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Black Hole by Charles Burns

Black Hole (original 2005; edition 2005)

by Charles Burns

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,110744,708 (3.84)56
Title:Black Hole
Authors:Charles Burns
Info:Pantheon Books (2005), Hardcover, 368 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:to-read, comics

Work details

Black Hole by Charles Burns (2005)

  1. 20
    X'ed Out by Charles Burns (alaskayo)
    alaskayo: If you enjoyed Black Hole, Burns' newer trilogy of short graphic novels should not be missed. The X'ed Out series features a ~heavy~ dose of intentional David Lynch influence--think the dreamscape nonsense of Eraserhead AND the obtuse-as-hell symbolism of Mulholland Dr. (It also features a really bad title. 'X'ed Out.' Wow, that's bad.)… (more)
  2. 00
    Lupus by Frederik Peeters (kinsey_m)
  3. 00
    Teenagers from Mars by Rick Spears (ahstrick)

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» See also 56 mentions

English (68)  Danish (3)  French (2)  Swedish (1)  All languages (74)
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
Edit: 4.5 stars, rounded up, not down. I haven't stopped thinking about this graphic novel since I read it. I'm putting it on my favourites shelf.
Original review:

Grotesque, sexy, romantic, and horrific. A compelling and tragic metaphor for youth, alienation, and suppressed sexuality.

The plot wasn't quite cohesive enough for me to give it 5 stars. That's it - I loved everything else. ( )
  lhofer | Sep 26, 2018 |
I read a bunch of reviews about this one and I'm not sure I get what all the fuss was. I mean, sure, it was surreal and F-ed up but not like, the craziest thing I've ever seen or read. And, honestly, they were high like 99% of the time so you kind of could see why the illustrations were the way they were. Plus, obviously, most of it was just sexual euphemisms so it doesn't exactly take a genius to figure this book out.

I really enjoyed kind of the relationship between the dorks being physically infected and different and the popular kids literally being afraid of becoming infected. I couldn't help but feel like becoming infected was like getting pregnant or getting an STD, it makes sexual relationships so much more meaningful and haunting in this context. I also kept thinking of that thing we had to do in High School where every time you "have sex" you had to pour some of your soda into the glass of someone else and eventually you basically had slept with everyone else even if you slept with like one person.

I also really loved the artwork. I wish that it had been in color, of course, I did with Persepolis, too.

The thing about graphic novels or comics or whatever you want to call them is that you want them to be less than a novel. Somehow with pictures it's not as literary but Burns does an amazing job making this a literary graphic novel. The world and the infection is never explained. Does it need to be? A bunch of high school kids at the end of the year getting drunk and high and having sex. A bunch of them feel different and group together. Is that so unfamiliar? Loved it. I'm really looking forward to reading more graphic novels now! ( )
  ylimejane | Feb 7, 2018 |
Interesting, sort of Twilight Zone, concept... an STD that manifests in bizarre physical deformities. This really speaks to our culture's treatment of differences, minorities, and social stigmas around physical appearance. NOT for kiddos! ( )
  lissabeth21 | Oct 3, 2017 |
  nerdythor | May 30, 2017 |
We watched Riverdale recently, The CW's newish series based on the Archie comics, and I found it a frustrating experience. It had all the elements that I normally love – namely, small-town America, murder, secrets and sexual tension among high-schoolers – and yet it didn't go nearly dark enough or deep enough to really hit the spot. I was fretting vaguely about these themes for some time afterwards, and when I saw a copy of Charles Burns's Black Hole in a bookshop, I realised that it was exactly what I'd been looking for.

I haven't read this since, I don't know, some time in the early 2000s, and I don't know if I ever read it all the way through at the time – doing so now, I realise what a superb achievement it is, surely one of the greatest comics to come out of the American tradition. In his chunky, moonlit panels, Burns builds up a shifting association of images linking the erotic with the horrific until you are primed to react to the slightest of his gestures with great surges of dread or excitement.

The teenage protagonists of this book live in a small town in the American northwest of the mid-1970s (you can date it only by a fleeting reference to Bowie's new album Diamond Dogs). Here, the usual confusion of peer groups, social cliques and sexual frustration is exacerbated and exemplified by ‘The Bug’, a sexually-transmitted condition that causes bodily mutations, some of them extreme – forcing their sufferers to live feral in the woods – and some more benign, allowing kids to ‘pass’ as normal.

