photo & text by nacrowe
FRENCH cartoonist DAVID B through his HALLUCINATORY and vividly PHANTASMAGORIC drawing style depicts a series of impenetrably PSEUDO-RELIGIOUS, MYTHOLOGICAL ALLEGORIES within the graphic novel THE ARMED GARDEN AND OTHER STORIES (FANTAGRAPHICS, 2011). based loosely on PERSIAN and CENTRAL EUROPEAN TRADITIONS, the narratives within convey man's inability to discern and appreciate matters related to the DIVINE.
all three narratives depict the search for DIVINE PROVIDENCE and esteem as a potent cudgel to be utilized for POWER and INFLUENCE in the physical realm. its hard not to read into such and deduce that with matters of the METAPHYSICAL REALM, our daily struggles and squabbles are beyond MEANINGLESS. DIVINITY and the concept of PARADISE is seen in these narratives to be beyond constraints of space and time, or even earthly bodily forms for that matter. it is a DEGRADATION of sorts to even involve such in our psychodramas related to POWER and INFLUENCE, but that is what the characters repeatedly do to their own peril.
the highlight of these graphic novels is not the plot or the subtext of the narrative, but just the INCREDIBLE artwork DAVID B provides that seems to split the difference between ESOTERIC MYSTICISM, ISLAMIC FOLKLORE and more than a little AUBREY BEARDSLEY. it is very much a visual treat, even if the narrative itself feels a bit CLUTTERED and UNFOCUSED in comparison.
as a former secondary english teacher i love wading in the pools of OBTUSE references and deliberate OPAQUENESS. but if you dont definitely check out DAVID B's more traditionally written and depicted graphic novel EPILEPTIC (review linked HERE) which is a memoir related to his family's experience living with his older brother's UNCONTROLLABLE and DANGEROUS bouts with epilepsy. that is probably a better starting point than this lovingly depicted yet largely INCOMPREHENSIBLE historical narrative.
photo & text by nacrowe
the graphic novel EPILEPTIC (PANTHEON, 2005) is a harrowing account of the psychological horror that comes with growing up and watching your family IMPOTENTLY confront the routine seizures of one of its own. celebrated FRENCH cartoonist DAVID B through this recollected memoir of his early development provides incredible insight into the DEBILITATING EMOTIONAL ABYSS of watching his older brother effectively lose his own sense of AGENCY and ability to live a normal life.
the effects of such a trauma on DAVID B are devastating, cartoons and invented realities become a shield of sorts from the harsh reality of the outside world. similar can be said about the efforts of his mother, who seeks out a revolving carousel of ESOTERIC and NONTRADITIONAL medical practices from various global traditions (SHAMANS, ALCHEMISTS, DIETICIANS, MAGNETIZERS, ACUPUNCTURISTS, MASSAGERS, etc.) out of love but all are ultimately in VAIN. nothing works. and what makes EPILEPTIC such a compelling read in my opinion is how effectively it showcases that projection and transference of stunted emotional development onto the family, who as a unit despite all possible efforts, finds themselves imprisoned by this unrelenting foe.
back when i took an introductory psychology course in college, i remember their being much discussion about the profound effects of one person's chronic condition (i.e. DEPRESSION, PTSD, EATING DISORDER, PERSONALITY DISORDER, etc.) on their family. that sense of helplessness that comes with being unable to ease a loved one's trauma, which over time wears one down. a version of this narrative can be seen in the doomed efforts of the late imperial ROMANOV family (TSAR NICHOLAS II and ALEXANDRA) when attempting to seek assistance for their son's HEMOPHILIA. this desperation led them to seek out nontraditional practitioners, and mercenaries, like GREGORIO RASPUTIN. i point you to ROBERT K MASSIE's NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA (review linked HERE) for further information. for me, this book is less about the often competing and complex emotions DAVID B felt towards his older brother, as well as the intense GUILT involved in that process, and more about the toll of said condition on the family. a family whose efforts were done out of UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.
the other work this graphic novel with all of its PHANTASMAGORICAL, MYTHOLOGICAL and stark FANTASY-inspired imagery recalled for me was SPIKE JONZE's film adaptation of the children's book WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE (review linked HERE). the chaotic, seemingly unraveling imagery that DAVID B produces gives us a sense of a child's perspective who is unable to verbalize and process feelings of deep TRAUMA. much like how the temper tantrums of MAX in the film are his way of expressing that which is OVERWHELMING and inherently INEXPRESSIBLE, DAVID B has similarly provided a visual analogue to that same phenomena. the visuals in this manner do not clarify or elucidate meaning, more they are there as emotional markers of ANGER, CONFUSION, DESPAIR and REMORSE projected at a cruel adult world with no innate sense of fairness or moral center.
EPILEPTIC is a deeply fascinating graphic novel that asks more than it answers and leaves one contemplating their own TENUOUS relationship with REALITY and how we as individuals construct an internal MYTHOLOGY to deal with our own STRUGGLES and SHORTCOMINGS. highly recommended.