Epileptic by David B (1996)

L: 6.5/10

M: 7/10

J: 7/10

Analysis from yesterday’s morning cofffee that might actually be from last week:

Held with very high praise, Epelipetic was delivered with very lofty expectations. I knew zero about the book nor the author going into this, and the slightest of Google searches all returned high praise. I am a fan of the underground black and white, heavily inked style that this book is drawn in. Some of my favorite comic excursions are in this format, Black Hole, by Charles Burnes, to name a recent one. When so much of my dedicated reading time is spent within the colorful world of Spider-Man and the like, it’s always a refreshing turn to spend some time in darkness. Despite the subject matter, this format always sends that initial vibe of bleakness and a cold emptiness, but in a good way. With the subject matter that David B spins into his large autobiographical trade, Epileptic, the tone and story go hand in hand.

David tells the story of his brothers losing battle with an early diagnosis of epilepsy. The story starts early on with his brother, Jean-Christophe, falling into the grasp of the disease. The majority of the story is the family’s every attempt to find a cure, but most importantly, how the family deals with the blanketing and crippling disease. 

When I say every attempt, I really do mean it. David’s parents go to every corner of the world, trying every method that they can possibly find and afford. No stone is left uncovered: magnetism, traditional Chinese medicine, and macrobiotics, to name a few. The family spends all their time and effort finding a cure, only to come up empty-handed time after time. It was heartbreaking to see the lenghts his parents would go to.

David illustrates his adolescence, coming to terms with what his brother is going through, and figuring out how to feel about it himself. The disease is shown as a physical being, attached to his brother, and something he must continuously fend off. Along with this monster, the ghosts that he collects throughout his life are also shown as physical beings, acting as friends to converse with and work out his issues. 

The story itself feels a little bloated. David is fascinated with history, wars specifically. He takes multiple detours where he describes battles, deep dives into the history of his family tree, and dreams. While illustrating them beautifully, too much time is taken on these twists and turns. The main story, at times, gets pushed to the side. Even when time flashes forward to the book’s actual writing, his family tries to keep him on track and focused. While perhaps not being completely necessary, these detours end up adding layers to the tragedy of his life and flesh out a story that may have otherwise ended up lofty one dimensional. The dreams can go though, there is nothing I find more boring than hearing someone describe a dream. That is just a personal faux pas, though.

The art gets increasingly intricate as David ages, improving as he gets older, and he hones his craft. There are splash pages that kept me staring and zooming in (I read this digitally), taking in every little detail. The way he illustrates epilepsy is really fascinating. The way it takes over his brother’s features and appears a snake-like dragon, wrapping its weight around his life and interweaving through the years, is perfect. I would love to spend some time with his other work, as long as it is also conveniently translated into English. 

Analysis from the fourth Musketeer no one ever talks about :

I have little to no experience with Epilepsy, so reading about a family whose life was centered around the disease was really interesting. I feel as if I learned a lot about how destructive it can be yet how beautiful parental love is when parents will go to the ends of the earth to help their suffering child. I’m kind of a sap for that. David’s take on his brother’s illness rings very true. There is love and compassion, yet so much resentment and frustration sprinkled in. I can’t imagine what it would be like as a child to have a close sibling slowly get lost in themselves to where they are no longer recognizable. The process was detailed wonderfully in this story if you can get past all of the random war history fillers. To me, that is where it kind of lost it’s charm a bit. The autobiographical tone means David is allowed to showcase his passions and obsessions all he wants, and he clearly took advantage of that. As a reader, I just felt that I could have enjoyed this graphic novel more if I wasn’t constantly pulled out of the story and into a History Channel documentary.

There was a lot to love about this book. The artwork was truly amazing. I always love black and white comics because they can be chaotic yet not distracting. This one didn’t quite pass that test, but it was lovely nonetheless. I had to go over some pages three or four times before I could really get it all, and that can be draining. A few times, I would turn the page and let out a sigh because we were back in some random war scene, and it felt claustrophobic for my eyes if that makes any sense.

Not a bad pick, but not my favorite by far. I’m not entirely sure I would even return to his work in the future. Perhaps I should see if he has some fiction available. I would like to see how he writes when his emotions aren’t so heavily invested.

Analysis from Alexa’s ancestral cousin: the programmable voice timer:

I didn’t know an autobiographical graphic novel existed and here I sit, having read one. Admittedly I probably didn’t take the time to devour the pictures as much as I could have, however, I was very much drawn to the imagery Pierre-Fracois/David B. uses to show his intangible, introspective thoughts of the world around him and the feelings he holds about his brother’s epilepsy. 

French/World history was certainly not something I expected to be prevalent in this book but it made its appearance often enough to deter me from the narrative. I’m not much of a history buff and found myself enduring it for the narrative. I wanted to continuously get back to consuming how this family functioned in a dysfunctional situation. When this book was proposed by M, I thought, “Wow, I may relate to this because of my own brother having epilepsy!” but, surprisingly, it wasn’t him that kept entering my mind but my mother. The heartbreak, pain, shame, fear that David felt watching his world change with each of his brother’s episodes pulled me back into my past of witnessing my mom suffer through her life with an undiagnosed mental health condition. Many of her actions, especially when in her manic state, acted as a shock wave that would lay waste to those nearby (turning my biological brothers and I to dust each time) and that’s exactly what I saw happening in this book. Each time he (David) tried to rebuild himself it came with the desire to be more hardy, more sustainable, but that has its own consequences (as beautifully illustrated by his quote, “The armor protects me, but it isolates me as well.”) 

I would happily read another book like this in the future. It put to words unspoken, abstract, or even taboo feelings toward the wide-spread victimization of illness that many, including myself, could find relatable and even therapeutic.

David Beauchard

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