Loads of Learned Lumber

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Charles Burns, _Black Hole_

ADOLESCENCE AS DISEASE?  Well...of course.  First, your body betrays you, puberty distending and remoulding you, making you barely recognizable to yourself.  Others began to regard with you suspicion; you become an object or surveillance, possibly segregation.  You are surrounded, at school, with fellow-sufferers, but suspicion reigns here as well, and you know not whom to trust or even whether you yourself are trustworthy.  You may be able to sneak out to the woods once in a while, and find some simpatico companions... but are you sure you can trust even them?

Charles Burns's Black Hole is both an outlandish drive-in horror flick -- teenagers in the Pacific Northwest come down with an unnamed plague that affects each victim a different way, one growing a tail, another growing a mouth in his throat that mutters unwelcome truths, another periodically shedding her skin, etc. -- and a poignantly true depiction of being a teenager.  Judging from certain details (in one panel, a high school girl's record collection is seen to include Neil Young's Harvest and Joni Mitchell's Clouds), Burns's characters are my exact contemporaries, and their world is one I remember.  It's a world intelligible to none but themselves; to their parents, it's as remote as Mars or ancient Sumeria. Even amongst themselves, the codes shift so suddenly and arbitrarily that the characters have to scrutinize their own and others' behaviors for clues as to what is really going on.  Anxiety.  Dread.  Adolescence.

Does anyone here get out alive?  Keith and Eliza, perhaps, heading south in a car for warmer and drier climes, some "perfect, quiet little town," away from the madness -- but don't they carry the plague with them, wherever they go?  Chris, floating in the book's final pages out to colder, deeper waters, seems certain to drown -- or does she escape into the galaxy at which she gazes?

The artwork continually amazes.  However did Burns contrive to work with all that black?  How did he manage so meticulous a line?

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