For the past four years at the university, I’ve been a creative writing student, and I’ve been a French student, but unfortunately, there haven’t been many opportunities for a mélange of my areas of study. But fortunately, one of the graphic novels we read in class was Epileptic by David B.
I took a French literature class last year, but due to time, we were only able to read one contemporary French novel. Epileptic is a contemporary French graphic novel, originally published in six volumes from 1996 to 2004 as L’Ascension du haut mal. This translates to “The Rise of the High Evil.” The original French graphic novel was published by L’Association, a publishing house started by David B and a group of French cartoonists.
Now that I’ve read Epileptic in English, I’d like to read L’Ascension du haut mal in its original French. Ever since I’ve started studying French, I’ve been interested in translation. I even translated some of my own French writing into English this year. For example, even the title was not translated verbatim into English. From a cursory Internet search, I learned that haut mal was the name for epilepsy during the Middle Ages. It’s interesting to consider how to translate words that have multiple meanings into another language, such as ascension, meaning both an ascent—like up the stairs—and a rise to power, as confirmed by WordReference.
David B’s artwork throughout Epileptic is beautiful, a simple black and white style. The graphic novel includes real life, with Pierre-Francois and his family living in France, and Pierre-Francois’ imagine, with all sorts of magical beings. But interestingly, not all of the characters David B draws in “real life” are human. For example, Master N. and his son Jilau are both drawn as cats. They both practice macrobiotics and medicine. Drawing the men, and other human characters, as non-human characters, adds to the whimsy of the graphic novel, and shows that Pierre-Francois has an active imagination that affects how life, affects how he views others.
Epileptic’s story is compelling, too, as Pierre-Francois’ brother, Jean-Christophe, develops epilepsy, and his family looks to treatments, including going to communes. I’m not surprised the graphic novel was originally released as six volumes, because, reading it straight through, I became disinterested in some of the treatments, having read about so many treatments before them. Occasionally David B cuts to himself and his brother and sister as adults, as he’s working on Epileptic, like in Art Spiegelman’s Maus.
As the two brothers became teenagers and Jean-Christophe’s epilepsy became more severe, I became more interested in reading about the family’s relationship with one another. And later, I enjoyed reading about David B becoming an artist, starting L’Association, and trying to have a child wife his wife. The sequences in Pierre-Francois’ imagination were interesting, but I really like reading stories about peoples’ relationships in the real world. David B’s Epileptic was a fantastic introduction to contemporary French graphic novels, even including some of the history in the text, and I look forward to reading more in the genre.
Before I read Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, I looked through the book and read from the notes at the back, where Porcellino states that his comic “Hellhole” is includes the “original two-page introduction that [he] kept hidden for many years (out of shame).” I knew I had to read the book based on the truth of that note. And I did.
As I learned in the introduction, Porcellino’s book is a collection of comics about his work as a “mosquito man,” exterminating the insects in both Chicago and Denver, from 1989 into the ‘90s. Porcellino originally published the comics in his magazine King-Cat Comics, a name that, interestingly, comes from a Lawrence Ferlinghetti, so says the Internet. Porcellino published the comics collected in Diary of a Mosquito Man from 1989 to 1999, and the book includes new material from 2004, so the book shows his development as an artist. I was surprised when, upon reading when he was born, that Porcellino started publishing King-Cat Comics when he was twenty. (This twenty-two-year-old has some work to do.)
Many reviews, from Goodreads to a review on the back of the book, use the word “punk” to describe John Porcellino’s Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, and I agree. The book starts with a grungy, longhaired twentysomething looking sad in the rain. How punk is that? The early King-Cat comics are short, with some only two pages, drawn in a rough, rudimentary style. The comics are funny, with Porcellino encountering a variety of characters during his work, from a couple having sex in a car to a dude hitchhiking from to Chicago from Racine, Wisconsin. The early comics set in Chicago were interesting to me for personal reasons, too, being from the northwest suburbs.
The longest comic in Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man is “The Death of a Mosquito Abatement Man,” a previously unpublished comic from 2003 and 2004. Before his last season as a mosquito man in Denver, the summer of 1996, Porcellino developed an ear problem and started studying world religions. Soon Porcellino became a Buddhist, and as a result of his spirituality, he became conflicted about his work as a mosquito man, killing so many, in his words, “innocent creatures.”
“The Death of a Mosquito Abatement Man,” and the other “new” comics drawn in the 2000s, after Porcellino quit being a mosquito man, are retrospective, more serious in tone, and drawn in clean, simple lines. This gives the comics a different effect on the reader than the early “punk” comics, and personally, I enjoyed the ‘90s comics more, but respected Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man as a whole.
I read Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man shortly after I read “Mosquito Bites,” a novella by Nathan Floom published in The Seattle Review. In “Mosquito Bites,” like in Porcellino’s, a man works to control mosquitos during the summer. Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man and “Mosquito Bites” complement each other well, with both Floom and Porcellino’s characters—in Porcellino’s story, himself—using the extermination of mosquitoes to explore larger-than-mosquito-sized problems in their lives.