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Black Holeby Charles Burns
Wednesday, September 17, 2014 07:30 PM
Powell's City of Books on Burnside, Portland, OR
The long, strange trip that began in Charles Burns's X'ed Out and continued in The Hive reaches its mind-bending, heartbreaking end in Sugar Skull (Pantheon), but not before Doug is forced to deal with the lie he's been telling himself since the beginning. In this concluding volume, nightmarish dreams evolve into an even more dreadful reality.
Winner of the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards
Winner of the comics industry's trifecta -- the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards -- Black Hole is a riveting, nightmarish, sometimes ghoulishly funny allegory for the horror of adolescence and our collective terror of sexuality and our own bodies. But don't let this dry description fool you: Charles Burns's graphic novel is beautiful to look at, compelling to read, and purely unforgettable.
Set in suburban Seattle in the 1970s, this graphic novel is the tale of a mysterious plague that has descended on the area's teenagers. Burns has a distinctive style, particularly suited to the disturbing stories he tells. While I love all his books, Black Hole is his masterpiece.
Synopses & Reviews
Suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the out-set that a strange plague has descended upon the area's teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease is manifested in any number of ways — from the hideously grotesque to the subtle (and concealable) — but once you've got it, that's it. There's no turning back.
As we inhabit the heads of several key characters — some kids who have it, some who don't, some who are about to get it — what unfolds isn't the expected battle to fight the plague, or bring heightened awareness to it, or even to treat it. What we become witness to instead is a fascinating and eerie portrait of the nature of high school alienation itself — the savagery, the cruelty, the relentless anxiety and ennui, the longing for escape.
And then the murders start.
As hypnotically beautiful as it is horrifying, Black Hole transcends its genre by deftly exploring a specific American cultural moment in flux and the kids who are caught in it — back when it wasnt exactly cool to be a hippie anymore, but Bowie was still just a little too weird.
To say nothing of sprouting horns and molting your skin...
"The prodigiously talented Burns hit the comics scene in the '80s via Raw magazine, wielding razor-sharp, ironic-retro graphics. Over the years his work has developed a horrific subtext perpetually lurking beneath the mundane suburban surface. In the dense, unnerving Black Hole,Burns combines realism — never a concern for him before — and an almost convulsive surrealism. The setting is Seattle during the early '70s. A sexually transmitted disease, the 'bug,' is spreading among teenagers. Those who get it develop bizarre mutations — sometimes subtle, like a tiny mouth at the base of one boy's neck, and sometimes obvious and grotesque. The most visibly deformed victims end up living as homeless campers in the woods, venturing into the streets only when they have to, shunned by normal society. The story follows two teens, Keith and Chris, as they get the bug. Their dreams and hallucinations — made of deeply disturbing symbolism merging sexuality and sickness — are a key part of the tale. The AIDS metaphor is obvious, but the bug also amplifies already existing teen emotions and the wrenching changes of puberty. Burns's art is inhumanly precise, and he makes ordinary scenes as creepy as his nightmare visions of a world where intimacy means a life worse than death." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"This accomplished graphic novel is a serious work of artistic and literary merit and is essential for any collection..." School Library Journal
"As always, Burns' gorgeous high-contrast art deepens the atmospheric darkness, and this time he really gets under the skin." Booklist (Starred Review)
"What [Burns] does so memorably...is blend the erotic and the frightening to create a black hole the reader will want to visit again and again." Boston Globe
"In Black Hole, Burns's careers in the comics subculture and the wider world of pop culture merge for the most deeply felt work of his career." Washington Post
"In Black Hole, [Burns's] work takes on a new hyperrealism, which paradoxically only makes the story more frightening." San Antonio Express-News
From one of the most fiercely admired graphic artists at work today comes a gothic masterpiece of existential fear and loathing, more than a decade in the making and already being hailed as a classic. Set in suburban Seattle in the mid-1970s, it is a horror tale unlike any other.
A strange plague has descended upon Seattles teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease is manifested in any number of ways — from the hideously grotesque to the subtle. Black Hole explores a specific American cultural moment in flux and the kids who are caught in it.
About the Author
Charles Burns grew up in Seattle in the 1970s. Hs work rose to prominence in Art Spiegelman's Raw magazine in the mid-1980s and took off from there, for an extraordinary range of comics and projects, from Iggy Pop album covers to the latest ad campaign for Altoids. In 1992 he designed the set for Mark Morris's delightful restaging of The Nutcracker (renamed The Hard Nut) at BAM. He's illustrated covers for Time, the New Yorker, and the New York Times Magazine. He was also tapped as the official cover artist for the Believer magazine at its inception in 2003. Burns lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters.
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