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Canada's National Post Reviews Epileptic and Babel!

Updated April 13, 2005


His brother's keeper:;
Brad Mackay. National Post.
Apr 9, 2005


David B's confessional comic, Epileptic, explores the many impacts of illness

EPILEPTIC

By David B. Pantheon 368 pp., $35

- - -

The autobiographical tradition is a touchstone as important to alternative comics as capes and tights are to their mainstream counterparts. The confessional urge can be seen in comics ranging from Robert Crumb's compulsive tell-alls of the 1960s to such modern classics as Art Spiegelman's Holocaust epic Maus, Chester Brown's I Never Liked You, Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis. The latest contender in this esteemed tradition comes, somewhat unexpectedly, from French comics.

Although bandes dessinees (standard comics) have long enjoyed respect in France, confessional comics have failed to generate similar acclaim. That changed with the debut of David B.'s Epileptic. When the first instalment was published in 1996 (as L'Ascension du Haut Mal), it became a sensation, winning the prestigious Alph' Art Award and becoming required reading in many classrooms.

An emotional marathon, the plot focuses on a French family and its attempts to cope with a son's complex battle with epilepsy. Thanks to David B.'s masterful storytelling and intricate art, it becomes much more -- a story of the many impacts of an illness, complete with writhing demons, imaginary medieval warfare and pages of raw emotion.

Following a well-received 2002 English translation of the first half of the novel, Pantheon recently introduced the English- speaking world to the complete Epileptic. At 368 pages, Epileptic is a moving pageant that calls for comparison to Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

David B. (born Pierre-Francois Beauchard in 1959) has called forth the demons he first encountered when his older brother, Jean- Christophe, had his first grand-mal seizure in the late 1960s. With his younger sister, Florence, David becomes his older brother's keeper, protecting him from both the private illness and the public ridicule it evokes. Along the way, they observe their parents trying everything from acupuncture to psychics in hopes of finding a cure for Jean-Christophe. The odyssey is both captivating and heartbreaking as they turn from one guru to the next. Their desperation lands them in a macrobiotic commune in the 1970s, where every piece of food they eat is monitored.

The parents' focus on their epileptic son eventually breeds resentment in his siblings. In an early sequence, David daydreams about his brother being run over by a truck. In another, he walks -- rather than runs -- to tell his father that his brother is playing with fire. He recalls slapping his brother "under the pretext of getting his seizure to stop." In the next panel, he adds: "I throw in a few kicks."

It's stark confessional moments like this that lift the narrative above the level of cliche that the story could have become in less capable hands.

The book is also an exploration of the author's psychological and creative development. From an early age, he immerses himself in accounts of military engagements ranging from those of Attila the Hun to the Paris riots of May, 1968. His gory depiction of these events is an outlet for his own frustrations, and also leads to his becoming a cartoonist.

Likely in an effort to keep costs down, Pantheon has significantly shrunk the page size -- to almost half the size of the original French albums -- in both its French and English incarnations. This inevitably drains some of the visual power from the story.

To see David B.'s work in all its unrestrained glory, search out the first issue of Babel, a new series published by Montreal's Drawn & Quarterly Books. The first issue, released last fall, picks up on the same autobiographical threads as Epileptic, but explores them through mythology and the author's dream comics.

The real star of the show here is his art, which on eight-by-12- inch pages has ample space to stretch out, and is augmented by gorgeous drop-in reds. Just 32 pages, Babel is a fantastic platform for a master cartoonist. (D&Q plans to release the second issue of Babel this fall.)

Despite the restrictions inherent in its format, Epileptic is a perfect example of how affecting autobiographical comics can be. David B. has crafted a heartfelt and painfully human comic that deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its Pulitzer Prize- winning predecessor, Maus.

[Illustration]
Graphic/Diagram: All Images From David B's Epileptic / Epileptic was first published in French in 1996. In the book, David B. explores his brother's disease and his parents' quest to find a cure, which brings them to acupuncturists, psychics and communes.; Graphic/ Diagram: All Images From David B's Epileptic / Epileptic.




 

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David B.

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Babel #1




  Boston Globe reviews David B's BABEL & Ander Nilsen's DOGS & WATER

Updated March 17, 2005


For Dogs & Water:

"For inner quietude, try Anders Nilsen's "Dogs and Water" (Drawn & Quarterly, unpaginated, $9.95). The Chicago artist spins a cryptic, alluring tale of a man, his teddy bear, a confrontation over an oil pipeline, and a fierce, sympathetic wolf pack. The carefully drawn "Dogs and Water" works a fine magic to take you where you've never been."

