David B’s “Epileptic”
trans. ”l’Ascension du Haut Mal”
This French graphic novel and bildungroman, tells the story of the author’s development as an artist within a family dominated by his older brother’s epilepsy. While remaining completely within the perspective of the author, the parents lead the children through various New Age therapies available to inquisitive French people of the mid 1970’s. Their search for a nontraditional cure is totally committed and exhaustive: at first karate, accupuncture then a complete break to a macrobiotic commune before diving into the unfamiliar world of Rosicrucianism and Old World Alchemy.
The strenghth of the book is its emersion in 1970s France. The family politics still based on experiences of World War I (dislocation of the peasantry) and World War II (a collaborationist grandfather saying “We were the real socialists!” at dinner) and the resourcefullness of intelligent persons without assets or understanding. At least its not the based on Native American appropriations and crystal magic associated with pactoulie scented strip mall enlightenment outposts.
Given what he has around him, Mr. B. melanges an iconography of spiritualism, Ginghes Khan, 19C fantasy stories, into an unseen army of forces oppressing his family. His brother’s epilepsy is personified as a sneaky dragon. There is no scientific explanation or illustration of epilepsy anywhere in the book. There is no appreciation of the role that inept institutionalization and medication played in his brother’s social retardation. B never overcomes the self-consciousness of a child accentuated by the gawking prejudice of the public on a person having a seizure.The p.o.v. is relentlessly that of the developing artist and perhaps can be best appreciated as honestly unempathetic.