Ahoy, yes, I read comics last week too! Amazing, considering that I am sitting at the biggest comics library and archive in the world :-)
First of all, I loved reading Pyongyang by Guy Delisle. It is such a clearly structured, witty, and beautifully drawn book. The characters are perfect: dots as eyes, crazy nozes, potato-like bodies. Yet everything is in place. Of course Delisle works for a French animating company, and making cartoons for children is the major reason why he travelled to Phoinjang in the first place. And you know, once an animator, always an animator… so the style is perfect. I haven’t read or seen Fifty Shades of Gray, but this book definitely operates with all shades of that colour. It is pencil magic, really.
North Korea is of course a creepy place, and the creepyness and absurdity is central to the narrative of the travelogue. My favourite part is the list of things that the first dear leader of the country accomplished, it is like (I am improvising now) writing 12 operas, directing dozens of films, designing furniture, writing treatises on economy, and giving life advice to the poor. I am sooo happy that there is no communism in Hungary any more.
Can’t we talk about something more pleasant? by Roz Chast.
I have written a post (in Hungarian) on Roz Chast previously, as she gave a lecture / promoted her book at an event on last Wednesday. It was a hilarious performance, and this book is hilarious as well! I might not say this about a book that is about the death and the dying process of one’s parents, but Chast renders these sad scenes of increasing fragility of body and mind in such a witty way, that the book ends up being superb. I think writing about illness and death is one of the most difficult topics: it is way too easy to fall back on cliché, because you do not want the whole wide world to know the details of your pain. Or you start preaching. Or you start complaining. Or anything else, that is okay in life, but does not go so well with books and edited narratives.
Roz Chast chooses to balance on the ironic / empotional axis, and she does a great job. The comics part are more in the ironic, while the (handwritten?) narrative parts are more emotional. This way there is a great deal of honesty and depth in the book, and there is also comic relief and a way out. And on every page, even on the most ironic ones, one can feel the amount of love that the author feels towards her parents.
The final book in this post, Joyce Farmer’s Special Exits is very similar to Roz Chast’s in its topic, but it is crucially different in every other way. So, it is about the slow process of losing one’s parents, but it does not offer eny exits (not to mention special ones) to the reader. There is no color, there is no irony, no jokes. Not a place to pause. The book is a series of small events on the road of getting old. It is so detailed and so repetitive and so cyclical that the reader wants to kill herself on the spot. It is terribly difficult to read. Somehow its rhythm is not right. The same pattern is repeated trillion of times: author visits parents (they live in a different town), parents are ill, do not want to see a doctor, author goes back home. Parents are weaker and weaker, their living space is mre and more limited, and there is nothing to do about it. Some serious restructuring and not taking itself so seriously would do miracles with this book.
Moreover, the level of the story is tedious too: I may be an arrogant person, but surely there is a point when for the sake of those who you love you disregard what they want. This way you do not have to wait until your father has 5 weeks to live due to cancer to take him to a doctor. So that part I personally found frustrating. But the whole process of getting senile or ill is just rendered very very very very depressing and slow in this book.