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Epileptic Is Schizophrenic — But Interestingly So

Thursday, January 17, 2008


David B.

A quick glance at the jacket for this one informs you that it’s generally about the author’s experiences growing up with an epileptic brother named Jean-Christophe; what it doesn’t tell you is that you’ll also be getting a hefty dose of esoterisicm, specifically brief overviews and histories of such varied beliefs and practices as macrobiotics, spiritualism (specifically Swedenborgism), magnetism, Rosicrucianism, alchemy and Anthroposophy, among others. There are also quite a few pages devoted to the family’s ancestral history as well; on top of that, there’s all the stuff about David. Occasionally, as you’re reading along, you find yourself thinking ‘oh yeah, the epileptic brother — I almost forgot about him.’

This is all done with specific purpose, of course; even though the book is basically named for and dedicated to his brother, Epileptic is really David B.’s autobiography. And so what we get, first and foremost, are the images and events which have left indelible impressions on him throughout his life; why the most important of those impressions involve his brother is simply because that’s how he and his family have lived their lives, constantly in the shadow of his brother’s strange and all-encompassing disease.

So while some of that other stuff could be labelled distracting, it’s never really enough to draw you away from the overarching narrative. Either David and his family are dealing with the literal fallout from the countless seizures his brother experiences in his life, or they are dealing with the psychological fallout. Hence the esotericism. His parents went to huge lengths to try and cure Jean-Christophe, drifting somewhat mindlessly from one cult to another, eagerly following anyone who promised them hope. David very skillfully shows the long-term effects of this sort of childhood, poignantly describing how each failure affected him, his brother, his sister and his parents in their own ways. He hid from his despair in his art, and he illustrates the direct connections between the choices he made in life and his brother’s illness (thereby making the title Epileptic more autobiographical than it originally seems).

Speaking of illustrations — David’s are gorgeous. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s annoying to compare all graphic novels to Maus simply because they are graphic novels, but here it has to be done since David takes somewhat the same approach as Spiegelman, in both storytelling and art; a hyper-aware author who appears in his own text — at times discussing the text itself — combined with a surrealist visual style (this can be contrasted to Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which, while similar in many ways, doesn’t do anything experimental with form). David goes even further than Spiegelman though, using graphic personifications for everything from his brother’s epilepsy (a black Chinese-dragon looking monster), to his grandfather’s spirit (a black ibis dressed in a mourning-suit) to various characters he picks out of books to act as his companions; it’s all a sort of visual magical-realism, and it’s this incredibly vast and detailed conflagration which makes Epileptic stand ahead of most other books of its type.

Plus — how to eat macrobiotically. Very handy.03971semaj

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Thursday, January 17, 2008 3:48 pm

    Sounds like something to read. I’ll put it on the list.

    In peripherally-related news, the film of Persepolis is now out here in Toronto; I haven’t seen it yet, but I plan to next week (sorry, personal story of bridging cultures, you’re gonna have to wait a few days while Cloverfield’s whateverthefuckitis gets all kaiju on my ass first). But it’s supposed to be pretty damn good, and I saw a trailer before There Will Be Blood that looked great.

    And no, haven’t read Persepolis yet. Would like to, but I would also like to not spend money on too many things I don’t need these days. I’ll get to it; it’s on the list.

  2. James17930 permalink
    Thursday, January 17, 2008 10:39 pm

    I forgot to give you From Hell before I left. Tanya has it in one the boxes of stuff I left with her, if you guys wanted to arrange a hand-off.

  3. Frank-o permalink
    Monday, January 26, 2009 1:09 pm


    I read this book and I remembered turning one page over the ther and enjoing the ride that this novel gave. I am not someone that has a highly reputable background in recommending books (Frank-o’s Book of the Month Club) but I wish those reading thise would at least give this book a try. What do you have to lose?

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