Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Black Hole by Charles Burns (3.5/5)

The back says: Suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the out-set that a strange plague has descended upon the area’s teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease is manifested in any number of ways — from the hideously grotesque to the subtle (and concealable) — but once you’ve got it, that’s it. There’s no turning back.

As we inhabit the heads of several key characters — some kids who have it, some who don’t, some who are about to get it — what unfolds isn’t the expected battle to fight the plague, or bring heightened awareness to it , or even to treat it. What we become witness to instead is a fascinating and eerie portrait of the nature of high school alienation itself — the savagery, the cruelty, the relentless anxiety and ennui, the longing for escape.

And then the murders start.

As hypnotically beautiful as it is horrifying, Black Hole transcends its genre by deftly exploring a specific American cultural moment in flux and the kids who are caught in it- back when it wasn’t exactly cool to be a hippie anymore, but Bowie was still just a little too weird.

To say nothing of sprouting horns and molting your skin...

I say: I had never heard of this until about a couple of weeks ago when I read an interview where this book was mentioned, and especially the illustrations. Curiosity obviously got the better of me and I went straight to the library to find it, not really knowing what to expect since I haven’t really read any graphic novels since I was a kid.

To be honest, I’ve been very prejudiced against them since I don’t really like comic books. And because I’m trying not to be such a book snob to broaden my reading views, this was a nice challenge for me.

To start with the illustrations, they were beyond awesome, and I am already thinking of looking up more of Burns’ work. The way that he not only captured the weirdness of the story, but really enhanced it had me staring at some of the pictures for quite a while. I’m amazed at how intricate and suggestive they were.

Please note that I do realise how arrogant this makes me sound, but I can’t help it; I’ve been exposed to a new world that I actually want to explore further.

Now, on to the story...


I loved it in a morbid and freaky sort of way; the different ways that the disease manifested itself had me both disgusted and fascinated. One guy grew a mouth on his throat; one girl grew a tale and another girl shed her skin like a snake. Although I could just as easily have merely read the story without the illustrations, they added a completely other dimension to the story. However, as weird as it was initially, after a while it sort of petered out, and although the idea of a disease that you have to hide isn’t a new one, I like the execution in Black Hole (even if the end was somewhat disappointing).

So yeah, 3.5 out of 5 for my first graphic novel in years, and although I’ll try not to look down on them anymore, I’ll read more if I stumble upon them but won’t go on a hunt for them (although I’ll probably buy Black Hole in the near future).

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