Autobiographical comics or graphic novel memoirs are commonplace in today’s world. Some even become both critical and financial successes, such as Craig Thompson’s masterpiece Blankets. One thing that makes these non-fiction graphic novels so alluring is the tale of human woes and triumphs. In David B.‘s Epileptic, he tells the story of growing up with his older brother who suffers from epilepsy. It is not just a tale of David and his brother however, it is a tale of his whole family and how hard they try to cure, or at least control, his brother’s condition while living in France.
It interesting to see David’s parents handle the situation throughout the story and how they go to any lengths to try and deal with the epileptic fits. It is hard to say whether the parents believed in the ideas of the groups they join throughout the story or if they joined merely because they hoped that that way of life and diet would help cure their son. This is irrelevant however as the main point is to show just how much the epilepsy affected their family.
The artwork can be simplistic at times, however at others, particularly when David is depicting his fascination with ancient Asian history, his eye for detail shines through. The battle scenes he depicts are gorgeous and resemble actual historical paintings and artwork of ancient Asia. His artwork depicting his brother’s epileptic bouts can also be elaborate, as he paints fictional monsters wreaking havoc with his brother’s fragile body. Readers used to flashy panels and detailed artwork will not for the most part find them here. In its place however is a touching story that is far more genuine and enjoyable than most “flashy” comics or graphic novels out there. The independent comix movement has been much more about substance over style. A lot of times the artwork can be simpler than their mainstream counterparts. This however is most times intentional. The story is what is important, not the details in the background artwork.
Autobiographical graphic novels have been around since then medium began with Will Eisner. They have continued to grow in their complexity and allowed a generation of cartoonists to tell their tales. Epileptic was originally told in serial form, however the story blends so well together it is difficult to tell where one issue would have ended and the other began. This makes for a flowing pace that allows the reader to become immersed in the experience.
The uniqueness of non-fiction graphic novels also lies in their ability to give the reader a visual experience of the events, be they somewhat exaggerated or realistic. We are able to sympathize more with David and his family because of the surreal images of the epileptic fits, and the shear terror when David’s brother lashes out at his family violently. It is one thing to describe this in prose it is another to actually show it. It conveys a feeling of being more realistic and immediate, as we can see what the experience was actually like, rather than creating an image in our mind which may or may not be correct.
The number of non-fiction graphic novels is growing in today’s market. They continue to garner respect and accolades from the literature community. This will no doubt continue to grow, and with such talents as David B., you will soon find these on the bestseller shelves right along with other works of prose. If you have never tried a non-fiction graphic novel, this is as good a place to start, and will not disappoint.