Epileptic By David B. Pantheon $195 The first question a reader might ask is whether Epileptic can even be considered literature, belonging as it does to an often sneered-at genre, the graphic novel. But reading David B's (born Pierre-Francois Beauchard) achingly personal narrative of growing up in a family with an epileptic and sometimes psychotic older brother, one thing is certain: Epileptic is no mere comic strip. Spanning three decades, the starkly drawn black and white narrative chronicles in words and images the life of the narrator as he and his family cope with the illness of his older brother, Jean-Cristophe. We watch as David and Jean-Cristophe's lives unfold through the words and pen of the younger brother, experiencing David's own inner world of dreams and fantasies in a childhood marred by and centred on his older brother's illness. Epileptic is at times dense and even cloying, with B's dark ink work taking the reader into his world as he tries ultimately to get into the mind of his physically and increasingly mentally ill brother. Juxtaposed with scenes of his family's endless attempts to find a cure for Jean-Cristophe - they visit a series of doctors, naturopaths, acupuncturists and ashrams in the quest to see the boy, then the teenager, and finally the man become whole - are more normal scenes of the author's boyhood. The reader watches as the children grow up in the France of the early 1970s, an era marked by riots and political strife. B also illustrates stories told by relatives of wartime life to create a series of 'story within the story' flashbacks. As the 70s wear on, the parade of would-be healers, psychologists and quacks wears down, their faces portrayed by B's pen in increasingly grotesque manners. As Jean-Cristophe's disease grows worse, his epilepsy exacerbated by medication-induced psychosis and seizure-related injuries, the character itself grows darker and less well defined. In this way the author-artist shows his brother growing smaller as he surrenders to the hopelessness of his condition. Although comparisons with Art Spiegelman's ground-breaking graphic novel Maus can be made, this is mostly because the field of literary graphic novels is still so small that so few masters have emerged. However, B occasionally uses a device famously perfected by Spiegelman: portraying certain characters as animals. A Japanese Zen healer, for instance, becomes a wizened cat, although he, too, is unable to heal Jean-Cristophe. The darkly haunted quality of David B's drawings work well to create a symbolism that words alone might not. Drawings from his youthful flights of fancy featuring himself and his brother as armoured knights battling medieval armies change through the years, with the enemy morphing into a dragon that can be driven away for a time but never permanently defeated. In between these dreams and fantasies is the reality of a family's attempt to come to grips with a baffling and debilitating ailment, as well as the tale of the author's coming of age. At times whimsical and at others grim, Epileptic may not be for readers of all tastes. But those who fancy the gritty realism of graphic novels such as Maus and American Splendour, or those interested in raw, nervy tales of mental illness told from the inside out (such as Mark Vonnegut's Eden Express) will find David B's work gripping. But nobody, even after a cursory glance, would think of mistaking Epileptic for a comic book.