It seems every author who is worth the cost of his or her cover art is writing an autobiography these days. The ideals of Walt Whitman are certainly reemerging throughout much of recent popular fiction, because what makes a better subject for a novel then yourself? By now, the names David Sedaris and Dave Eggers are certainly well known and are synonymous with this style of humorous, and maybe slightly fictional, autobiography. Soon, so too will be the name David B.
David B's (aka Pierre-François Beauchard) graphic novel, "Epileptic," was originally published in his native France as a six-volume series in the 1990s. Although it took over five years for David B's work to be translated into English, his novel still seems as fresh as the day he originally penned it.
Unlike Sedaris and Eggers, David B's graphic novel is not so much comedic as it is retrospective. As you might have guessed from the blunt title, "Epileptic" chronicles the childhood of David B and his older brother who suffers from epilepsy. At first the seizures are few and far between, but as David B's brother, Jean-Christophe, ages, his seizures become more frequent and serious.
Much of "Epileptic" follows David B's family as they struggle to find a cure for Jean-Christophe's seizures. Instead of trying typical remedies for epilepsy, David B's family delves into more new-age approaches. While his family tries everything from therapeutic massages to acupuncture to macrobiotics, Jean-Christophe rejects the treatments and slips further into his illness.
While David B succeeds at eliciting the sense of helplessness his brother's epilepsy evokes, more interestingly, he takes his readers on a sinuous journey through his intimate feelings regarding his brother's illness. At first it seems like he pities his brother and has trouble connecting with him. David B talks to the ghosts of his deceased relatives and asks them why his brother is not getting better and why he had to effectively lose the person who was his big brother. However, as David B ages, his pity soon turns to anger. Since his family expends all their finances and efforts toward Jean-Christophe, David B. begins to resent his brother. As David B describes it, he is so affected by his brother's sickness that it is almost as if he has epilepsy as well.
In a graphic novel, the story is one thing, but if the illustrations don't match the theme or if they aren't up to par, then the novel will be a failure. Fortunately for David B, this is not the case. Beautifully illustrated, David B draws in a dark and almost mystical sort of way. Instead of depicting his brother simply seizing on the ground, David B. normally draws a huge monster engulfing Jean-Christophe. Haunting and original, David B's drawings will leave just as big of an impression on you as the story itself.
The novel at first seems daunting; its 361-page count seems large at first glance. However, as one begins to traverse "Epileptic's" pages, he or she will soon find that this book is as much as a page-turner as Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code." Although this should be considered a positive, with a price tag of around $25, it is a little upsetting to finish a book in roughly three hours. Still, David B's story is worth the price.
"Epileptic's" success should not be based on the lack of intriguing graphic novels on the self today. Hell, if the movie "American Splendor" hadn't come out, who knows where the graphic novel medium would be? In any case, "Epileptic" is so incredibly good that it will set the standard for all graphic novels to come. It's not that it's so originally mind-blowing, but the way in which David B lets you into his most intimate feelings and darkest secrets is astonishing. Near the end of the novel there is a section where David B's older self shows "Epileptic" to his parents. His parents seem hesitant about the book at first, not wanting to make their family struggles a thing of entertainment, but in the end, the thing that weighs most heavily on their mind is how David B could actually feel this way. According to them, they had no idea that he developed such feelings about his brother. David B answers with something to the effect of, "I guess I was good at hiding it."
In a perfect world, "Epileptic" would be required reading. It would enlighten people about epilepsy while at the same time effectively reinvent the art of comics. Young or old, graphic novel connoisseur or not, "Epileptic" is the best book you will read this year.