David B. has long been suffering from that unforgiving problem of having defined his career with an early masterpiece. His L’Ascension du haut mal, or Epileptic, which was originally published 1996-2003, remains one of the most stirring and complex works ever created in comics, a high watermark of autobiographical cartooning and a singular artistic vision. Needless to say, following up a book like that is hard. And it’s even harder when its focus is the great tragedy in one’s life, the narrative around which your identity is constructed. In comics, it is what one may call the “Maus conundrum.”
In contrast to Art Spiegelman who has created very little of note — indeed very little at all — since his masterpiece, David B. has remained prolific. Most of his work is strong, but none of it quite measures up. Among the most interesting, post-L’Ascension, are its addenda in Babel (2004-2006), which is brilliant in passages, but remain addenda. The dream comics in Les Complots nocturnes (2005) and the recent part imaginary diary, Journal d’Italie (2010), similarly displays flashes of brilliance and suggest fruitful new directions, but everything remains tentative, as if the foundational work’s center of gravity maintains its smothering hold.