Black Hole by Charles Burns

Black Hole comic review

I read the graphic novel Black Hole, by Charles Burns. As far as graphic novels go, it is NSFW graphic. The premise is, there is an STD going around a high school that causes gross body mutations, like growing a tail, a second mouth, shedding skin. Those with “The Bug” end up being ostracized and some leave home and school and live out in the woods. The novel is ultimately about adolescence— fitting in, sex, drugs, and alcohol. The story was nonlinear. The narrator kept changing and it was not always immediately apparent who was narrating.

The illustrations were amazing, crisp black and white with great detail, each individual hair and strand of grass shaded. The panels were chock full of symbolism and unnerving images. I have never tried drugs, but I imagine the illustrations capture how disorienting they are. When I finished the book I was emotionally drained, as though I had just finished watching an intense movie.

I had a couple gripes with the plot. The two main female characters, while under the influence, threw themselves at men they did not know anything about, then became clingy and fell in love with them after hooking up. Maybe the women were supposed to come off as assertive go-getters, but they seemed rather desperate to me. Also, the characters deal with their problems by running away, they don’t confront their issues. The teenagers with “The Bug” run away from their homes. They would not reveal to their parents their deformities, even though the teenagers admit that their parents would still accept them, not drive them away. One women escapes her abusive roommates by running away, which I felt was a legitimate thing to do. But another takes running from problems too far; when he is rejected by his crush he becomes homicidal and kills himself. And then there is the main character, Keith, who runs away from situations all the time, never content to be where he is until the end of the novel. Keith is dissatisfied and frightened by his stoner friends, that they spend their time watching TV like zombies. On a really bad trip, Keith stumbles upon the encampment of people deformed by “The Bug” and befriends them. The people in the encampment seem a lot more understanding and accepting, they listen to his feelings and stories. Later on, Keith is housesitting, and the encampment people move in and mess it up. And then they all get murdered. Keith is just overwhelmed by what he sees and drives away with his girlfriend. They retreat into nature, which the characters appreciate as rejuvenating and free. And yet, it seems Keith running away from those problems is supposed to be a good ending. It is supposed to be a good thing that he left his mentally dead stoner friends and his literally dead friends from the encampment, that he is going on a road trip and starting life anew, but that just doesn’t sit well with me.

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