood by a master assassin / kung-fu guy.  We get a brief glimpse into her background and psychosis.  Now she is planning to assassinate the President, Ken Wind, who appears to be an anti-christ-like figure.  He is referred to as “The Beast.”    Continue reading “Elektra: Assassin – comic book love”

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