For David B's BABEL & EPILEPTIC:
"Epileptic" (Pantheon, 361 pp., $25) is a staggering work of heartbreaking genius in which writer/ artist David B. grapples with the epilepsy of his big brother, Jean-Christophe. The black-and-white illustrations are so intense they suggest shading has little to do with color; artistry and passion make them resonate. Jean-Christophe's seizures start small but grow in frequency and duration, plunging his family into a frantic search for a cure. Born Pierre-François Beauchard in a rural French town, David B. spent a happy childhood until his brother's epilepsy spun him into a troubled, cathartic creativity. Translated from the French, "Epileptic" is phantasmagorical and exceedingly personal; I wonder what Jean-Christophe thinks of it. A companion is "Babel Volume 1" (Drawn & Quarterly, 32 pp., $9.95), a prequel. Here, David B. attaches a more primitive and expansive graphic style to a narrative blending Jean-Christophe's illness with African civil war, suggesting an unusually deep connection between the personal and the political. The shocking use of red in "Babel" accents these transmissions from the spirit world, David B.'s brilliant yoking of dream and nightmare.

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David B.
Anders Nilsen

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Babel #1




TCJ Picks Dogs & Water, Babel & Or Else as Top Ten of 2005.

Updated February 28, 2005


The Comics Journal picks their top ten comic books of 2004, and D+Q lands three comics on the list!

Anders Nilsen "Dogs and Water"
David B "Babel #1"
Kevin Huizenga "Or Else #1"

 
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Kevin Huizenga
David B.
Anders Nilsen

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Or Else #1
Babel #1




  Res Mag Reviews David B's Babel.

Updated February 24, 2005


PDF attached.
click here to download the PDF (1.66 MB)


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David B.

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Babel #1




David B reviewed in NY Newsday!

Updated January 31, 2005


A brother unbalanced

BY STEPHANIE ZACHAREK
Stephanie Zacharek is a staff writer for Salon.com.

January 30, 2005
EPILEPTIC, by David B.; Pantheon, 361 pp., $25.

People who don't like graphic novels or graphic memoirs often treat them as if they represent a failure of nerve, or even a moral failing - as if they're just failed verbal narratives that need the vitality and immediacy of pictures to bolster them.

That logic flows directly from the same source that gave us the old "What's better - movies or books?" question (to which the only reasonable answer is that they're simply different). And it also fails to take into account that in the best graphic novels and memoirs - works like Art Spiegelman's "Maus," Chris Ware's "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth," Raymond Brigg's "Ethel & Ernest" and now David B.'s "Epileptic" - words and pictures together amount to a very specific breed of nonverbal poetry.
In "Epileptic," for example, a panel illustrating a young couple's efforts to conceive a baby reads, "We make love, but there's no child." Below the words we see a dark-colored cat, shown only from the back, peering quizzically through a half-open door into a darkened room.

In "Epileptic," French cartoonist David B., a founding member of the influential cartoonists group L'Association, tells the story of growing up in Orléans in the early 1960s with his parents, his younger sister, Florence, and an older brother, Jean-Christophe, who, at the age of 11, began having recurrent and severe epileptic seizures that changed the course of his, and his family's, life.

At the time, David B.'s name was Pierre-François - he would change it as a young teenager, in the early 1970s - and he and his two siblings formed an inseparable trio. He and Jean-Christophe, two years apart, were particularly close. They'd roam with the local boys, staging miniature wars in streets and alleyways; at home, they'd spend hours together drawing elaborate battle scenes involving throngs of Mongolian warriors who'd pierce their enemies with showers of arrows and then clamber recklessly over piles of skulls. These pictures filled Pierre-François, in particular, with a sense of delight and release. He freely admits they were an outlet for the rage and frustration that would fill him when he saw his brother racked with seizures - but he also simply liked them, as many young boys do.
The seizures become more serious, and more frequent (Jean-Christophe suffers from as many as three a day). As Jean-Christophe reaches adolescence, he begins to suffer from increasingly intensifed mental and emotional imbalances as well. His whole family becomes entwined in the effort to cure him. After rejecting surgery at the hands of a creepy, arrogant surgeon, they turn to macrobiotics and, later, to increasingly wild and desperate schemes involving spiritualism, alchemy and bizarre magnetic treatments. (The pharmaceuticals prescribed for Jean-Christophe induce psychotic episodes that sometimes make him dangerously violent.)

