Books »Black Hole

black hole charles burnsOriginally serialized in twelve parts by Fantagraphics, Charles Burns's Black Hole has finally been compiled into one volume. The result was dubbed by TIME Magazine, “one of the most stunning graphic novels yet published” (an honor I'd actually bestow upon Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron), and I agree that there's a lot here to wow you. My only complaint is that I miss the full color covers of the original comics which I wish had been included.

The art, in stark black and white, is bold, explicit, and uncomfortable – which works perfectly for a tale of sex, drugs, mutants, and murder. While the murder mystery itself might not have the most satisfying conclusion, it's part of a bigger world that is satisfyingly eerie. Set in the 1970s in the suburbs of Seattle, an STD is making literal monsters out of teenagers. It's an exaggerated version of the already horrifying and alienating experience of adolescence taken to new heights – or are they lows?

Burns began writing the series in the early 1990s, so it may also be a reflection of a world dealing with AIDS as no longer just an incurable “gay” disease, but one that could effect anybody.

The story shifts narrators, hints at the unexplained and, with such overpowering art, at times a single page can be almost too much to take in. Also, the characters changing hairstyles can, at first, make it difficult to realize exactly who is who. But even at 352 pages, it's a quick and absorbing read – perhaps to the chagrin of Burns, who took ten years to author it – though the impact will haunt you for quite some time.

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Posted on July 21, 2008

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