Graphic novels are excellent things to use as a medium for writing a memoir, no matter if the ending is happy or not. The graphics help the readers visualize the situations and the feelings that connect them with the characters. The combination of art and text to tell stories with a difficult subject matter did help the works to become best selling graphic novels. When it comes to the endings of the works, some are better than others.
In Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, the author spends the night sleeping in the same bed as her grandmother, who gives her some advice. This is apparently the last time she will see her grandmother for a long while, especially when grandma decides she will not be going to the airport to see Marjane off.
The next morning the family packs up and goes to the airport to send Marjane off to Austria. I found it interesting that the airport was filled with young boys leaving the country before the age of conscription into the military. In some ways she resembles the others, getting shipped off to get out of harm's way. For the boys, it was a hard life of military training. For Marjane, it would be a hard life of living an unfulfilled future, especially for one who was as headstrong as her uncle who was executed. The parents could see how things were going to end, especially after Marjane's school calls to talk to the parents about the arguments and fights.
The ending of the graphic novel is a family trying to put on a brave face. Marjane looks one last time and regrets seeing that her mother had fainted and was being helped by her father back to the car.
This ending, while rather abrupt and sad, was at least partly developed throughout the story. Marjane is an intelligent child with a vivid imagination. She has inherited many of the family traits that were demonstrated throughout the story, especially from her uncle who was murdered and her grandmother who helped Marjane to look within herself for some answers.
In some ways, I thought that the story was cut off with that ending. I did find and purchase a second continuing graphic novel that documents her return to Iran after getting into the kinds of trouble that Marjane had discussed with her mother in the final chapter of part one.
Throughout Persepolis we're shown a rather young girl who grew up in some terrible conditions. Each of these were important puzzle pieces that showed events that shaped Marjane as a unique person. When her inner thoughts are discussed in particular, she becomes a complete individual and we can understand the way she thinks and feels. The people around her are also shown through the lens of her perspective. When it comes time for Marjane to leave, the family does their best to make it as positive as they can until they think she is beyond their gaze. Then their feelings overwhelm them. It made sense for the grandmother to skip the airport trip because she knew herself well enough to know how she would've reacted, and the author made sure we were aware due to how she set up the observed personality.
All in all, it was sad and lonely for a kid to be sent off, potentially never to see her family again. The second book ended on a similar note, except she knew that she would never see her grandmother again, which was an even more depressing ending.
I was introduced to Alison Bechdel through her "Dykes to Watch Out For" books and cartoons, so I was more familiar with the style she uses. The ending for her graphic novel Fun House was a bit more abrupt than expected, since I thought there would be a few more pages discussing her lesbianism and how it influenced her life, especially since a lot of her fame comes from that portion of her life.
Bechdel invokes Daedelus in the first pages of the graphic novel, and because she likes to circle back often, sometimes multiple times to add in additional details or context of a moment we've already 'witnessed', it made sense to close out the novel with Icarus' flight, him to a suspected suicide and her to some final understanding.
Bruce Bechdel was not a happy man, and throughout most of the graphic novel he has the same expression of either distanced neutrality or, on occasion, anger. Each panel with him was foreshadowing what was coming up. There was only so much he could stand or hide, and when he and Alison finally had a breakthrough and were able to discuss some normally taboo subjects, sometimes through literature, when he passed on what he thought she would need he finally strolled in front of a truck and died. As he taught Alison in the first panels and throughout the story, he was setting her up to fly on her own. With any luck, she would not follow in his flight path and crash.
It was an interesting connection of literature between them and the impetus for Alison to write a graphic novel. Through literature they became closer, connecting more on an intellectual basis instead of the usual emotional one. I began to wonder if Bruce had Asperger's Syndrome because of the way he thought and some of the habits he had.
Finally, in the Maus books by Art Spiegelman, the ending was more of a rug being pulled from under my feet. The hardcover volume I had included the second Maus graphic novel, so I thought there was going to be a third one except for the final image of Vladek's gravestone. Why did he call Art by his brother's name? Was he beginning to lose some of his faculties and getting dementia or Alzheimer's? Was it a way for Art to show that the narrator might have been slightly unreliable when the story delved back into history? Was it Vladek finally coming to terms that Art was just as worthy as his other son?
Lots of questions, and it was like watching Citizen Kane without learning what Rosebud meant.
While we learn all about Vladek's trials and the fate of other family and friends, we understand that he was a tough person and a survivor. I expected him to die at the end because that would indicate we'd learned all we could from him. Each situation where he got out of a bad situation by brainpower or sheer luck, like seeing his cousin in the courtyard when they were finally rounded up, felt like a bit of foreshadowing to when he would finally pass on in the end. Nobody lives forever or escapes the grim reaper.
The problem for me was why did Art tell us in the second to last panel that his father called him Richlieu. To be honest, the first couple of times I read the graphic novel I didn't catch that piece. I was more focused on Vladek saying that he lived happily ever after with Anja, even though the headstone showed she had died a long time prior. Did Vladek mean that the time he was with Anja was the happiest, and that what came later wasn't up to that standard? All throughout the book we're shown a Vladek who was not happy at all through circumstances, so perhaps it was a note that nobody could know what happiness was unless they shared the same extreme horror.
I felt better with the ending of Persepolis II than I did with the graphic novels. Some left too many questions, some felt like there were things missing (and there are no more to come to clean up), and there was too much of the story and overall tension that was never resolved. Of the three, Fun House felt the closest to resolved, but not quite there yet.