"Epileptic" deals largely with Pierre-François/David's personal feelings about his brother's illness, most notably his vacillation between feeling desperate that he can't help the brother he loves so much and wishing, quite simply, that Jean-Christophe could just get over his epilepsy - or, most horrifying, just die and free the family from its suffering. This is a bracingly candid memoir, not just for the way it understands how a serious illness can infiltrate the very fiber of family life (whether it weakens it or strengthens it is almost beside the point), but for the way it captures the hostility - mingled, confusingly, with love and empathy - that one person's illness can evoke in the people closest to him.

"Epileptic" is really a memoir of two parallel lives lived simultaneously: the waking life, where we go about our business interacting with other people in seemingly normal ways, and the dream life that pulses beneath our consciousness. For David B., Jean-Christophe's illness takes the shape of a dragon that resembles a work of Mola embroidery, a sinuous polka-dotted beast with a long snout, a row of pointed teeth and a slippery tongue - a creature that doesn't look particularly malevolent, but whose origins are mystifying nonetheless.

This creature shadows Jean-Christophe: In some panels, it appears as his harmless sidekick, like a partner in a dance routine; in another, it might be nothing more than a curious onlooker, resting its elbows on Jean-Christophe's head. In one frame, it emerges out of an open suitcase, an uninvited traveling companion that tags along anyway. Elsewhere, its body pierces Jean-Christophe's torso savagely, in a reversal of St. George's victory over the dragon - there can be no victory over this beast.

David B.'s drawing style encompasses dozens, if not hundreds, of references, including old German woodcuts, the work of R. Crumb, Mayan art, '30s comic books, Tarot cards, various types of folk art and, most notably, Picasso's "Guernica," in which horrific violence is translated into the rough beauty of geometric angles.

His images, varying wildly from panel to panel, include audacious, strutting skeletons; warriors clad in elaborately paneled armor; men with the heads of cats and birds; mystical symbols dotted with stars, fish, snakes and all-seeing eyes; and several nighttime garden scenes (rendered in black ink pierced with feathery strokes of light) infused with peaceful wonder. Some of these images are disturbing, and others are purely fanciful, but most are a passionate and inexplicable commingling of both. "Epileptic" is a work of fantasy tethered to earth by inescapable sorrow. Not even our wildest dreams can save us from the painful process of actually living.

 
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David B.

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Babel #1




  Rick Moody Reviews David B. in the NYTBR

Updated January 25, 2005


Novelist Rick Moody reviews David B's new full-length EPILEPTIC release by Pantheon. In the review, Moody spotlights other D+Q cartoonists including Chris Ware, Julie Doucet, Joe Matt, Joe Sacco and Chester Brown.
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Chester Brown
Julie Doucet
David B.

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I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition
My New York Diary
Babel #1




Harrisburg Patriot News reviews David B.'s BABEL #1

Updated January 18, 2005


....
"Babel" by David B., Drawn & Quarterly, 32 pages, $9.95.

David B.'s magnum opus, the stunning "Epileptic," just came out in stores this month, but you can get a small taste of this French artist's genius through this slim yet utterly engrossing story.

In "Babel," David B. effortlessly segues from autobiography to dream psychology to the 1968 war in Biafra without missing a step, thus turning an intimate tale of youth into a more epic look at the way images and outside forces affect our choices. It's a near- perfect introduction to an artist that comics fans will be hearing a lot about.
 

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David B.

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Babel #1




  TIME.COM interviews David B.

Updated January 12, 2005


Metaphorically Speaking
TIME.comix talks to David B., author of 'Epileptic'

Friday, Jan. 07, 2005
Where other cartoonists visualize the merely incredible, David B. visualizes the invisible. Two new works, "Babel" (32 pages; $10), a comic book released by Drawn and Quarterly, and "Epileptic," his extraordinary graphic novel just arriving from Pantheon Books, find visual metaphors for such elusive concepts as dreams, the forces of history, and illness. Both the comic and the novel find these metaphors through a powerful, moving account of his brother Jean-Christophe's debilitating epilepsy.

