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Words by

David B.

Art by

David B.

Published by

Pantheon (US)
Jonathan Cape (UK)

First published


Originally published as

L'Ascension du Haut-Mal


Pantheon Graphic Novels and Memoirs


4 stars


4 stars


4 stars


Epileptic Epileptic

Epilepsy can dramatically alter the lives of those who suffer from it, but they're not necessarily the only the only casualties. Epileptic is the autobiographical story of a boy whose brother, Jean-Christophe, has epilepsy, and the detrimental impact the disease has on their whole family. Finding little solace in conventional medicine, the boys' parents turn to a long list of alternative lifestyles and practitioners, offering hope that Jean-Christophe's seizures can be relieved. The book charts 30 years of a family living on the edge, never knowing when a seizure might arrive and disrupt their family-life once more.

The story is told in an engaging style, with David B.'s matter-of-fact narration playing a more pivotal role than conversational speech bubbles. Coupled with this, the drawings have an intense, illustrative style, as if each panel is an interpretation and an expansion of the text, rather than a simple guide to which characters are talking.

The pictures are layered with imagery, with David B.'s vivid imagination and unconventional influences pulling the supernatural into the real world, allowing his characters to interact with the creations of David B.'s imagination without seeming to mind their presence. Jean-Christophe's epilepsy, for example, is first represented as a monster - a dragon seen only through the eyes of a young brother who can't hope to understand his elder sibling's medical condition. Later, as David gets older and his understanding more sophisticated, the monster becomes an aspect of his brother, though elements of its recognisable dark shape still criss-crosses the darkness in Jean-Christophe's seizure-racked face. This lack of realism is the most dominant aspect of the monochromatic and heavily inked style.

Epileptic is a powerful and literate examination of living with epilepsy, charting the heartbreaking deterioration of Jean-Christophe alongside his epilepsy's inevitable impact on those around him. Honestly told and charting the lives of people who are, thankfully, still with us, there's little conclusion to tie the story up or warm our hearts. However, it's a beautiful story told in an engaging and compelling way, offering a literary alternative to comic readers looking for more than escapist fantasy.

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