Charles Burns, writer/artist
Originally written on June 23, 2005 for publication in Giant Magazine.
Load up your beer bong and break out your Black Sabbath LPs: You’re about to enter the gravitational maw of being a teenager in the 1970s. And as the title of Charles Burns’s epic graphic novel suggests, it’s deep, it’s dark and there’s no escape.
Black Hole was originally released in 12 installments that took over a decade to produce. “It was insanely fucking labor intensive to do,” Burns says. “Each drawing was really designed and layered and labored over.” As a result, it nails the sights and sounds of being young, dumb and full of cum as well as any coming-of-age comic ever has–but with a skin-crawling sci-fi twist.
Black Hole‘s deeply creepy journey into the Seattle suburbs’ heart of darkness stars Chris, a stunning “popular girl,” and Keith, Chris’s secretly lovestruck lab partner. Amid the dead-on period details (you can practically hear Harvest and Aladdin Sane playing as you read) and gut-wrenching depictions of the high-school caste system, Burns sets loose a sexually transmitted disease that grotesquely mutates its teen sufferers. Chris and Keith catch the bug and are drawn into a community of plague-victim outcasts in the woods outside of town, where amid the Halloween-mask faces, lizard tails and extra orifices, someone’s begun killing the kids off.
Teen angst and teen horror may be familiar territory, but Burns’ genius lies in colliding these two subgenres in an explosion of drugs, sex, hallucinations and murder. It’s all transmitted through Burns’ nightmarishly vivid artwork, which is as close to immersing yourself in a blacklight poster as you can get without the use of a Schedule I controlled substance. Simply put, you’ve never seen a comic like this before.
Darkly funny, steamily erotic and scary as hell–you know, like junior year–Black Hole owns its genre(s) more than any other comic has since Watchmen dissected superheroes 20 years ago. Read it, and like the first time you listened to Led Zeppelin IV, you’ll know you’ve got a masterpiece on your hands. A+