|Epileptic by David B |
Epileptic by David B. (the pen-name of L'Association co-founder Pierre-Francois Beauchard) was serialized in France between 1996 and 2004 as L'Ascension du Haut-Mal (The Rise of the High Evil) and released as one extraordinary volume by Pantheon in the United States in 2005. A memoir of Beauchard's upbringing and his brother Jean-Christophe's debilitating epilepsy and the profound effect that had on Beauchard's life and that of his family, Epileptic sits at the vanguard of the modern graphic memoir movement.
The memoir opens up with Beauchard visiting his family as an adult, and encountering his brother, a physical mess, his face and body racked with scars, out of shape and all but unrecognizable to Beauchard. Things then process chronologically from early childhood, beginning in Beauchard's idyllic youth in Orleans, France. But the innocence of childhood is shaken up by his brothers frequent seizures, and Jean-Christophe is diagnosed as epileptic. Sometimes his crippling seizures, which can last seconds or hours, are triggered by stress or high emotion, and sometimes they just happen randomly. Jean-Christophe's condition casts a pall over the entire family as they come to terms with their capricious, random effects and the lack of understanding from friends, neighbors, and authorities.
There is a repetitiveness to the family's cycles of quacks, cults, and diets, but whatever narrative deficiencies are made up for in Beauchard's consistently astonishing art. Beauchard's hyper-dense, stylized art frequently breaks down into abstractions of breathtaking artistry, visually representing both the horrible effects Jean-Christophe was suffering as well as the shadow the disease cast over the whole family. As Beauchard grows up, he is shown developing his artistic style and coming into his own as a fiercely unique artist with an original visual style unseen anywhere else in comics. The visual poetry of Beauchard's work in Epileptic is anarchic, bracing, explosive and always astounding.
Epileptic is a vivid chronicle of one epileptic's mental and physical deterioration and the effect the disease and the sufferer's experience had on those around him. It is a vibrant artistic response to a persistent, ceaseless trauma and a history of both a family and the medical and social approach to a complex condition at a place and time now passed. In Epileptic, Beauchard has crafted a masterpiece of graphic nonfiction that captures the physical horrors and emotional turmoil of a ravenous disease that will not release its stranglehold, and of a man who gave in to the suffocating darkness, taking those who love him down with him.
|Sacrifice by Sam Humphries & Dalton Rose|
Humphries 2011-2013, Dark Horse 2013
And its these conflicts that end up bogging down the book for a pretty large portion of the narrative. Humphries seems clearly well-versed in all things Aztec history, and there is a significant portion of the plot given over to the political struggle between the cults of Quetzalcoatl and Huitzilopochtli. It's a bit too uninteresting and clunky (not to mention all the bloody long Aztec names and words), and the only saving grace is Dalton Rose's wonderful, highly colored art. Rose is able to capture the visually engaging setting of Columbian Mesoamerica as well as the psychedelic experience that Hector (and soon enough, the audience) goes through.
Both Epileptic and Sacrifice use the comic medium to cope with the subjective and often terrible trauma of epilepsy. David B.'s by-proxy experience and the impact on his family fueled his highly artistic memoir of the pain suffered by those who have to deal with the most severe forms of the disease. Humphries fictionalized his own experience, using it as a springboard to explore his passions and tell an odd little historical melodrama that morphs into a psychedelic journey to godhood. These are two completely different works attempting completely different things - David B. succeeds wildly, indeed being one of the best comic memoirs yet produced, where Humphries and Dalton fall a little short. But both have value as unique takes on a condition that effects millions of lives.