Charles Burns’ “Black Hole”: Pretty Pictures of Disturbing Shit

Another wonderful comic book, published originally in 12 issues and collected together as a graphic novel in 2005. Like David Mazzucchelli (the man behind “Asterios Polyp”) Burns is both the writer and the artist, the sole creative entity. The art here is stark -full of heavy black color that frames the empty white space into meaning in a manner reminiscent of woodcuts- and since the subject matter is so wonderfully time-stamped in the 1970s, the effect creates a wonderful kind of juxtaposition. The artistic style is far more uniform and consistent than the wandering, narrative imaginings of Mazzucchelli, (with the exception of a few fantastic full-page spreads of fantastic landscapes of detritus and evolutionary misadventures) but they work well both as a narrative accompaniment and on their own aesthetic merit.

The story is compelling and the characters trace an interesting arc of development in this short read. These teens are actually teens, stunted and unformed in equal measure as they try to navigate the kind of social interactions that have adult consequences with minds that lack the experiential context for such an attempt. And no one is irritatingly precocious. This everyman literalism makes “Black Hole” a more immediate and emotionally potent read.

But Black Hole only made me think while I was reading it. There were none of the sticky ideas, the dense informational memes that resurrected themselves out of everyday experiential triggers, slipping into unrelated conversations or driving themselves to the front of my mind while I cooked potatoes. It’s a very good comic book, but it just doesn’t transcend the genre in the same way that personal favorites like “MAUS,” “Asterios Polyp,” and “Watchmen” do.   Burns done a damn fine job with the thing and it’s a wonderful read, but it probably won’t change your life if you read it as an adult.

Recommendation: Read it. It’s short, meaningful, and utterly engaging. Have fun.

Black Hole
by Charles Burns

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