Black Hole by Charles Burns
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 wasn’t 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…
I had originally been wanting to read this for quite some time, so I was pretty excited to get a copy at New York Comic Con a few months ago. This book was highly praised when it first came out five years ago.
I don’t get it though. I feel like I’m missing something in the story. I wasn’t as awed by it as I think I should have been. The summary is pretty much explanatory: the run-of-the-mill teen angst with teens dividing into their respective cliques and whatnot. And to further the ostracization, there’s a nasty bug going around that you can get if you have sex and the consequences range from sprouting a tail, to getting a cut on your throat that makes noises and talks, to facial disfigurement…. When I talk to people about this book all I can say is “I don’t get it.” I know I’m going to end up rereading this at some point to see if I do “get” it, and if I don’t, well then I’ll know that this just clearly wasn’t my cup of tea. I think I’ll ask Josh to read this too and see what he thinks about this story. Right now, I wouldn’t really recommend it but I would want someone else to read it and talk to me about it.
Also, when a book or something has been overhyped, it can either live up tot he hype, or completely flounder in my mind. With this one, I think it was trying too hard. Maybe that’s what the appeal was, with the Bug being this new sort of allegory to high school angst and teenager issues? I don’t know how else to talk or write about this book. So this not so much a review as it me going “????????”
Oh, and sometimes the art would confuse me. Because the two main guys would kinda look alike and I would have a hard time distinguishing one from the other. The fact that the main girl in the story was named Chris also threw me for loops.
And there you have it.
Some samples from the graphic novel, tails and all: