Epileptic by David B – Hive Review Series
Epileptic is an honest and moving graphic memoir about growing up as the younger sibling of Jean-Christophe, a child with epilepsy. It was written by David B, born Pierre-Francois Beauchard, and first published in France as a six-volume series from 1996-2003. Epileptic makes the entire collection available in English for the first time.
One of the most interesting and striking things about this book is its format. Unlike all autobiographies I have ever seen or read, it’s more than just vast amounts of copy with a few photos thrown in the mix. Epileptic has been written in the style of a graphic novel. At first the idea seems quirky, if a little strange, and there is a feeling that the book will be more style than substance. It soon becomes obvious that this format, with so few words and so many pictures, beautifully conveys a myriad of emotions and feelings as well as a family’s story as seen through the eyes of a child. In an interview with Time Magazine, David B tells of how he didn’t want to create a ‘reconstruction of events’ when writing his book. Epilepsy changed his life and his family’s life and he wanted this to come across in his book. He succeeded!
Throughout the book, the images are as important as the text. Each drawing says more than a thousand words ever could. Each frame takes the reader deeper into the mind and emotions of the writer and the family’s journey.
It becomes apparent very quickly in the book is about the emotional burden epilepsy had, and still has, on the author himself. Drawing monsters as metaphors for epilepsy shows just how negatively he sees the condition and how much of an impact it has had on his life.
As a reader, you can feel the desperation the author’s parents felt to find a cure for this illness that not only took over their son’s life but in turn took over family life. You join them in their huge disappointments when the next “miracle cure” (healers, zen, macrobiotics, Swedenborgian spiritualism…) don’t work.
Something that is conveyed so well in this book is the impact that epilepsy has had on the life of Jean-Christophe himself. At the beginning of the book, he is introduced as an adult. He is portrayed as oafish, overweight, full of scars from all his falls and his mind seems to be in a fog. The story then jumps back to Jean-Christophe’s childhood, free of epilepsy, when he was full of energy and had the world at his feet. The stark contrast brings home the devastating effect the condition has had on him and, throughout the book, we see his decline and how he reached his final state.
This book has been hailed as a masterpiece, and not without good reason. It provides a real insight into the impact any serious illness, and specifically epilepsy, can have on a family as a whole and each of the individuals within it. It is emotive and insightful and its format makes it an easy and compelling read. A definite must-read for anyone!
David B’s interview in Time magazine can be accessed here.