I don’t always read depressing graphic novels – honest. I mean, the last book I reviewed was about the holocaust and my next one ends in a suicide. Epileptic is upbeat in comparison – bet you can’t guess what it’s about…
Epileptic is the seminal work by David Beauchard, the French writer better known as ‘David B.’ Described as a ‘six-volume autobiographical epic’, Epileptictells the story of David’s relationship with his brother, and of his brother’s struggles with epilepsy.
The series was originally split in to six volumes that were published in France between 1996 and 2003. Titled ‘L’Ascension du Haut Mal’, meaning ‘The Rise of the High Evil’, it was quickly published in English and went on to receive critical acclaim, winning David the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Artist. Publishers Weekly also called it “one of the greatest graphic novels ever published.”
And it’s easy to see why – David’s black and white drawings are instantly haunting, from the moment you first inspect the cover. There’s surrealism throughout, from the twisted faces looming from the shadows in his memory to the demons that symbolise his brother’s epilepsy.
The narrative is heart-warming but tragic, focused on David’s childhood and adolescence as he watches his brother’s condition develop and threaten to tear his family apart. Their parents try everything, even moving to a macrobiotic commune, but nothing seems to help.
Like a lot of people, I’ve known an epileptic – I used to go to school with a guy who had fits on a regular basis. David’s brothers fits are more extreme, and his dark illustrations accentuate the spasms and contortions of a serious onset of epilepsy.
Epileptic has survived the translation from English to French remarkably well, and that transition enabled the book to encourage new genres and to gain transatlantic appeal. Ironically, the title itself was the only thing lost in translation – confused? Let me explain…
The original title, ‘L’Ascension du haut mal’, literally means ‘The Rise of the High Evil’. Thing is, it has multiple meanings in French – ‘haut mal’ is an out-dated term for epilepsy that literally means ‘high evil’ or ‘great sickness’, and ‘ascension’ can either mean ‘rise’ or ‘climb’.
This second meaning is reflected throughout the story in the images of the family climbing steep slopes in search of a cure that doesn’t exist.
For me, though, Epileptic is a simple story about the bond between two brothers, and how it’s shaped and changed by time and illness. You really feel for Beauchard and his family – this is a novel that’s written as well as it’s illustrated.
Epileptic might not be perfect if you’re looking for something to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but if you want something to grab at the heartstrings and pull them, get a copy now.
Epileptic by David B. was first published in full in English in 2005.
At the time of writing, it was ranked 4.5/5 on Amazon and was available for £10.49.