One of the top graphic novels of the first half of 2014 is surely Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir; the long time New Yorker mainstay has penned her FIRST (amazing) graphic novel and it’s a true classic even though the subject matter sounds grim. The book follows Chat’s experiences with her aging and increasingly vulnerable parents, a sad topic but a part of the human experience that a lot of us are going to have to deal with from one side or another some day. This being Chast it’s also full of laughs, as she limns her eccentric sometimes annoying parents in rich comic detail. Anxiety and duty mingle in a neurotic but loving broth, as they do in real life.
Anyway, I was checking on Amazon, and I see it’s the #1 graphic novel and in the top 100 in books and has been for a few days, so, while this doesn’t mean thousands of copies, it does indicate solid sales. I’m not surprised to see this book find an audience but I am pleased that it has done so. It’s definitely gotten a ton of mainstream press, and glowing reviews in major outlets.
There’s a pretty good preview of the book up at Paste, if you haven’t seen it. Here’s one page that made me laugh out loud, and it’s also a good indicator of just what a great storyteller Chast is. Although the book is wordy, and the narrative somewhat episodic, the art supports and amplifies the words in a natural, flowing (and of course hilarious) way. Even RC Harvey would like this book.
The subject of aging parents is a little genre to itself in comics. There’s Joyce Farmer’s Special Exits
and Carol Tyler’s peerless You’ll Never Know Trilogy. I’m told that there is a Spanish graphic novel called Arrugas (Wrinkles) by Paco Roca on the same subject that is the Maus of Spain in that it broke through literary boundaries to become a bestseller—60,000 copies, a HUGE amount in the market—and even got made into an animated movie (poster below). So clearly there is a lot of interest in this subject…even when we would rather read about something more pleasant.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.