(Belin, 44 pages, 2019)
The Bite, illustrated with finely drawn pen-and-ink sketches, is as much a parable of transcending fear and hatred, as it is a memoir.
—New York Times
On November 13, 2015, the graphic artist Fred Dewilde was attending a rock concert at the popular Paris venue, the Bataclan, when a group of jihadists attacked. He survived the massacre, his body miraculously unscathed but his mind in tatters.
In this gripping black-and-white graphic novel, Dewilde turns to the cathartic power of drawing to express his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the ups and downs of his long journey to recovery. In the opening panels of The Bite, the author and his family leave the city behind for a three-week vacation in the countryside. This is the first summer after the Bataclan tragedy, and Dewilde hopes to find peace in nature and comfort in life’s simple pleasures—playing cards, picnicking, and taking a walk in the woods with his young daughter. For a while, it seems to work. Sleep comes more easily. But the respite is short-lived.
The news of yet another terrorist attack shakes his fragile mental equilibrium. The doctors had warned him: the bite is deep. The poison of fear and hatred, once injected, is easily reactivated by seemingly ordinary incidents. Planes flying over the bucolic landscape remind him of war, and he obsesses over the prospect of sending his son to fight on some distant battlefield. Fear, manifesting at first in a black stain festering on his right arm, threatens to engulf him once more in the crushing embrace of serpentine tentacles. Battling anxiety, he leaves his retreat and runs to the local village in search of Wi-Fi. The black stain on the village bartender’s arm—the same as his—reminds him that his fear and anger are not his alone.
At the book’s end, Dewilde’s character realizes that to heal, he must accept that his life is forever changed by the horror he witnessed that November night. His deep humanism and the love he feels for his children eventually bring him back from the well of anguish and anger into which he fell. Dewilde is well aware that, as a victim of contemporary terrorism, his trauma is both personal and collective. In The Bite, he turns to his preferred artistic medium to process the violent emotions triggered by the attack, as well as to take a firm stand against the politics of fear.
Fred Dewilde is the pseudonym of a French graphic artist. He is one of the survivors of the terrorist attack at the Bataclan theatre in Paris on November 13, 2015. His first graphic novel, Mon Bataclan: Vivre Encore (Lemieux, 2016) was published in France, Belgium, and Switzerland.