This body-horror metaphor for guilty sexual awakenings in Protestant America may have been done a million times, but it just goes to show it can always be done again by someone brilliant. And Burns really does it well: Black Hole, as well as being technically excellent and superbly emotional, has that quality that I look for in every work of art I love – that sense of what the fuck is that. Some of the details here are exquisitely creepy, like the boy with a second mouth above his sternum which, when he's asleep, calls out in a high-pitched childlike voice to the girl he's lying with: “unn…it…it won't work…it can't last…nnn…never make it out alive…” as she shakes him and yells, ‘R-Rob? Come on wake up! Rob?’

Burns's artwork is marked by its thick black lines and a certain flat, depthless quality to the panels – as with a white-line etching, there's oceans of inky black background, and often his images have the stark clarity of a woodcut.

There's a lot of nudity in Black Hole, both male and female, which I particularly noticed this time around because I read most of it sitting at a pavement café on Bahnhofstrasse where my waitress did not seem to be a fan. But voyeurism is a very minor component – naked bodies here are not just about sexiness (though sometimes they are about that), they are also about vulnerability, the raw facticity of your physical frame that, as a teenager, is still new and strange; the absurdity of this shaped packet of meat that inspires pity, protectiveness, desire, or revulsion. This point comes across very strongly when one character leafs furtively through a porn mag, and we see the huge gulf between the sexualised nakedness of the models there and the awkward, defenceless nakedness of the teens in the actual story.

If it has faults, they perhaps come in the final couple of sections, where Burns can't quite find a resolution that lives up to the weight of mystery and feverish emotion that's gone before. But you're in good shape if you're falling victim to your own successes, and this is definitely a success – weird and transformative, it'll touch the parts that other comics, or TV shows, can't reach. Whether you want it to touch you there is another matter. ( )
4 vote Widsith | Apr 25, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
A high-school kid keels over and faints after hacking open a frog in biology class, and within weeks a plague is moving through 1970s Seattle. Spread by sexual contact and fluid exchange, it attacks only teenagers. One grows a little tail. One begins to shed her skin like a snake. Some lose their noses; some get harelips; some degenerate into little more than skulls. Deformed and cast out, the victims retreat to tents in the woods and live a hand-to-mouth existence among their own kind. But something is stalking them there too...
added by stephmo | editThe Independent, Tim Martin (Nov 20, 2005)
Black Hole is presented as a supposedly autobiographical novel. It was originally published serially as a comic, and 10 years of labour went into its making. Its serious intent is not in doubt; but what about the execution?
"Everything's either concave or -vex," the Danish poet Piet Hein once wrote, "so whatever you dream will be something with sex." In Charles Burns' decade-in-the-making graphic novel "Black Hole," the natural concavity and -vexity of everything leaps out at you: Nearly every image is a sexual metaphor, with the distorted clarity and mutability of a nightmare. And sex in "Black Hole" also means body horror, sickening transformations and loss. The first page's abstraction -- a thin, wobbling slit of light on a black background -- opens up to become wider and fleshier, then to become a blatantly vaginal gash in a frog on a dissecting pan (surrounded by pools and pearls of liquid).
added by stephmo | editSalon.com, Douglas Wolk (Nov 7, 2005)
The arrival of Halloween always brings with it a plethora of horror-related media, including comix. This season's standout graphic novel focuses on one of the scariest of all horrors: high school. The title of Charles Burns' long-awaited book, Black Hole (Pantheon; 368 pages; $25), says it all. For many people—including myself, naturally—high school felt like an endless, inescapable vacuum without air or light. Unlike more conventional horror stories set among high school kids, where each one gets "offed" by a masked killer, Black Hole uses the worst parts of emerging adulthood, like changing bodies, alienation and sex, as the sources for a skin-crawling creep fest that will likely be the best graphic novel of the year.
I couldn't really get into the book, i was reading it but it didn't really have a good message to me personally.
added by NickGrey | editComputer, Zak Scales

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Burnsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ahokas, JuhaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is dedicated to Dean, Mark, J., Phil, Casey, Colleen, Vickie, Mike, Patty, Janet Penny, Lisa, Jeri, John, Karen, Kathy, Reta, Claudia, Ted, Terri, Doug, Paul, Jan, Tom, Scott, Kurt, Ann, Kim,Diane, Sally, Kathleen, Mari, Libby, Jon, Jim, Pat and Pete. I never forgot you.

