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.
photo & text by nacrowe
for anyone unfamiliar with the BEAT writers and their impact on modern culture, well beyond poetry, the graphic novel THE BEATS: A GRAPHIC HISTORY (HILL AND WANG, 2010) is an excellent starting point. while providing a fairly definitive, warts-and-all overview of the three main writers associated with the movement in JACK KEROUAC, ALLEN GINSBERG and WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, it also deftly chooses to contextualize them within the greater SAN FRANCISCO POETRY RENAISSANCE scene that found them with writers like KENNETH REXROTH, MICHAEL MCCLURE, PHILIP WHALEN, WILLIAM EVERSON, GARY SNYDER, ROBERT DUNCAN, LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI and GREGORY CORSO as well as other important related figures like AMIRI BARAKA, CHARLES OLSON and ROBERT CREELEY. this breadth of scope results in a wider perspective about the greater influence of a movement that largely defined an era in art, poetry and literature that is still reverberating today.
i appreciate very much that the art and text both don't attempt to gloss over the fact that the three main figure (KEROUAC, GINSBERG and BURROUGHS) were involved in activities that put them at the edge of society. i understand back in the 1950s being openly homosexual was an issue and that our society has come a long way in accepting all forms of sexuality, but all three were confirmed pederasts which is still remains major taboo (for good reason). not that i am conflating the two. the all also engaged in petty crime and drug sales across state lines and in the case of BURROUGHS, manslaughter. some (KEROUAC and BURROUGHS) where petty, xenophobic, racist, solipsistic and in later life (ironically) bitterly homophobic. they were a collective that took sexuality, drugs, the written and by extension experiential consciousness to their polar extremes, which very much informed the breadth and potency of their work. the authors don't condone such, but merely present such in a straightforward manner in order to evoke a clarity of message and mission.
the choice in showcasing their exploits within a context of the greater literary and academic scene at the time and shortly thereafter provides necessary insight into how they were perceived at the time and why they are referred back to constantly today as touchstone influences.
in an era that demanded conformity during the rise of foreign fascism, their ability to wave their own freak flag of individuality provided an example of unadulterated freedom and personal liberty, for good or worse, down the line. hard to tell which.
text by HARVEY PEKAR, NANCY J. PETERS, PENELOPE ROSEMONT, JOYCE BRABNER, TRINA ROBBINS and TUL KUPFERBERG.
art by ED PISKOR, JAY KINNEY, NICK THORKELSON, SUMMER MCCLINTON, PETER KUPER, MARY FLEENER, JEROME NEUKIRCH, ANNE TIMMONS, GARY DUMM, LANCE TOOKS and JEFFREY LEWIS.