Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Why Black Hole Was My Favorite Collected Edition of 2005

Charles Burns's Black Hole is the kind of comic that makes you remember why you love comics in the first place. It was a revelation to me, both in art and writing, and reignited the spark I have for comics that was starting to abate a bit. I wanted to sing its praises the minute I finished reading it, which was in the waning hours of 2005, and I chose our year end retrospective to do it, as it easily won my pick for Best Collected Edition.

Which would have been fine and good, had Cronin and Greg Burgas decided to keep the best collected edition for the final entry. But hell, I wrote this big gushing appreciation, and what's the sense in letting it go to waste when I can share it with all of you folks, my mostly nameless, entirely faceless presumed audience?

Coming in right at the wire of 2005 for my choice of Best Collected Edition is Black Hole by Charles Burns, in that I just finished reading it on New Year's Eve. Burns makes the best use of black and white in his art work that I've ever seen. His use of black gives the story its sense of foreboding, while the whites give things like smoke an ethereal quality. His figure work reminds me of Dan Clowes a bit, but it's only a slight resemblence, as Burns styles is his own. The book is a true visual feast, but beyond that, it's also an excellent story.

It's hard for me to do it justice, really. It's about teenagers and their feelings of alienation and longing, sure, using the deformities caused by a sexually transmitted disease called "the bug" to amplify the intensity that's inherent in being a teenager

(To kill any indie credit that I might get for this, I have to say that I'm enough of a nerd that the more grotesque characters make me think of what the X-Men would be like if they weren't superheroes and remind me of some of the characters that showed up in Morrison's New X-Men.)

It's got more than its share of angst, awkwardness, as well as sex and drugs (not much rock and roll, though, although a David Bowie album is part of the plot). But there's more to it than that. It's disturbing, intense, horrifying, beautiful, poignant, and even optimistic. It's the kind of story that reminds me why I read comics in the first place and is easily one of the best graphic novels I've ever read. So, even though it had little competition, it's still the best comic I read this year.

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Blogger Apodaca said...

I want! I want!

1/17/2006 11:06:00 PM  
Blogger markus said...

Good one, I bought it on the Time.com recommendation and hate it with passion and would love to compare notes.
I don't mind the central story that much, it's decent but IMHO unexceptional teenage angst drama. Burns doesn't say anything new IMO. What really got me upset was the extra stuff: Freudian symbols, the disease, mutations etc. It's not horrifying or scary and the disease is a pretty poor dramatic device. It's AIDS that doesn't kill, and everyone is pretty cool about it. In it's other jobs as a symbol of alienation and teen uneasiness about sex, it's overkill. All in all, I don't see it adding anything.

The art is decent, if uninspiring. The monotony of the panel layout makes the story flow like lead and there's no interesting angles and stuff to break it up either. There are admittedly lots of vaginas and stuff, but that was lame on page one when the frog was cut open. You can probably tell I very soon developed an urge to yell at Burns "yeah, yeah, vagina dentata, I get it, no go f%%k yourself pretentious twit". Much the same goes for the symmetric page layouts, which are neat and all, but IMO don't add anything to the story, IOW design for design's sake.
Admittedly, the massive use of blacks does create a sense of opression, a black hole, I got to give Burns credit for that.
Overall, I see a bog standard teenage drama, with lots and lots of pretentious tripe added on top which doesn't help the story one bit, and in some cases even detracts from it (e.g. the mutations have a "spot the freak" quality to them, which IMO severely impairs the universality of the tale). While illustrated competently, there's again too much sense of design and too little which would help telling the flow of the story.
All IMHO of course, I'm looking forward to more detailed praise from you.

1/17/2006 11:12:00 PM  
Blogger MarkAndrew said...

I liked it.

I generally appreciate non-narrative fiction. It wasn't a STORY so much as an examination of the quiter moments of growing up, reflected against the general hysterical-ness of being a teenager. The book

I REALLY liked the art. Completely distinctive. I totally 'gree with "Ethereal" and "Foreboding..." An' the dream sequence bits were hugely creepy. Subtle horror, not shock value, seems like it would be tough to do, an' I haven't seen it done so effectively since WAY back in Stray Toasters. The thing LOOKED scary.

Another neat thing. I liked the use of full page shots not to deliver the BIG BEAT of THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT that Mainstream comics do but to pause the story and use the time for reflection. I don't believe I've ever seen this particular technique used in comics before, 'an it worked beautifully.

Plus I really, really like vaginas. Which helped my appreciation.

1/19/2006 12:28:00 AM  

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