photo & text by nacrowe
to quote former president GEORGE W. BUSH, "well that was some weird shit."
the graphic novel BLACK HOLE (PANTHEON, 2005) BY CHARLES BURNS, originally a limited twelve-issue series published by KITCHEN SINK PRESS and FANTAGRAPHICS, is a viscerally arresting experience unto itself, with stark, often disturbing imagery that perfectly showcases a harrowing narrative dealing with themes such as the nascent AGENCY, SEXUALITY and physical/emotional VIOLENCE that marks the teenage experience. forget graphic novels, this publication is a case study for the power of image and text as one of the most affecting portrayals of POST-ADOLESCENCE that i have ever come across.
the narrative itself follows a set of small town WASHINGTON STATE high school students in the 1970s who pass on a sexually transmitted disease to one another that grotesquely deforms them. this physical disfigurement also marks a transition for these students in how they relate to the community, their peers and their own bodies. the nudity in BLACK HOLE is far from titillating, moreover it graphically showcases the emotional and psychic distance that the characters have been removed from their physical being. in essence it does not feel that difference from the experience of going through adolescence with the hormonal surges and changes in bodily proportions, textures, smells and appearance.
i can speak from experience that going through that period was disorientating and emotional wrought, which is common. i felt alienated from myself and who i once was as i transformed into this other being. it really was a surreal experience. i really feel BURNS depicts and nails that sentiment with a sense of craft and tact. depictions of often grotesque physical deformities and distressing, surreal nightmares never feel excessive or out of place in BLACK HOLE. moreover they seem to promote the idea of POST-ADOLESCENCE as an experience that garners an immediate need for escape from a perceived claustrophobia brought on by the encroaching responsibilities of adulthood and parental/societal expectation. growing up is hard.
it really is quite the achievement. i recommend BLACK HOLE to anyone interested in GRAPHIC NOVELS, SOCIOLOGY or even TRANSGRESSIVE FICTION. despite its graphic nature and adult themes, in my opinion this is a book with moral center and extreme sensitivity that marks it as a real provocative statement about the lasting psychological trauma that outlives the emotional and physical maelstrom of living through one's POST-ADOLESCENCE. thank god you only have to go through that period once.