May 9th, 2011 | → 0 Comments | ∇ Graphic Novels & Comics |

Black Hole by Charles Burns

by Ghastly McNasty

Black Hole by Charles BurnsOn my eternal quest to read every horror graphic novel on the planet I came across many reviews of ‘Black Hole’ and most seemed to hold Charles Burn’s epic coming of age/sexual awakening story in very high regard. The history of Black Hole makes for good reading itself. A compilation of a twelve volume comic book which Burns wrote and illustrated over a 10 year period! A real labour of love which must be applauded. Black Hole won the Harvey Award for Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work and Burns also won the 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2006 Harvey Award as Best Inker for Black Hole. When it arrived in the post I eagerly tucked in hoping the story would live up to the intriguing and well designed jacket cover.

The story focuses on the lives of a selection of disaffected adolescents living in Seattle during the 70’s. The reader is invited to join the protagonists as they explore their young lives, survive high school, experiment with drugs, go skinny-dipping and run away from home. Looming over the whole proceedings like an enormous black cloud is the threat of a sexually transmitted disease which seems to affect those promiscuous enough to indulge in sex.

Burn’s art is the highlight of this book. His rich artwork adds a visceral heaviness to the story giving the teen characters angst a disturbing visual presence. Considering the story was completed over 10 years it’s a triumph that the style remains consistent.

Black HoleThe many metaphors the novel carries on its shoulders are also reflected in the artwork. There is an abundance of gash shaped pictures and the contrasting deep dark black and white drawings add an additional resonance to many of the dream-like imagery crafted onto the pages. It can be quite disturbing at times.

Ultimately I found the book cold and distant. I found one reviewer who stated “For many people—including myself, naturally—high school felt like an endless, inescapable vacuum without air or light.” Ouch! Maybe because I didn’t experience the same trials as the cast members growing up. Maybe I couldn’t connect with the American high school drama or the fact it was set way back in the 70’s made it seem distant. I was not as engaged in the book as I had hoped I would be.

Although you may find plenty of reviews placing Black Hole on a comic book pedestal please be aware that for some it’s not as great as the reviews make out. It does not reach out to a universal audience, which to give it credit, is a fairly neat trick for a graphic novel about alienation. The story is oddly paced and skips about. The horror is infrequent. The artwork is sublime but the story fails to deliver. Maybe a second or third reading would help with these issues but I sold it soon after I completed reading it. I had hoped this beautifuly drawn story would have demanded a worthy place in my horror comic collection. Looking at the space on my shelf, like the title suggests, it just left a Black Hole.

by Ghastly McNasty

Theatre of Terror

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