Black Hole

 BLAH   (Kitchen Sink, 1995-1998, 2004-2005)

™ and ©1995 Charles Burns

Most comic fans today probably missed out on the original “Golden Age” of the 1930s and 40s. But we’re lucky enough to be living through another Golden Age—one at least as historically consequential and far more artistically accomplished as the original. Before our eyes, “graphic novels” are maturing from a kind of commercial novelty to a genuine new literary form. Artists and writers of staggering ambition and talent are choosing this medium to tell sophisticated stories and present a view of the world that other forms of visual art, film and writing can’t do on their own.

Exhibit A of how far this medium has come is Charles Burns’s epic Black Hole, now finally collected in an edition worthy of its importance. Black Hole is a coming-of-age tale about a group of teens in Seattle in the 1970s who are afflicted with a mysterious sexually-transmitted disease that creates grotesque and unpredictable deformities in its victims. Burns moves quickly past the sensationalism and the David Lynch-like irony of this premise to a story of painful emotional authenticity.

As a work of literature, it’s easily on a par with most serious contemporary fiction. And then there’s the art. Burns’s distinctive look—now familiar through his numerous ads, magazine illustrations and album covers—is a slick pastiche of the classic EC horror style of the 1950s, principally that of Johnny Craig and Al Feldstein. He works in pure blacks, applied with exaggerated brushtrokes: no wash tones, no crosshatchings. There is no gray in Burns’s visual world. As a result, the pages are both visually dense and easy to read: not an easy trick to pull off.

Burns has been telling this story in 32-page episodes appearing at a rate of roughly one per year since the early 1990s. In periodical form with such long gaps in between, the story could seem disjointed and hard to follow. Now Pantheon Press has remedied that with a handsome hardcover volume that sits comfortably on a library shelf. Readers interested in how much the comics form can achieve should rush out to add this one to their collection.

— Rob Salkowitz

(From the Slings & Arrows Comic Guide)

Charles Burns is the master of presenting, deep, disturbing fantasy wrapped in simple thick-lined art. Black Hole is an ambitious project, and certainly his longest to date, the spur to the story being a disturbing sexually transmitted virus. The virus only affects teenagers, but causes irreversible mutation, ranging from lesser afflictions like webbed fingers to full-blown plague-of-boils deformity. Burns combines the horrors of the virus with the nightmares of high-school social interaction to weave an unsettling story. So far, given the content, he’s also been remarkably restrained in drawing the obvious analogy. It might be said that content is slim and price is high, but the mood of the story requires a leisurely pace. Confusingly, issues aren’t numbered on the cover, so those wanting to start should look for the cover illustration of shed human skin with a gaping hole in the chest. ~FP

Jump to issue:
  NotesWriterArtist

#1

  3/1/1995
  $3.50
  $40.00
2 copies available from $34.70
B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#1 (2nd printing)

  1/1/1998
  $3.95
  $17.00
No copies available
2nd Printing; B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#2

  11/1/1995
  $3.50
  $19.00
1 copy available for $34.95
 Charles BurnsCharles Burns

#2 (2nd printing)

  2/1/1998
  $3.95
  $12.50
1 copy available for $4.00
2nd Printing; B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#2 (3rd printing)

  2/1/1998
  $3.95
  $3.95
No copies available
3rd Printing; B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#3

  7/1/1996
  $2.95
  $4.00
No copies available
B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#3 (2nd printing)

  7/1/1996
  $2.95
  $2.95
No copies available
B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#4

  8/1/1997
  $3.50
  $9.50
No copies available
B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#5

  3/1/1998
  $3.95
  $2.50
No copies available
 Charles BurnsCharles Burns

#6

  12/1/1998
  $4.50
  $6.00
No copies available
 Charles BurnsCharles Burns

#7

  1/1/2000
  $4.50
  $19.00
2 copies available from $12.60
B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#8

  12/1/2000
  $4.50
  $14.50
1 copy available for $19.99
Published by Fantagraphics Books; B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#9

  12/1/2001
  $4.50
  $3.50
No copies available
B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#10

  12/1/2002
  $4.50
  $50.00
1 copy available for $49.99
B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#11

  12/1/2003
  $4.95
  $5.00
No copies available
B&WCharles BurnsCharles Burns

#12

  12/1/2004
  $5.95
  $6.00
No copies available
 Charles BurnsCharles Burns

Book #1

  1/1/2008
  $19.95
  $19.95
1 copy available for $19.95
   

Book #1 Hardcover

 
  $24.95
  $24.95
No copies available
Hardcover; ca. 2005Charles BurnsCharles Burns