comicbookGRRRL Do not offend the chair leg of truth; it is wise and terrible.

23Jan/150

Panel Mania: Lucy Knisley Explores Aging in ‘Displacement’

I always love Lucy Knisley's work but this new title is particularly special. It's very uplifting, though I did have a wee cry afterwards.

Touching and relatable, New York Times best-selling artist Lucy Knisley follows up her previous hit autobiographies with a travel journal of her trip aboard a cruise ship with her elderly grandparents. With memories of a childhood shared with an active grandma and grandpa, Knisley is forced to confront the mortality of those dear to her alongside the sheer exhaustion of being their temporary carer.

Knisley’s previous works have focused on a trip to Paris with her mother (French Milk), her love of food (Relish), and a travel memoir of her adventures in Europe (An Age of License). Travel then is certainly a topic of speciality but the focus here is very much upon feelings of grief, guilt and compassion rather than youthful adventure.

Knisley’s grandma has dementia, which is getting worse, and her grandpa also needs near constant care and supervision. It’s a sad flip of the parent-child relationship that comes with advanced age, and something many of us struggle with and try to avoid even thinking upon. Knisley though is unflinchingly honest in her writings – her love for her grandparents is powerful even when she is gripped with guilt and fear over the many daily decisions she has to make. Her anger too at family members who avoid dealing with the realities of her grandparents’ situation is palpable, her emotions conveyed not only in carefully chosen words but in the expressive drawings of chosen moments.

The clever blend of comics, illustrations, and hand-lettered text is Knisley’s signature and her skill increases with every book – in some ways Displacement almost feels too short as the reader wishes desperately to stay in Knisley’s world just a little longer. Her art too, with soft lines and colours and occasional humorous expressions act as a wonderful filter for the story. What could be rather depressing is lifted by the human moments shown; small changes in expression, little thought bubbles of the artist’s thoughts, emotions hinted at that are far harder to convey in text alone.

In contrast to the daily routine of caring for an elderly couple are the grandpa’s journal extracts peppered throughout. His jotted down experiences of being a pilot in World War II are a sharp reminder of the young man he once was, with his own opinions, memories and life revealed, brought to life by his granddaughter. It can be difficult to connect the elderly relatives we have with the people they once were, and for older grandchildren in particular it can be heart breaking to see once active grandparents seemingly fade away as visits unintentionally decrease.

Displacement is a travel memoir on the surface, but the journey is through time and emotion rather than to any one particular destination. As Knisley struggles with the task of caring for her grandparents, schmaltz is avoided by the genuine internal arguments laid out on the page. There is no grand reveal or change of minds, but there is a whole lot of heart and truth and love, and for grandchildren everywhere this is an absolute gift.

Read the full preview here: Lucy Knisley Explores Aging in 'Displacement'

Displacement