Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Burnt offerings

Don’t be misled. It’s a story masquerading as a work of art. A comic book at heart, and a damn good read throughout. Charles Burns’ Black Hole. Set in suburban Seattle in the 70s, it’s about a bunch of teenagers. It’s about Chris Rhodes, the girl that everyone likes and who sheds her skin periodically, like a snake. It’s about Keith Pearson who loves her, but ends up instead with Eliza, the artist with a tail at the base of her spine. It’s about Rob, who has a mouth on his chest. Then there are all their friends, the normal ones and the not-so-normal ones. But the biggest character of them all in this book, the one under whose shadow we see these teenagers tell us their story is ‘the Bug’ – a disease that spreads through sexual contact and manifests itself in mutations like the ones mentioned above. Mutations and deformities, some subtle and hideable, but sometimes obvious, grotesque and downright repulsive. This story is about the people who have the Bug or are about to and how their lives change. About the ones who lead a squalid existence shunned by normal society because they have the Bug. But read the book, and you realise this story is more than just a parade of sexually transmitted mutations, in a smog of weed smoke.

The art is hypnotic, surreal, creepy, sensual, psychedelic and hallucinatory – sometimes all at the same time. It’s in black and white, but that only serves to add so much more colour to the narrative. The emotions, the reactions, the dreams and the nightmares, deformities, the fear and the loathing. This book captures it all, and throws at you so many questions, most of which the book does not even try to answer. And the ending just heightens this feeling. There may or may not be a moral and a message to this story. The Bug may be a metonym for AIDS or it may be not. It just might be a coming-of-age-story, or the usual teenager’s story about wanting to be yourself and to be popular and to fit in, but then it could be neither. It’s for you to decide if you want to give it an ulterior motive or look at it as just a damn good story. I would suggest, sit back and just enjoy the experience. Get ready to be sucked into the Black Hole.

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