Graphic: Ableism, Violence, Mental illness, Medical content, Medical trauma, Religious bigotry, Grief, Chronic illness, and Bullying
Similar to [b:Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic|38990|Fun Home A Family Tragicomic|Alison Bechdel|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51eaVcRrbEL._SL75_.jpg|911368] in that both show how early family experiences led to becoming cartoonists, but much more repetitive than [b:Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic|38990|Fun Home A Family Tragicomic|Alison Bechdel|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51eaVcRrbEL._SL75_.jpg|911368]. I wasn't all that interested in David's dreams once he became an adult, and I wasn't totally satisfied with the fact that he presented them as a kind of resolution to the story.
Parallels to the struggles facing myself, family and friends are powerful, and ultimately the book is an inspiring, if also heartbreaking, one.
A clear labour of love and dedication, Epileptic has a lot to recommend to it, though it suffers from some problems which meant I finished up admiring but not truly loving it.
I hesitate to start with the bad, but I feel they matter. Firstly, it is too long, which is perhaps an inevitable consequence of the second problem - it wants to be a book with a point, a grand poetic gesture or vessel of meaning, but it doesn't fully manage this. As a result it ends in the present day, i.e. at the point the author wrote it, because he doesn't seem to know when to stop. The last parts are padded out with depictions of dream sequences which just aren't interesting or relevant enough to hold my attention.
It's a shame, because the earlier parts of the book have some magnificent imagery, dreamlike and vivid. Vast, scribbled battle sequences from the pen of his war-obsessed, Genghis Khan loving, childhood self are lovingly rendered, as are a cast of shades and imaginary allies such as the ibis headed ghost of his grandfather and the council of strange beasts who live in the forest in his garden and act as his confidantes. Most of all, I loved his endless drawings of armour, a childhood obsession I also indulged in when I drew all manner of incredible and practical designs for the knights I would never lead in the real world.
The earlier parts of the book handle well the repetitive nature of B's life in the 1970s (mostly) when his parents tried everything to cure his brother of the debilitating seizures he suffered from. These bits could have been made boring in the hands of someone less skilled but instead they are pained, emotional and cutting, leading the reader to the realisation at the heart of his parents' struggle, that they couldn't stop involving themselves with crazy people and their crazy cures, because they were terrified of missing the one which would work.
The high quality of the first two thirds (ish) of the book make the tail end, once B leaves home, less interesting and less engaging. His adult struggles are tonally too different to the more fantastical childhood stuff to hang together neatly, and I was less interested in them even if some of the events shown should have been every bit as touching and tough.
If the book had aimed to be more of an account of a time period (like, for instance, the not entirely dissimilar Persepolis) rather than reaching for a profundity which eluded it, then it might have worked better. As it is, I merely enjoyed it rather than came away dazzled.
It's a punch and a slightly depressing one but it's one hell of a read.
Essentially, it's an autobiographical novel, focussing heavily on the author's childhood in the late 60s and 70s, living with a brother who has epilepsy and the family's constant search for a cure.
But it's so much more than that. It taps into David B's very dark mind, his dreams, his way of dealing with his brother's illness, his rather extraordinary, unconventional upbringing. The art - as you'd hope - is remarkable, and extremely disturbing in many places, but never less than gripping. Epileptic won awards and you can understand why. Wonderful.