Special Exits, my favorite comic of 2011

Special Exits, by Joyce Farmer, was easily my favorite comic of 2011. I read it over the course of a couple nights, equally impressed and moved. One thing that maybe I loved in it that might be specific to my tastes is the poses of the characters on the page. These characters crouch, bend, pull themselves in, expand with concern or a rush to help—but Farmer’s restraint in this regard is (to me) masterful. I’m imagine her making a mental note—‘the way characters pose is highly important’—but understanding that note so well that she spent the proper amount of time to make the poses look natural. A lot of cartoonists say ‘make your lettering look like an extension of your style.’ Body movements of your characters seems almost more important to me. Special Exits isn’t a ‘visual statement’ and its charms don’t hinge on formal innovation—and yet its the mastery and not-drawing-attention-to-it consistency of how strong these characters move, panel to panel, that really makes me fall for this book.

The characters flow through the pages—pages that are full to the hilt of drawings. Each page is teeming with detail—whether its another beautifully drawn face, dialogue that is beautiful in its messy humanity, or just nuts and bolts plot points that are communicated with true artistry. Special Exits has so much creative energy—you feel it soaring off the bookas you read it. A world of drawing and thought that was composed over time with the belief in its worth. This book took a long time to make—13 years—and maybe we should all think about that, as readers and artists. This is not a comic to announce at the proper time to get the maximum blogosphere coverage—this is a comic for the ages, for peoples emotions and lives that was made with care and passion.

Special Exists is a family story about a daughter caring for her aging father and his wife as they slowly loose their mental and physical edge on the world. It is, as such a story is bound to be, wrenching—but in no way is the book the least manipulative. Farmers cartooning allows for her characters to act out their illness and struggles in front of the reader. Farmers drawing of her aging father is something to behold—its not Farmer saying ‘her is what my sick father went through.’ Instead we see a drawing age and wither in front of us, and speak to us with both intelligence and dementia. I’ve never seen anything in comics done with such skill—let alone see a graphic novel (often the territory of poorly conceived topical heart wrencher’s) speak about tragedy with so much depth and clarity.

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