There is a moment in this graphic novel that depicts the author as a comic strip hero figure - Authorial Persona - that's determined to crush the 'pig' responsible for making the cigarettes that have generated the emphysema that's slowly suffocating his dad to death. It's a moment that many people may relate to. The author cleverly argues all points of view in this section while making his feelings clear.
I should mention that the narrator, Nye, is drawn as a Minotaur and his dad as a Rhino, the social workers are sea turtles and mobile homes move atop elephants. As the story unfolds you begin to learn that Nye needs the thick skin of a Minotaur around his dad, as his dad has a short fuse and his preferred form of expression is sarcasm.
The novel uses a simple palette of three colours: red, blue and black in different degrees of shades. The images are strong and bold, but incredibly sensitive. There are scenes where Nye draws himself and his sister that had me laughing out loud with delight at the innocent, mischievousness expressions of childhood that he'd captured on the page, and then moved me to tears as I realised that his dad had been a hugely fearsome figure to him. Nye's body language as an adult is reflective of the impact of his childhood. He is drawn walking with his head down, hands in his pockets, not making eye contact, like he's invisible.
Nye first learns how serious his dad's condition is on his 29th birthday when his dad calls to wish him Happy Birthday and informs him that he has been accepted for a hospice place. Weighed down by the sense of disconnection he feels from his father, he scuffs a foot across the pavement as he is listening to him.
Around this time Nye is made redundant and he decides to go and look after his dad full-time. Each section of the book is broken down into the tasks they have to get through each day, from counting pills to bath time and house calls. Interspersed with these are imaginative pieces of fantasy that express how Nye is feeling as he helps his dad.
At first Nye's dad is drawn as a huge figure filling his recliner, spitting out his opinions and thoughts to test people's tolerance. As Nye observes his dad's interactions with others he begins to understand that his dad's hide is as thick as his own because underneath it he is vulnerable too. The more Nye begins to understand his dad and why he is the way he is the smaller he draws him in the recliner.
There are profound moments of honesty between the pair of them. When Nye's dad acknowledges the impact of his former behaviour, not only on Nye but on his ex-wife and others, Nye acknowledges things that he regrets in return. These scenes culminate in an emotionally devastating drawing of loss, where they are stripped bare of the masks that they wear, that made me cry for them both.
Depression takes on monstrous proportions in this novel, its black strands reach out to twist and curl around Nye like bindweed, threatening to suffocate his spirit. Instead he refuses to succumb and pushes its inky darkness in a more positive direction.
Things To Do In A Retirement Home When You're 29 And Unemployed is a beautifully crafted graphic novel about a father and son who learn how to understand, accept and forgive each other, and themselves, as one life draws to a close and another begins. Drawn with compassion, sensitivity and humour, it offers an emotionally honest insight into the impact of a terminal disease on everyone affected by it.