Comics Time: Johnny 23

Johnny 23
Charles Burns, writer/artist
Le Dernier Cri, December 2010
64 pages
$24.95 price
Buy it from Le Dernier Cri
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X’d Out: This Is The Remix. For reasons unknown and with results most welcome, Charles Burns decided to cut up, shrink down, re-order, and re-release his recent surrealist art-sex satire/Tintin tribute, substituting English for an invented alien alphabet and language (has anyone translated it yet?) and reconfiguring the story into something recognizable but still very different. The trick here is that Burns realizes that the recurring images that populate X’d Out — photographs, holes, voyeurs, fetuses, eggs, wounds, cats, vents, nudes — can be used not only as dreamlike leitmotifs but as Legos, basically — connective nubs that allow him to disassemble the original narrative and put it back together in a new way, with the material between those recurring images treated like interchangeable bricks. Couple this with the inscrutable lettering and dialogue and the effect is even more dreamlike, and even more overpowering. The book’s protagonist Johnny 23/Nitnit is tossed seemingly willy nilly from one reality to another; he’ll walk through a hole in the wall in one world as one version of himself and exit into another as the other; he’ll look through a window and see himself; he’ll pick up a photo, we’ll look at the photo, and then we’ll see that his alter ego is now holding it. The book’s new landscape format furthers the sense of relentless forward momentum now that the pages are longer than they are tall, and the luscious purple ink in which the now colorless line art is printed emphasizes the sensuality of the images even more powerfully. It’s some weird erotic nightmare constructed from raw formal mastery of comics. What a performance.

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