"I didn't want at all to do something realistic,” says David B. “I was not interested in making a reconstruction of the events. I prefer to tell my feelings." Born Pierre-Francois Beauchard near Orleans, France in 1959, and now living in Paris, Beauchard began working on "Epileptic" in 1996 and didn't finish until 2003. "I thought about it for twenty years. I didn't know how to draw it or tell it," he says. Eventually Beauchard began writing and publishing "Epileptic" as individual chapters. "I went chapter by chapter. I imagined an end when I started but it changed while I did the work. At the beginning I was thinking about a very dark end but I changed doing this work and came to a more optimistic end, I think," says Beauchard. The first half of these chapbooks were collected and released in the U.S. three years ago to much acclaim (see the TIME.comix review). Now the first and second half have been combined into one gorgeous hardcover (361 pages; $25).

"Epileptic" mostly takes place during the late 60s and into the 70s, a time before MRIs and a greater awareness of brain disease. Faced with a medical establishment that could do little but shrug its shoulders, the Beauchard family explores every remote cure, from macrobiotics to mediums to exorcism. "I wanted to tell the story of our family and how the illness of my brother changed our family. Our life was different. We were a normal family in the 60s in France and this illness changed our lives," says David B. His near total recall of events that took place when he was still a child results in a perfect memoir of a time when the old world of one generation mashed up with the new world of the next. All the while Pierre-Francois immerses himself in historical books and comics. Gradually "Epileptic" becomes as much a portrait of an artist as a portrait of a family in crisis.

Something of a coda to "Epileptic," "Babel" concentrates more on the dream life of the artist. As his brother first displays signs of illness the young Pierre-Francios dreams of his ancestors and of a character called The King of the World. Suddenly he feels permanently changed. As he becomes disillusioned with "doctors who can't heal" and "parents who know nothing," he seeks solace in the world of dreams, leading to a lifelong obsession. Excerpting various entries from his dream journal, Beauchard turns "Babel" into an explication of the birth of his interest in art as a way to give form to his nocturnal imaginings.

Jean-Christofe's demon twists him into knots
"[Creating 'Epileptic'] was a therapeutic experience, but not only that. It was an artistic experience too," says Beauchard. Finding visual metaphors for intangible concepts became the driving force behind the book's creation. This dedication keeps it from becoming a maudlin disease-of-the-week experience. "I really wanted to work out the drawings. How can I draw and epileptic attack, for example. Is it possible to draw that with a pencil and a piece of paper?" His solution to that particular challenge is to depict his brother in coils of a fantastical snake, twisting him in knots. Beauchard's cartoon world is inhabited as much by monsters, phantoms and animated objects as by "real" characters. He manages to combine into most every page both objective reconstructions of events as well as the subjective imaginings of the characters into one seamless, readable whole.

Beauchard has a decidedly different look than most every American comic creator, and most French ones too. "I have two kinds of styles influences: an influence from French comics and an influence from art," he says. "I was very impressed during the 1970s with French comics that were very high contrast black and white drawings by artists like Tardi or Hugo Pratt, who came from Italy. And I was very influenced in art by the expressionist work of George Grosz. I was not very fond of superhero books. For me comics are not so different from literature or movies or theater or the other cultural things I took in during the period of the book."

Getting "Epileptic" published, even in comic-friendly France, was tough. To do it Beauchard co-founded a collective of six cartoonists called L'Association in 1990. "As we weren't able to get published by other publishers we decided to create our own publishing house," Beauchard says. "It was immediately a success and this success grew and grew. And now we are not a 'big' publishing house, but among the little publishing houses we are one of the bigger ones." Making editorial decisions collectively, L'Association has published other authors besides the original six, including Marjane Satrapi, author of the two "Persepolis" volumes (see TIME.comix review.) For his next project Beauchard plans on doing a biography of the French Surrealist poet Robert Desnos.

But what of Jean-Christophe? By the end of "Epileptic" he seems lost in a world of dependency and anger. "’Epileptic’ changed my relationship with my parents and with my vision of my work. But with my brother, he's so ill that honestly I can't tell that it's changed anything," David B. says. But even if the power of art cannot transcend illness, "Epileptic" has the potential to change the way American audiences feel about French comics and graphic literature in general. It should not be missed by anyone with an interest in seeing the invisible forces that affect all our lives.
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David B.

