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.