By Charles Burns
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Back when I was young Charles Burns used to creep me out something rotten.
There were grown-ups I knew who were into comics - not superhero stuff - but the serious, mature and adult things. They'd have the entire collection of The Sandman, some sexy European stuff (something about a female robot in a post-apocalyptic world?), Marshal Blueberry and other Moebius collections, Alan Moore (natch), Frank Miller (Sin City) - and the Charles Burns stuff.
I'd don't think I ever read a Charles Burn book all the way through - because all the pictures were just way too disturbing. There was something dirty about them - in more than just the one sense of the word: the floors would be covered with strange bits of litter with jaded edges and none of the characters looked human: more like refugees from the uncanny valley - and the black and white artwork was just way too still: as if the panels weren't snapshots of bodies and instants taken in movement - but rather each was crystalized and suspended in tar - poured over everything. Charles Burns' world was a dead, silent, empty space - full of sweating fat-men, freaks of all shapes and sizes and - the one that stayed with me the most: a guy wearing a wrestling mask (or was it part of his face?? *shudder*).
"Illicit" is a good word to sum up the strange radioactive rays that seemed to emanate from his books. But - as is so often the case - the world has a way of taking it's outsiders, rebels and iconoclasts and incorporating them into the mainstream. And so I was a bit taken aback from I first heard of Black Hole and the swarms of praise and critical acclaim that came with it. It was like hearing that Freddy Krueger had won a Nobel Prize.
So. What's it like?
Teenagers with strange mutations. No. Not the X-Men. But something a lot more dark, nightmarish and way way more sexual. Sprawled out over 12 issues Black Hole is a comic that slowly crawls through inter-connected events and images suffocating the reader with it's brutal monochrome artwork. Welcome to life inside a confused and fearful teenage mind. Where the horror isn't found in monsters or aliens but in other people, sexually transmitted diseases and your own freakish - constantly changing - body. Like David Lynch dipped in black ink and painted all over a John Hughes film. It's all very serious and maybe not that much fun - but it's evocative and trippy and will permanently scar the inside of brain.
Don't say I didn't warn you.
Links: Sean T Collins Review, Salon Review, Time Review, Strange Horizons Review, ImageTexT Review, Anthem Interview, Savage Critics: Best of the 00s/Favorites: Black Hole – A Discussion.
Further reading: David Boring, Ghost World, Blankets, Stitches, Rasl, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, The Filth, The Death Ray, Cradlegrave, Solanin.
All comments welcome.