By David B.
Published by Pantheon Books; $25.00 USD

In the manner of Maus, which came before it, and Persepolis, which came after, Epileptic is not fun to read in any traditional sense, but rather is a dramatic and startlingly intimate true-life family portrait.

David B.'s 361-page memoir is a harrowing and personal story detailing the apocalyptic impact his brother's lifelong battles against epilepsy had on his brother, his family, and himself. The disease could fairly be said to be the main reason B. was drawn to a career in comics, as he immersed himself in fantasy worlds of violence and war, where he could determine the victor of monumental struggles he created, somehow relieving the futile real-life war against disease that his family waged with a long, infuriating series of quacks, fakers and bullshit artists.

B.'s artwork can be stark, scary or surreal, depending on the mood of the scene he is working on. He often allows figures to contort beyond the limits of reality, demonstrating here the ravages of a lifetime of disease, there the outsized presence of his brother in his life, looming over all and threatening to do more than overshadow -- rather, to consume him.

All this is vividly depicted in a book that is quite impossible to put down. The manner in which B. brings you into his life and reveals both the smallest and largest details of his unique and unenviable life is quite a rarity for comics. He is at times petty and immature, but we cannot help but understand it for the clarity of his voice and the poignancy of his plight (and that of his brother, and his sister). As much frustration as I felt for the children of this story, as much pity as I felt for the helpless parents always turning to the next unhelpful fraud, in the end I just wanted them to be at peace and free of the suffering they've all been through for the decades B. recounts.

So, no, Epileptic -- the first epic, gripping and extraordinary graphic novel of 2005 -- is not fun to read. It is, however, a wondrous examination of lives in chaos, rendered with skill and humanity by an unflinchingly honest narrator. David B.'s Epileptic is a must-read for anyone who wants to experience the true power of comics to get to the heart of the matter with great storytelling and even greater honesty. Grade: 5/5

-- Alan David Doane

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