Black Hole, by Charles Burns
Our teenage years are marred by angst, taboos, mistakes and hope, and that’s how artist Charles Burns portrays them in Black Hole, a graphic novel of such monstrous darkness that it’s dazzlingly beautiful.
Black Hole focuses on the lives of a group of teenagers in 1970s Seattle. Their neighbourhood is in the grip of a sexually-transmitted disease that deforms and disfigures the teenagers it infects. The symptoms are physically gruesome, ranging from tails and shedding skin to second mouths that reveal the sufferers’ innermost thoughts.
But their illnesses are almost secondary to the daily difficulties they have to face, from rejection to bullying, as they transverse the terrains of drugs, alcohol and sex, all under the gaze of their judgmental peers. Teenagers have ninety-nine problems and their disfigurements are neither here nor there.
This is set in black, white and frowns that paint a world of extremes and no middle ground. The white and black colouring is more bleak than hopeful, with the white scenes being glaring to the point of perfect, unobtainable cleanliness. This picture does not have a happy ending, only black ocean set against black sky, with scattered white dots for stars, and Chris, the graphic novel’s most troubled character, lamenting: “I’d stay out here forever if I could.” Wouldn’t we all?