Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Black Hole

Part 1950s horror movie, part cautionary tale about sexually transmitted disease, with a dash of Lord of the Flies is a good way to describe this book. These diverse influences come together to create a story that is one of the most acclaimed graphic works of the past decade.

The story follows 4 teenagers, Chris, Rob, Eliza, and Keith, and how the "teen plague" affects their lives. They live in a suburb in Washington state in the 1970s at a time that this plague is being spread by sexually active teenagers. This disease, also called "The Bug," causes horrific mutations in people who contract it. For some, their skin peels off. Others find themselves with extra mouths or orifices on their body. Some grow tails or antennae. Others get strange rashes or abrasions and look like they have extreme acne all over. The disease afflicts each person differently.

Originally published as a 12-issue limited series from 1995 to 2005, the point of Black Hole seems to be the creation of a mood of fear, paranoia, and alienation. It is an old-style horror story with more than a few modern strokes. Some of the youths who contract the disease can hide their symptoms. Those who cannot ostracize themselves from town and create a sort of colony in the woods. The teenagers out there vie for survival, acting in cut-throat manners. In general the theme of not knowing who to trust pervades the book. Also very present is a fear about growing up and a strong uneasiness with desire.

Charles Burns wrote and drew the story. He is a sought-after commercial artist and is known for his well-crafted art. Telling the story in dramatic, richly detailed black and white panels, Burns creates a powerful, affecting tale. He has won multiple Harvey, Eisner and Ignatz Awards for this work. Here is a selection of detailed reviews from Vanessa Raney, Andrew Arnold, Justin Howe, and Jonathan Lasser that discuss the book further.

Fantagraphics published most of the original Black Hole comic books. The collected book version was produced by Pantheon.

For a more in-depth look at Charles Burns and his work, check out this interview done at The Daily Cross Hatch (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

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