Thursday, December 06, 2007

Picture perfect

Graphic novels? One step up from comics, I thought, and very definitely not for me. Until I was recommended 'Epileptic' by David B, that is.

'Epileptic' tells the autobiographical tale of the author / artist's childhood and adolescence, focussing particularly on his relationship with his epileptic brother Jean-Christophe. So vivid and frank is it that it's not surprising David's parents found it deeply unsettling, and certainly it's remarkable how his anger, hatred and sense of personal embarrassment come through almost as strongly as any sympathy, compassion or brotherly love.

It must also have been an uncomfortable read for them in its meticulous detailing of every quack they consulted and every faddish lifestyle or set of beliefs and practices they adopted in attempting to put a stop to Jean-Christophe's fits - the suggestion being that desperation can drive even intelligent people into swallowing and regurgitating mumbo-jumbo, opening themselves up to exploitation, if it offers a glimmer of hope.

There are occasional flashes of humour and warmth, but for the most part 'Epileptic' is a dark and disturbing book, the product of a fantastical imagination and populated by childhood monsters and later sinister figures and coiling snakes which plague Jean-Christophe. The extraordinary black and white drawings, and particularly the hollow-cheeked death-faced caricatures, reminded me strongly of the work of Okkervil River's Will Schaff, who was designed covers and artwork for Godspeed! You Black Emperor's Lift Yr Skinny Fists Like Antennae To Heaven and Kid Dakota's The West Is The Future - stark and grim, yes, but also haunting and moving at the same time.

So, thanks to Kath for loaning it to me. Next on the agenda has to be Marjane Satrapi's 'Persepolis', I think.

Update: Thanks to Simon for pointing out that it's Will Sheff who's in Okkervil River - Will Schaff is someone altogether different who just happens to have done some of their artwork.

6 comments:

Ian said...

I gotta admit, I didn't enjoy this one very much... one of those "respect, but not love" type of situations. It pains me to hear you dismiss comics out of hand, though. Even if you don't like super heroes, there's a lot there, even in serial issue format...

Jon said...

Watchmen. That is all

p_helps said...

nice review! i can swap you epilespy for persepolis!

Simon said...

Ben, I've managed to lose your email address changing computers, so I'll tell you here that I'm soliciting for the blogger album of the year poll, so top ten to the STN inbox by the 30th, please.

To put this on-topic, Will Sheff is the singer in Okkervil River and isn't the same as Will Schaff.

Ben said...

It's been a bit of a dry spell on the comments front of late - but write about graphic novels and woah, all of a sudden there's a deluge...

Ian: OK then, I was kinda angling for recommendations so fire away!

Jon: Cheers - you can tell me more next Thursday...

Kath: I may just take you up on that offer...

Simon: Thanks for setting me straight - the post's now been amended.

Ian said...

Well, Jon has it right (it's got superheroes though, watch it!*). If you like detective stuff, or crime stuff in general, Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith's Fell is fantastic, as is David Lapham's Stray Bullets. The graphic novel version of V For Vendetta is leagues better and smarter than the movie. Grant Morrison's stuff is worth digging into - maybe not the superhero stuff, for you, but the Invisibles and the Filth and a few others (although seriously, think about reading his old Animal Man series). Eddie Campbell is great - Deadface, or his recent The Fate of the Artist. Check your local library - more and more of them have graphic novel sections.

*I love well done superhero stuff, but I realise this is a sticking point for many