Black Hole by Charles Burns
Whilst browsing the shelves of the bookstore in the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport, I noticed a shiny black hardback book called Black Hole. Before picking up this beautifully bound and printed package, I'd already decided to buy it. I'd never actually heard of this Charles Burns title before, but I became intrigued by its subject matter.
Black Hole is set in mid-70s suburban Seattle, focusing on a group of teenagers who are affected by a strange [sexually-transmitted] disease that mutates its victims both physically and emotionally. Labelled as freaks, some of the victims become social outcasts, developing their own community deep in the neighbouring woods. Instead of focusing on the cause (or prevention) of the mysterious disease, Burns chooses to examine the relationships among the infected youths. Sex, drugs and teenage angst establish the story arcs that make up this collective edition of Burns' original 12-issue comic book series.
The artwork here is excellent, down to the finest detailed - similar in style to the Hernandez brother's Love and Rockets. The use of transitions between panels was also very impressive. However, although I like Burns's art, I did feel that some of the sexual imagery was unnecessary, as it was suggested quite clearly by the narrative. I'm not that shocked by such images - we all have genitals! - but I do believe that some things are best left to the imagination.
Since reading Black Hole, I have read several other reviews that have commented on an issue with this new hardback collection format: from a purist's perspective, it is lacking artwork from the original published comics, including original cover designs and endpaper art. Other reviewers say that the 'unity' of a seamless story only strengthens it as a literary piece, worthy of being called a true graphic novel.
It took Charles Burns over ten years to complete the full-length edition of his work. As mentioned above, it originally appeared as a series of twelve comic books. Although it took Burns nearly a decade to complete, the thing I find very impressive is the consistency in artistic style from the beginning to end. But my overall opinion of Black Hole is mixed. On one level, I really enjoyed the mood and skill of the artwork and insight of the characters - especially Keith. However towards the end of the book, I felt slightly disappointed and uncomfortable with the direction of the story - dissatisfied that Burns didn't explore the disease in more detail, yet I understand why he chose not to.