four-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
16-May-June-2005
By: 
David B.
user_rating: 
0

A-EpilepticEpileptic, the most recently acclaimed European graphic novel and winner of the French national cartooning award "Alph’Art," has finally appeared in English in entirety. This graphic novel-memoir traces, back and forth over 30 years, David B.’s (the pseudonym of Pierre-François Beauchard) awakening as an artist as his older brother, Jean-Christophe, descends into epileptic madness. Against the backdrop of 1960s and 1970s French culture and history, David B. recounts a childhood haunted by demonic chaos as his brother’s quality of life deteriorated and their parents embraced one supposed cure after another, from acupuncture to macrobiotic diets. David B.’s melding of fact and fiction, magnified by his spare visual representations of his warring world, portray the psychological depth of his struggle to accept his brother’s illness and find himself.
Pantheon. 361 pages. $25. ISBN: 0375423184

Houston Chronicle 5 of 5 Stars
"If there are two archetypal stories—man goes on a journey and stranger comes to town—Epileptic effectively incorporates both. … It is a vision fully realized, a story beautifully structured and compellingly human. The experience of reading it cannot be properly re-created or even suggested." Andrew Dansby

Rocky Mountain News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Epileptic is inevitably compared to Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. … David B. takes the genre one step further, infusing his illustrations with greater detail and heightening the sense of madness of his travails." Rodney Price

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"His dark pen and ink drawings reflect such diverse influences as pre-Columbian art, 19th century woodcuts, surrealism and Gothic carvings and illuminations. … The stylized [dragon representing Jean-Christophe’s epilepsy] recalls the chimeras that emerge from the scrollwork surrounding illuminated capitals in medieval manuscripts or that lurk amid the stone tracery on cathedral facades." Charles Solomon

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"... Epileptic is a true coming-of-age story that is also a memoir: a disturbingly honest story about childhood that is unable to gloss over the wars that sit, as glowering monsters, behind the Western middle class. It is a retelling of experience that exists to bear witness, not to selfishly command attention." Laurel Maury

Independent (UK) 4 of 5 Stars
"It is long, and its subject matter is as deep, dark and dense as Beauchard’s artwork, which is blocky, high-contrast and reminiscent of woodcut illustrations to the grimmest of Grimm folk-tales. The ultimate justification for Epileptic’s existence as a graphic novel is that it is nigh-on impossible to imagine it being anywhere near as effective in any other genre."
Charles Shaar Murray

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"In short, Epileptic constitutes something new: a graphic intellectual history. … Because it is unafraid to dwell in detail on cultural and intellectual lineage, [it] seems to be influenced as much by Gide, Foucault, Malraux and Barthes as by Spiegelman." Rick Moody

Critical Summary

David B. originally published Epileptic in Europe between 1996 and 2004 as a series of six comics, to great acclaim. Critics received this brilliant work as warmly here. Far more than a graphic novel, Epileptic intertwines family, cultural, and intellectual history in a brutally honest memoir. Compared to James Agee’s A Death in the Family and James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Epileptic traces the author’s relationship with his family, his sick brother, and himself, including his own obsession with his grandparents and his nation’s military involvements. The black-and-white drawings, inspired by the collages of Max Ernst, depict Jean-Christophe’s seizures in surreal, primal ways and amplify the psychological horror of the story. Epileptic, noted the Houston Chronicle, "is a different beast, bigger, broader and better than any graphic entry in recent memory." [For a recent look at the genre’s growing phenomena, see Stephen Weiner’s article on graphic novels in our Sept/Oct 2004 issue.]