Book Review

Black Hole by Charles Burns

Photo on 29-03-2013 at 10.30

Black Hole is a graphic novel, all about the socio-psychological repercussions of a sexually transmitted disease afflicting a bunch of not-really-very-cool high school students in Seattle in the 1970s. That’s perhaps underselling it. Because the disease in question causes people to mutate in a variety of horrific ways – from growing a tail, horns, boils and extra hair to shedding skin like a snake.

The book is drawn with a relatively high level  of detail in black and white, a monochrome aesthetic that renders into stark believability the trippy, sometimes silly, cacophony of sex and drugs and booze and guns and mutants of the text.

It’s a lot of fun. It is silly, it is angsty, and despite the rampaging spread of infection no one EVER thinks to wear a condom, but that’s what it’s all about – base urges: the urge to get wasted and get off. And everyone does. Constantly. There’s a lot of nudity.

Alongside that, genitals conspicuously form the predominant imagery of the book: lots of the mutations, as well as many chapter headings, take distinctly yonic or phallic (lady garden or cock-shaped) forms. This, combined with the near-constant joint-toking, occasional dabbles with acid and the detailed drawings of the vastly psychically-altered, thrusts the reader deep into the heady world of the story: your mind is on sex, on drugs, on fucking tentacles crawling from the ceiling, on tails, on hellish nightmares, on violence, on bones and on flesh… This is probably the first graphic novel I’ve read where I really felt that the format absolutely suited the content. It’s something I’m a firm believer in with literature generally, matching content and style. And this nails it: a comic book rife with sexuality and drug use about a bunch of teenagers obsessed with sexuality and drug use.

In terms of plot, it’s a slow burner, it’s more about people living with mutations/around others that have them, and when there is a bit of action towards the end it feels a little contrived or, to be honest, a little unnecessary. Because what this captures well is the feeling of isolation, the feeling of insecurity in ones own body and the need to get out of it by intoxication or physical sensation that most people’s teenage years are marked by.

It’s enjoyable, it’s well put together, and it’s very involving and engaging.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

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