Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Charles Burns's X'ed Out makes me hope the next volume comes out much more quickly than Black Hole, which took ten years. First of all, the book looks beautiful, over-sized and brilliant color, reminding me a bit of those reprinted hardcover EC horror comics that I subscribed to as a young teenager. Burns has mashed up EC with Tintin into a kind of horror-adventure dreamscape. It's hard to keep track of the narrative, the multiple times and spaces Burns is playing around with. We open with a Tintin look-alike following his dead cat into an exotic, desert village, where a guide eventually helps him find something to eat--eggs--and tells him that a woman they see passing is the new queen of what appears to be a large beehive (this serves as the cliffhanger that ends the book). This part of the narrative--which we cut back to throughout the book--appears to be the vivid dream world of the main character Doug, who has been in some sort of accident (he has a bandage on his head), has haunting memories of his father, and has been (still is?) involved in an intense relationship with a photographer who has a predilection for pig fetuses and self-mutilation. Doug is something of an amateur performance artist who wears a Tintin mask and calls himself Nitnit while playing a tape of ambient noise and reading cut-up text inspired by Burroughs.

Also, large red speckled eggs make multiple appearances.

The above makes this work sound jumbled, as cut up as Burroughs perhaps, but instead of frenetic energy, we get cool, elegant, and haunting threads of story and a tension between playful wry humor and the earnest yearning of teenage angst. But what impresses me most about Burns's work, and this is true of Black Hole as well, is way the narrative follows an associative dream logic, in which repeated images surface in different contexts, vibrating with a palpable meaning that remains out of reach. The narrative is circling something (what's in those eggs? what's through that hole?), a navel, as Freud might call it, "the spot that reaches down into the unknown." One never knows what will emerge--part of the pleasure of this sort of narrative--but it will likely be both horrifying and fascinating, it will repeat itself endlessly in different guises, it will never fully come to light.