David B. spent an idyllic early childhood in a small town near Orléans, France, but the family's life changed abruptly when his big brother Jean-Christophe was struck with epilepsy at age eleven. In search of a cure, their parents dragged the family to acupuncturists and magnetic therapists, to mediums and macrobiotic communes, but every new cure ended in disappointment. Angry at his brother for "abandoning" him and at all the quacks who offered them false hope, the author learned to cope by drawing fantastically elaborate battle scenes, creating images that provide a window into his interior life, as well as reliving his grandfathers' experiences in both World Wars through flashbacks. An honest and horrifying portrait of the disease and of the pain and fear it sowed in the family, this graphic autobiography is also a moving depiction of one family's intricate history.--From publisher description.
There are times where David B's level of disclosure can seem uncomfortable. Worse yet, much of the alternative medication in our pill-driven society can seem downright cruel until you realize nearly every pharmacological treatment for his brother ends up in complete failure. Then it becomes a story about a family willing to take any weapon up against a cruel tormentor, no matter how slim the chances of success. Even so, he presents this story honestly, showing the toll that a fight with no real end will take on all participants involved.
As an illustrator, David B's work is reminiscent of intricate wood-cuttings where one can get lost in the details for hours. The depictions of the seizures and the onset of depression are an accomplishment unto themselves, and well worth a look through the book. Each of the backgrounds contains characters and spirit guides that serve he and his siblings well in their active fantasy life.
The writing is fantastic but the story is truly enriched by the author's own drawings of his family, the legions of historical battle scenes boys typically get caught up in, and all of those who wish to in some way heal his brother. Best of all are the author's darkside imaginary confidants who he relies on in his loneliness while searching for answers as well as his very imaginative dreams that seem to often plague him and bring up more questions.
In any case, if you've always been a little curious about the graphic novel but don't like all of the stuff about superheros (I'll take those too personally depending on my mood) then I'd highly recommend this one. Very challenging with so much emotional depth you'll likely only be able to read a bit at a time..though, I suppose the better to savor it.
Annotation: With surgical precision, David Small portrays his childhood and teen years that are marked by troubled and distant parents who hide the truth from him about the two operations that have left him almost speechless, and with an enormous scar on his neck.