Black Hole #12

Posted: Tuesday, February 8, 2005
By: Amos Simien

Creator(s): Charles Burns
Publishers: Fantagrahics Books
From: 98115
Price: $5.95 (U.S.); $9.55 (CAN)

Keith swims through the viscous landscape of shifting black panoramas that is his dream world. Rot, decay, and general disintegration mar the landscape of dreamtime, and what isn't festering is a reoccurring vaginal motif. His only solace is in his needy girlfriend, Eliza, the chick with the tail. Meanwhile, another young woman with issues, Chris, longs to return home for a fresh start, but perhaps her own lack of assuredness and her pursuer, a slightly, mentally off-balanced suitor, the disfigured loner Dave, keep her on the road.

Black Hole #12 concludes cartoonist Charles Burns decade-long eerie tale of teen angst and a sexually transmitted plague. The plague only affected teenagers and haunted the halls of a 70's era Seattle high school. It caused vomit-inducing skin conditions and grotesque deformities that would send George Romero screaming for the hills. Burns unfurled the story gradually through issues of Black Hole with a small cast of troubled teens. Now, it all comes to an ambiguous end.

It would be a disservice to Burns to discuss his comics in terms of story and art as if they were separate. Certainly, they may be conceived individually, but the final work is simply a whole rather than a collection of script and pencils and inks and letters the way we think of most comics, especially so-called mainstream comics. What's on the page, from the panel composition and drawings to the lettering and balloons and caption boxes is one visual whole.

This is how Burns creates an atmosphere of quiet but intensely invasive horror. Starting with a blank sheet, he masterfully builds each page as a black and white image that recalls those dreamlike B&W B-movies, where everything in the filmmaking process came together to create a single. We don't really think of movies as a collection of crafts and skills, but as a unit. Like old movies, the prettiness of Black Hole #12, however, is the thinnest of surfaces. Beneath the beauty of Burns' art lives a world of creeping horror. Brush your fingers across the page and reveal the putrefy of mental anguish, social anxiety, moral decay, and overwhelming self-doubt.

I've been afraid of Charles Burns' comics since I first came across him in an issue of the original RAW magazine. I avoided buying his work except where necessary because he contributed something to an anthology I wanted. Indeed, I'd avoid Black Hole if I weren't getting review copies, and what a sad little coward that makes me. A cartoonist whose work evokes such fear and self-examination must not be missed, especially by readers (like myself) who entertain the notion that they know good comix.

In a Word: Incomparable.

If you have a comment or question about Small Press then feel free to contact me