Author: David B.
Page Count/Review Word Count: 361
Epileptic is the seminal work by David Beauchard, the French writer better known as ‘David B.’ Described as a ‘six-volume autobiographical epic’, Epileptic tells the story of David’s relationship with his brother, and of his brother’s struggles with epilepsy.
Originally split in to six volumes that were published in France between 1996 and 2003, Epileptic was originally titled ‘L’Ascension du Haut Mal’ and was quickly published in English, going on to receive critical acclaim and winning David the Ignatz Award for Outstanding Artist. Publishers Weekly 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, twisted faces looming from the shadows in his memory and 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 deteriorate. Their parents try everything, even moving to a macrobiotic commune, but nothing seems to help.
Epileptic has survived translation remarkably well, and that transition enabled the book 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’. The 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.
At its simplest, Epileptic is about the bond between brothers. 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.