Thanks to John Kuramoto for his technical assistance and to Susan Moore who lettered this entire book.
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It was so weird.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375714723, Paperback)

The first issues of Charles Burns's comics series Black Hole began appearing in 1995, and long before it was completed a decade later, readers and fellow artists were speaking of it in tones of awe and comparing it to recent classics of the form like Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan and Daniel Clowes's Ghost World. Burns is the sort of meticulous, uncompromising artist whom other artists speak of with envy and reverence, and we asked Ware and Clowes to comment on their admiration for Black Hole:

"I think I probably learned the most about clarity, composition, and efficiency from looking at Charles's pages spread out on my drawing table than from anyone's; his was always at the level of lucidity of Nancy, but with this odd, metallic tinge to it that left you feeling very unsettled, especially if you were an aspiring cartoonist, because it was clear you'd never be half as good as he was. There's an almost metaphysical intensity to his pinprick-like inkline that catches you somewhere in the back of the throat, a paper-thin blade of a fine jeweler's saw tracing the outline of these thick, clay-like human figures that somehow seem to "move," but are also inevitably oddly frozen in eternal, awkward poses ... it's an unlikely combination of feelings, and it all adds up to something unmistakably his own.

"I must have been one of the first customers to arrive at the comic shop when I heard the first issue of Black Hole was out 10 years ago, and my excitement didn't change over the years as he completed it. I don't think I've ever read anything that better captures the details, feelings, anxieties, smells, and cringing horror of my own teenage years better than Black Hole, and I'm 15 years younger than Charles is. Black Hole is so redolently affecting one almost has to put the book down for air every once in a while. By the book's end, one ends up feeling so deeply for the main character it's all one can do not to turn the book over and start reading again." --Chris Ware "Charles Burns is one of the greats of modern comics. His comics are beautiful on so many levels. Somehow he has managed to capture the essential electricity of comic-book pop-art iconography, dragging it from the clutches of Fine Art back to the service of his perfect, precise-but-elusive narratives in a way that is both universal in its instant appeal and deeply personal." --Dan Clowes

Questions for Charles Burns

Amazon.com: Cartoonists are about the only people today who are working like Dickens did: writing serials that appear piece-by-piece in public before the whole work is done. What's it like to work in public like that, and for as long as a project like this takes?
Charles Burns: There were a number of reasons for serializing Black Hole. First of all, I wanted to put out a traditional comic book-- I'd never really worked in that comic pamphlet format before and liked the idea of developing a long story in installments. There's something very satisfying to me about a comic book as an object and I enjoyed using that format to slowly build my story. Serializing the story also allowed me to focus on shorter, more manageable portions; if I had to face creating a 368-page book all in one big lump, I don't know if I’d have the perseverance and energy to pull it off.
Amazon.com: One thing that stuns me about this book is how consistent it is from start to finish. From the first frames to the last ones that you drew 10 years later, you held the same tone and style. It feels as though you had a complete vision for the book from the very beginning. Is that so? Or did things develop unexpectedly as you worked on it?
Burns: I guess there's a consistency in Black Hole because of the way I work. I write and draw very slowly, always carefully examining every little detail to make sure it all fits together the way I want it to. When I started the story, I had it all charted out as far as the basic structure goes, but what made working on it interesting was finding new ways of telling the story that hadn't occurred to me.
Amazon.com: Some of the very best of the recent graphic novels (I'm thinking of Ghost World and Blankets, along with Black Hole) have been about the lives of teenagers. Do you think there's something about the form that helps to tell those stories so well?
Burns: That's an interesting question, but I don't know the answer. Perhaps it has more to do with the authors--the kind of people who stay indoors for hours on end in total solitude working away on their heartfelt stories... maybe that kind of reflection lends itself to being able to capture the intensity of adolescence.
Amazon.com: In the time you've been working on Black Hole, graphic novels have leapt into the mainstream. (I think--I hope--we're finally seeing the last of those "They're not just for kids anymore!" reviews.) What did you imagine for this project when you started it? What's it been like to see your corner of the world enter the glare of the spotlight?
Burns: When I started Black Hole I really just wanted to tell a long, well-written story. The themes and ideas that run throughout the book had been turning around in my head for years and I wanted to finally get them all out--put them down on paper once and for all. I've published a few other books and while they sold reasonably well, they didn't set the publishing world on fire. I was pretty sure I'd have some kind of an audience for Black Hole, but that was never a motivating factor in writing the book. And my corner of the world is still pretty dark. I guess I'll be stepping into the spotlight for a little while when the book comes out, but I imagine I'll slip back into my dark little studio when it all settles down again so I can settle back into work.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:52 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

And you thought your adolescence was scary. Suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the outset that a strange plague has descended upon the area's teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. Black Hole transcends its genre by deftly exploring a specific American cultural moment in flux and the kids who are caught in it.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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