Youth is an obsession. As the ultimate in unattainable prize, youth is often idealized to the point where it loses any connection to the truth. Lets face it – growing up is scary and adolescence amounts to little more than a period of profound awkwardness, insecurity and pain. Behind every unwrinkled pubescent face staring out at us from glossy magazine pages is a fumbling hormonal teen brimming with uncontrollable emotion. Everyone can remember the nagging sense of apprehension that comes with that age but few artist have addressed as successfully as Charles Burns. It is the under-explored yet constant feeling of fear that is the primary focus of Burns’ seminal comic, Black Hole.
Focusing on the aftermath of an STD that mutates the teenage denizens of a Seattle suburb, the story is wholly original. While comic fans are used to grotesque plot twists like peeled off skin and mouths that sprout onto necks, outsiders can be drawn in simply by the impressive visual style. Burns’ high contrast black and white drawings speak volumes – particularly the before and after images that begin each volume. The 70s yearbook quality of these first pictures juxtaposed against the startling after shots lends a feeling of normalcy to the entire story. The change isn’t a aberration, its a rite of passage. The parallels between the disease adulthood continue throughout but these shots convey the message with a particular poignancy. Reading through the story I couldn’t help but be reminded of the frankness and sardonic wit of Raymond Pettibon’s work though I Burns’ outlook is infinitely more optimistic. For anyone who enjoys the comic style (or just a plain ol’ good story) this is a must read.