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Babel #1




The Austin Chronicle Reviews OR ELSE & BABEL!

Updated December 10, 2004


HOME: DECEMBER 10, 2004: BOOKS: BIG BOOKS

Big Books

Gift guide
BY WAYNE ALAN BRENNER



From Kevin Huizenga's Or Else No. 1


New Comics

There's a goddamn slew of good new comics overflowing the edges of publishing's ink-stained cornucopia right now, just in time for your holiday shopping. Here are a few of what you and your visually literate friends and family will likely enjoy the hell out of.

Fantagraphics' Blab! No. 15, the latest in their annual Monte Beauchamp-edited anthology, is the usual sequential art gallery between two covers, gorgeously reproducing new work by Camille Rose Garcia, David Sandlin, Sue Coe, Nicolas Debon, and others; it's an oversized, full-color compendium of dreams and nightmares from some of the finest illustrators alive. In My Darkest Hour, also from the Big F, is a gritty portrait of a still-kinda-young Latino trying to find stability (or anything worthwhile) in his transient, bipolar life. The creator, Wilfred Santiago, possesses skills reminiscent of Dave McKean, and his expert collaging of photos into the mix will break your heart almost as much as his characters do.

Alternative Comics tempts gift-buyers with Joel Orff's beautifully rendered Waterwise, a subtle and moving evocation of friendship and shared memories. Published earlier this year by AC, yet still blazing in our mind's eye, is Rebecca Dart's RabbitHead; if we wanted to present a friend with a comic that'd intrigue her and, as the hippies would say, "fuck up her headspace," this innovative, wordless wonder would be what she'd get.

Not content to rest on their various Adrian-Seth-Julie-Chester laurels, Canada's Drawn & Quarterly has issued two new series. Babel by David (Epileptic) B. begins the story of a young boy's waking quest to find his dream-time King of the World; it's a two-color masterpiece of narrative and graphic design. Kevin Huizenga's Or Else No. 1 is a collection of short pieces ranging from the delightful scenes of "NST '04" to the bizarre mythos of "Jeezoh."

Or, you can get comics direct from their creators. And, especially when those creators have been recipients of a Xeric Foundation grant, you'll find the same high production values you'd get from company-generated books. Josh Neufeld's A Few Perfect Hours is a collection of nonfiction stories about Neufeld and his wife Sari's recent adventures in Southeast Asia and Central Europe. It's a volume like the very best travel writing – "Like Paul Theroux, but with pictures!" a friend said – and just the thing to gift someone who's going (or returning from) overseas.
 
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Kevin Huizenga
David B.

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Drawn & Quarterly Showcase: Book One
Or Else #1
Babel #1




  D+Q in NYC & Bethesda October 1-3

Updated September 24, 2004


Drawn & Quarterly will be in two places at once with your favorite cartoonists and comics next weekend October 1st-3nd!

Starting on Friday, October 1, D+Q will be at the Small Press Expo (SPX) in Bethesda, Marlyand through Sunday where we will debut new comics by Kevin Huizenga (Or Else #1), Anders Nilsen (Dogs & Water), David B. (Babel #1), Seth (Palookaville 17), and a new graphic novel by David Collier (Frank Ritza Papers)! R. Sikoryak, Kevin Huizenga and Anders Nilsen will be hand to sign anything you want!

On Sunday night at SPX are the Ignatz Awards where D+Q is up for Outstanding Artist-Chester Brown, Outstanding Graphic Novel- Louis Riel & The Fixer, Outstanding Story - Glenn Ganges In D+Q Showcase 1 and Paul In the Metro in D+Q 5, as well as Babel, Or Else and Dogs & Water being up for Outstanding Debut Award.

For more information on the festival, visit: http://www.spxpo.com/

On Saturday, October 2 and 3, D+Q will also be at the venerable festival New York Is Book Country in a new location - Washington Square Park, NYC. We will be right next to Jim Hanley's Universe on the graphic novel block. Adrian Tomine will appear on Saturday and David Collier will appear both days! We will be selling all of our brand new comics!

For more information on the festival, visit: www.nyisbookcountry.com

Come out and buy these brand new comics over a month before they hit stores!


Featured artists

Kevin Huizenga
David B.
Anders Nilsen

           Featured products

Or Else #1
Satiroplastic





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