David B begins his graphic novel with the end product of his brother’s degenerated condition. He opens up with a series of scenes of a much older David B and Jean Christophe sharing a moment of simply mundane morning routine. David B is brushing his teeth and his brother comes in to do the same. At first David says he couldn’t recognize his brother, explaining that his brother didn’t have his “public face” on. David describes the several things about his brother that has changed over time. He comments on the scars that have accumulated over the years from when his brother would fall into a seizure and through the falling he’s even lost a few teeth. He mentions how his brother has gained weight from his medication and his brother’s hair has a severe bald spot from the many times he’s fallen.
Childhood Seized by Disorder
To then contrast the depiction of his brother, readers are then taken back in time to early in their childhood together. Both brothers look almost identical and Jean Christophe is 7; only two years older than David. This jump back in time is the true beginning of the graphic novel that conveys Jean and David’s journey to the present in the opening scenes. As children David and his brother have a close relationship although a dark one filled with love of war, violence and gore. They passed the time pretending to go to war with their gang of children from the neighborhood as well as enjoyed drawing and creating stories of war. They are very much influenced by their time frame which is one of unsettlement and war. Many times during their play and story creating they don on several different identities of war heroes which varied from time to time. This reflects the search for identity evident in adolescents.
Jean Christophe’s first seizure came to him while playing with his brother on a motorcycle. What occurred was unknown to David or his parents. They each had a name for it. Their mother called it a spell while David says that his brother had been carried away by a typhoon. He admits that it would haunt him at night. A typhoon is exactly what it is. The epilepsy acts just like a typhoon and eradicates any trace of the former self in Jean Christophe. From this point on there is a downhill spiral for David, Jean and their family. They attempt find a diagnosis and a cure to help Jean which begins what David calls in this scene, “the endless round of doctors, for my brother and my parents…” (B. 10).
Human Petri Dish
Jean then becomes a test subjects for many diagnosticians. His parents become the medium for one attempt after the other. This image is representative of Jean’s entire journey with attempt at attempt is one where a doctor is attaching probes into Jeans head in one of the original visits to a doctor. It can be adapted into a universal sign for the amount of probing down on Jean that shift him away from being Jean Christophe to simply being his illness that everyone is trying to focus and cure. His family makes severe life changes such as macrobiotic diet and exercise. They move several times to appease the amount of ridicule their family receives. At some point they feel as though they might have this cured because the seizures subdued under macrobiotics but soon after the calm came the storm of seizures that end up completely debilitating Jean Christophe, shattering the person and self he once was.
Disorder the Serpent
David captures Jean’s illness as snake image that moves closer and closer to his brother until finally it is wrapped completely around him. He states, “The convulsions go on and on. Hey twist him into knots…” (B.76).The representation of the twisting comes from the snack wrapping itself around Jean Christophe and taking over his limps. Symbolically the serpent and Jean’s heads meet almost as one to convey that the illness has now become him. A strong level of resentment occurs against Jean Christophe because at some point he has given up trying to fight passed his illness and simply accepts it and does not move forward with his life but simply wants his parents to take care of him forever.
Disorder: Deformation of Self
David B captures the finality of defeat at the hands of his brother’s illness. One of B’s dreams reflected how his brother had been completely lost. He states, “I see my brother’s face turn misshapen. As if an invisible adversary were crushing it under his blows. Each blow produces a horrific sound…” (342). Each blow is the dislodging of self that then misshapens Jean Christophe. He is no longer distinguishable to his brother. The Epileptic has won the battle and Jean Christophe has given up therefore is no more.