Her real mother, Cordelia Freeman Farmer, who appears in Special Exits in flashbacks, died in the Goodyear ranch house of Joyce's maternal grandparents, Roy Lawrence Freeman and Myrtle Brooke Freeman. Cordelia died at the age of 37 of congestive heart failure caused by having contracted diphtheria as a child. Joyce, her only child, was 11.

"I think my grandparents went to Phoenix in the teens, but they didn't stay because my grandfather moved around," Joyce told me. He was a manager for Kress five-and-dime stores, whose job was to open a new store, get it running, then move on to starting another store. Luckily, before the stock market crash of 1929 came along, her grandfather sold off his Kress stock, for which, according to family legend, he was summarily fired.

By that time, the Freemans had purchased a 160-acre parcel of land 41/2 miles west of Goodyear from its original homesteader owner and had a place to go after Roy became unemployed. Roy and Myrtle built a house on their cotton ranch, using river stone they foraged from the Gila River.

One of artist Joyce Farmer's favorite
pages from Special Exits, a graphic novel 13 years in the making, about the decline and deaths of her parents.
Kathleen Vanesian
One of artist Joyce Farmer's favorite pages from Special Exits, a graphic novel 13 years in the making, about the decline and deaths of her parents.
Tits & Clits
Kathleen Vanesian
Tits & Clits

Location Info


Changing Hands Bookstore

6428 S. McClintock Drive
Tempe, AZ 85283

Category: Retail

Region: Tempe


Joyce Farmer will appear at 7 p.m. Tuesday, February 22, at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe to sign her book and participate in a Q&A led by local artist Jon Haddock, co-founder of the Comic Book Creators Support Group. Visit changinghands.com.

It was a well-known ranch house to the Goodyear and Avondale communities, according to Joyce, because they had a swastika, an ancient Hindu, Buddhist, and Navajo symbol, on the chimney. Her grandmother was an artist and into Indian philosophy, Eastern and Western. During World War II, that swastika stuck in the craw of her grandparents' neighbors, but her grandmother steadfastly refused to get rid of it.

Joyce also has vivid recollections of playing with her two older cousins in the irrigation ditch that supplied the ranch with agricultural water, a pastime in the mid-1940s that would give most present-day parents panic attacks. "We were warned the pump was dangerous. The oldest, 11, was in charge of our safety. Playing in the catch basin where the 12-inch pump pipe discharged its waters was a common activity for kids back then."

After Joyce's grandparents sold the ranch in 1952, they lived in the Palmcroft district near downtown Phoenix. The old ranch house was finally pulled down only four or five years ago to make way for residential tract housing.

Before her father Roy's remarriage to second wife Esther (Lars and Rachel in the novel) in Los Angeles, Joyce was shipped off to live with her maternal aunt and uncle, who enrolled her in eighth grade in Avondale. She went back to L.A. to Samuel Gompers Middle School for ninth grade, where she vividly remembers an incident at school: "In junior high, they wanted you to choose what your career would be. I wanted to be a draftsman like my father; I was told I couldn't because I was a girl."

After high school, she met her first husband, Don VanderLinden, at Art Center, married him in 1958, and produced a son, Paul. The fledging family moved to Phoenix in June 1961 when Don got a job as an industrial designer for General Electric.

"It was either that or Detroit," she says.

"We bought a house right away with a hundred dollars down and the G.I. Bill in Moon Valley for $13,500 and then we got an air conditioner, so it made it $14,500 . . . We were the tops in our tract.

"We paid extra to get cork-looking floors — it was still asbestos tile. I didn't have to clean mine much because it was the same color as the dirt outside. I was never a big housekeeper," she says.

Joyce couldn't drive a car when she first came to town, mainly because her husband "told me I was mentally unfit to drive because I was too nervous and high-strung. I thought otherwise because there are lots of drivers out there that were as nuts as I was.

"I was a stay-at-home mom, doing crossword puzzles and reading Agatha Christie until there weren't any more at the grocery store that I hadn't read. Then I realized I was totally bored." That's when she began reading Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago, Dostoyevsky's The Idiot, and Tolstoy's War and Peace.

"I started to realize there was life after Phoenix beyond the Black Canyon Highway, which was about as far as I could get on foot."

Joyce secretly appropriated money out of her weekly grocery allowance to pay for driving lessons and eventually got her license. When she proudly presented it to her husband one day, he responded, "You're not going to need me anymore," she recalls. "And that turned out to be quite true, but I hadn't thought of it before."

Several months later, she left him and moved into an apartment at the Turney Twilighter on Seventh Street, taking her 5-year-old son with her, and got a job as a file clerk at an insurance agency. By that time, Joyce was unabashedly displaying that wacky sense of humor that would characterize her art later on. "I had a copy of Mein Kampf on my desk at work and was finally asked to put it away," she says. "I never read it and only had it there to see people's reactions."

On the first day of the Watts riots in 1965, an event that is immortalized in Special Exits, Joyce Farmer returned to Los Angeles, not sure her parents, who lived in the riot zone, were even alive.

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It is such a pleasure to come to the New Times website and see Ms. Farmer on the home page. She has such lovely skin with an almost luminescent glow. Thank you for writing this article. I was not familiar with her work.

As for the naysayers who say that kids these days are uninterested in this genre, and are naive ignorant sad sacks when it comes to these kinds of publications, I think that you are woefully ignorant of the popularity of what are now called graphic novels which are this generation's underground comics.


can't understand why there would be an art critic in phoenix. there isn't any art here.

Crazed Country Acid Head
Crazed Country Acid Head

todays yuppies could care less about underground comix. those days are gone with the 60s and 70s hippie generation. the punks today dont even know what underground anything is. they are all ignorant naive mental sad sacks.

The Snoid
The Snoid

I have a collection of about 400 old underground comix from the 60s and 70s from all different writers and artists.

Self Help Guru
Self Help Guru

there is no culture here either or blues music culture. phoenix is just a very unsophisticated boring dusty sandy desert in the middle of nowhere looking for a city. but i love the sunshine, blue sky's and hot dry desert heat so i put up with this boring burg even though there is nothing to do here but ride motorcycles, swim and get skin cancer.

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