Displacement by Lucy Knisley
14th Aug 2015
American comic artist Lucy Knisley saw high acclaim for her last graphic travelogue, An Age of License. Fantagraphics have now published her latest book in the travel vein, Displacement, which also incorporates memoir and family history.
In 2012, Knisley went on a cruise for the elderly with her nonagenarian grandparents, who insisted on the trip despite their age and ailing health.
The family panicked about them going un-chaperoned, and Knisley volunteered to help out as a way to get to know her grandparents better, as well as to escape winter in New England in the aftermath of a breakup.
She brought along a copy of her grandfather’s war memoir, excerpts from which contrast with this journey. Reading her grandfather’s words as a young man becomes a comfort when dealing with both grandparents’ decline in health and memory.
Displacement is notably different from An Age of License, which, while also a travelogue, involves midnight picnics, wine tasting and romance alongside 20-something career anxiety. In this follow-up, Knisley must switch to carer mode and forget all notions of a relaxing holiday.
The artwork is very appealing and the perfect style for this type of graphic novel. It’s cute without being twee and the watercolours add a liveliness appropriate for a book set on the open seas.Knisley’s frustration is palpable as she tries to balance her grandparents’ differing needs.
Grandpa’s war diary is a highlight, as he struggles with being a soldier while lacking the natural disposition. His boss even leaves him to fly a plane alone during training because he thinks he’s going to crash and kill them both. “A great way to inspire confidence in a student,” he quips.
There are flashbacks to Knisley’s childhood and time spent with her grandparents. They are not very open with their emotions and find it hard to be affectionate with their grandkids. They also seem to have a hierarchy for family members based on their level of education. Their granddaughter spends an insomnia-filled night musing on their old-fashioned attitudes and concludes that “everything is terrible”.
Her frustration is palpable as she tries to balance her grandparents’ differing needs. They can’t sit for long because Grandma gets disorientated and wanders away. They can’t walk for long because Grandpa’s asthma means he needs to stop and rest.
Displacement is perhaps more relatable than some of Knisley’s previous books, in that it deals with the universal problem of elderly relatives becoming increasingly incapacitated, and the frustration of trying to maintain a relationship with people who at times can’t remember what that relationship is.
Unsurprisingly, this is not an entirely light-hearted book. It evokes the sad reality of loved ones ageing as well as communication difficulties within families. Regardless, Knisley finds humour in the smallest details and the illustrations add a levity that makes it an enjoyable read.
All things considered, Displacement is a fascinating and visually charming book dealing with difficult subject matter.