Monday, August 12, 2013

Book Review - Black Hole (Graphic Novel) by Charles Burns

Black Hole (Graphic Novel)
Charles Burns
Trade Paperback
Publisher: Pantheon
Publication Date: January 8, 2008
ISBN-13: 978-0375714726
368 pages


     Black Hole by Charles Burns, a cautionary graphic tale about young adults, examines the moral complexities of teenage sex, violence, peer pressure, and drug and alcohol abuse. Set near Seattle in the 1970’s Burns criticizes, in stunning black and white artwork, premarital sex, teenage angst, bullying, sexually-transmitted disease, loneliness and alienation, casual drug and alcohol use, emotional distress, and gun violence. With the creation of this intelligent but odd (in a very good way) graphic novel I suspect that Charles Burns not only worked through some of his own high-school issues but is also prepping his children and millions of others by shining a grave, yet convincing, light on the possibilities they might one day face. Black Hole is not a book for teenagers but about them and I highly caution parents to read it cover to cover before allowing their children access to it. It is by nature graphic, lewd, obscene, violent, and strange and serves as a warning to the potential hazards that a majority of teenagers will face while growing up. What makes it a very good book is that it is lewd, graphic, obscene and violent. What I mean is that the harsh realities of the teenage battlefield are penned here in all their gory details as a warning to the likely hazards and peer pressures encountered while growing through puberty into adulthood. To be sure, Burns pulls no punches.

     There’s a mysterious (mutated?/interstellar?/alien?) sexually-transmitted disease on the loose and it’s causing both the most bizarre hallucinations Seattle’s teenagers have ever encountered and some very abnormal physical manifestations to occur including a series of random genetic mutations such as extra mouths, sloughing skin, Elephantiasis, vestigial tails, horn nubbins, Cystic Acne, and numerous other afflictions and physical ailments. The disease is affecting the outward appearances of the sexually active teens in the area. The noticeable physical indicators however, make it quite clear which teens are experimenting with sex and which are not. Many of the local parents are in a panic and the young adults affected now have to deal with a previously invisible class of teenager: the sexually active. Haircuts, clothes, casual drug use, language, and attitudes come straight out of the 70’s central casting but this story really could have been told any where in any time.

     Many of the drawings in Black Hole are grotesque, disturbing, twisted, and macabre but they are also sublime, thought-provoking, and beautiful in a strange, “never-before-seen-and-totally-creative” way. The black and white art in no way deters from this story. In fact, it enhances the plot with blunt, non-distracting depictions of the immoral wrong-doings taking place. And while the ending is a bit unresolved and somewhat ambiguous, considering the moral dilemmas presented, it made perfect sense to me. Many of the peer pressure teenaged issues Burns presents will remain long after we are gone and their resolutions will be as vague and unsolved as they are today.

     File with: Black and white art, the 70’s, alienation, body mutations, paranoia, bullying, sex, drugs, violence, freaks, geeks, nudity, and abuse (all kinds.)

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:

Black Hole Amazon Page

Black Hole Wiki Page

Black Hole Short Film by Rupert Sanders

Time Review of Black Hole

Charles Burns’ Fatagraphics Page

Charles Burns’ Tumblr Page

Charles Burns at the Adam Baumgold Gallery