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Vista final by Charles Burns

Vista final (edition 2018)

by Charles Burns

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382463,256 (3.96)None
This is the story of Doug, who as we meet him drifts in and out of reality and a hallucinatory fever dream that recalls the cleanly delineated world of Herge combined with the horrific visions of William Burroughs and David Lynch. As the story opens he is recovering from a devastating trauma and trying to piece together how it happened. It is also the story of Doug's memory of his infatuation with Sarah, a brilliant but troubled art student who seems to be in mortal fear of something--or someone--lurking just around the corner. Or worse, literally downstairs and ringing the buzzer. Ultimately, Doug has to decide whether he is going to own up to his mistakes and confront his past, or choose to live it again, and again, and again.… (more)
Title:Vista final
Authors:Charles Burns
Info:[Barcelona] Reservoir Books 2018
Collections:Your library

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Last Look by Charles Burns



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Hey, pretty girl, time to wake up.
—The Cowboy, Mulholland Drive

This superbly weird and unsettling book will have you convinced you that comics are the perfect medium through which to explore the fractured reality of delusion, fantasy, psychosis and guilt. Burns's clean, woodcut-thick lines make for a shocking contrast with the sense of creeping horror that underlies every panel here: it's David Lynch meets Hergé.


Last Look drops you into a nightmarish Upside-Down version of Tintin where the mysteries, instead of getting solved, only become more grotesque and confusing, in a blasted landscape full of sewage and inhabited by foul-mouthed aliens. And yet it's never weirdness for weirdness's sake: these scenes are intercut with a narrative from ‘real life’, where a messed-up boy called Doug is coming out of an opiate-induced stupor and recovering groggily from a head-wound.

It soon becomes clear that ‘Nitnit’ is a kind of alter-ego, whose terrifying adventures are a way for Doug's subconscious to come to terms with something appalling that he has done – or had done to him – and which we as readers only gradually begin to understand.


Again and again the same themes and motifs recur – foetuses, eggs, violence, fatherhood, aliens, regret, sexual perversion, jealousy – above all, perhaps, a particular kind of male guilt. And the artwork plays with these elements in remarkable ways.

The books that make up Last Look (originally published from 2010 to 2014 in three parts) were widely praised and showered with awards, but I still find it, if anything, underrated – everything is so carefully, so deliberately done. Panels call to each other across the three books, a nightmare detail from Nitnit's world finding an echo in the background to a frame from Doug's reality several years and scores of pages later. Colours are endowed with profound, if opaque, meaning. Tiny things like patterns of cigarette ash, or intercom speakers, acquire an extraordinary emotional weight.


It means that by the time the dénouement comes, we have more or less put the pieces together ourselves, and some readers have complained that everything seems a bit banal once you get the answers. It's true that, like Black Hole, the ending can't quite live up to the fantastic oddness of what has come before, but this is always going to be a problem if you succeed in creating a world that is so rich and so potent with symbolic power. I didn't mind too much; I wouldn't have missed the journey for anything.


There's a lot of influences in here – Hergé, of course, gets a sustained hommage in the artwork, and it clearly owes a big debt to David Lynch, especially the multilayered structure of Mulholland Drive. The cut-up technique of William Burroughs is also in the mix, and there are nods to Louise Bourgeois and other surrealists. Some frames involving razor blades could almost be stills from a Buñuel movie.

But for all this, Burns is in his own heady, fucked-up little world, deeply American despite its European influences. It's a horrifying and neurotic place which may well mess you up, and yet spending time there is also a beautiful and enriching experience. Just make sure you have concrete plans for how to get out again. ( )
1 vote Widsith | Feb 13, 2018 |
"Last Look" is a cold indictment of pretentious frauds yet an intimate exploration of fear, regret, and failure.

Full review available at the New York Journal of Books:

http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/last-look ( )
  kswolff | Jan 10, 2017 |
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