Sunday, January 24, 2010

Graphic novel review: Black Hole by Charles Burns

This was another recommendation by Eli from work. But while I thought Stiff was wonderful, Black Hole sort of left me with an icky feeling.

Set in Seattle in the mid-1970s, Black Hole, the 2005 graphic novel by Charles Burns, follows a group of teenagers as they are plagued not only by the horrors of high school but also by a sexually transmitted disease that transforms its victims into grotesque monsters. They don’t try to protect themselves from this debilitating disease, nor do they fight against it or try to discover its source or a cure. They simply contract it and try to find a way to deal with it while withdrawing from their families and healthy friends.

If Black Hole sounds bleak, that’s because it is. Unrelieved by much humor, drawn in stark black and white – the artwork is kind of cool and looks like woodcuts – this isn’t a happy story. And it isn’t much of a story either: if you’ve read book reviews by me before, you know that I prefer books that are heavy on plot, where the story goes somewhere, does something, has a beginning and a middle and an end. In this hefty graphic novel (there were no page numbers in the hardcover version I read, but the book is well over an inch thick), the story just stops, leaving one of the main characters floating in a dark sea under a dark sky, not knowing what will happen next.

Perhaps I’ve missed the point of the book. Maybe it’s more about feeling alienated in high school by whatever means possible. But that’s what Buffy was about, with the horrors of teenagerdom being represented by actual monsters, and I figured all that out. I think I just didn’t like this one.

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