Charles Burns’ BLACK HOLE is a graphic novel set in a Seattle suburb during the 70s. It follows a group of horny teenagers who contract an STD that basically turns them into mutants: they grow tails, they shed skins, some even grow second mouths. I decided to pick it up after listening to a pretty good hour long interview with Burns and Chris Ware. Since 1995, BLACK HOLE has been serialized in 12 installments, but having read none of them, I came to Burns’ work with fresh eyes: I’d only seen a small clip of BLACK HOLE in McSweeney’s 13, and his cover art for THE BELIEVER.
Reading it, I was reminded of John Neborak’s senior project presentation, in which he talked about the unique verbal/visual blend of comics as a narrative. Burns’ artwork is admirable, no doubt about it: his masterly brushwork is intricate and meticulous, and his command of black and white is great. However, when it comes to storyline, BLACK HOLE really falls flat for me. Mostly what you get from reading it is a sustained, creepy mood. Because the sexual metaphors that evoke this mood are purely visual (the vaginal gashes, the hot dogs roasting over an open fire), I’m wondering what BLACK HOLE would read like without any words.
I’d go on, but Meg sent me an e-mail that really summed it all up:
Graphic novels aren’t art and they aren’t a novel – they’re both, and too few graphic novelists (even the so-called “pros”) seem to get that. If either the art or the story aren’t really up to par it ends up detracting from the whole thing. I feel like so many graphic novels are written by men who are emotionally still teenagers in high school who get a big charge out of drawing scantily-clad women. Sometimes I just want to tell the authors to grow up a little. That’s what made a novel like FROM HELL so good, it rose above all that to tell an interesting story.
Couldn’t have said it any better myself. (And didn’t.)