18 June, 2008

Review: Charles Burns 'Black Hole'

A sexually-transmitted disease divides a group of high school teenagers, with horrible consequences.

Black Hole follows the comings-of-age of two teenagers - Keith, a shy boy, and Chris, a pretty, popular girl - in a small, Oregon town in the 1970s. Both are complicated stories of social and sexual anxiety, set against the freewheeling sex-and-drugs hippy culture of the 1960s.

Black Hole touches on many cultural turns in modern American life: the end of the '60s and its idealism, the advent of fear about sex and HIV, the shakeup of social norms in a fracturing, destructured society, the extreme alienation of youth from itself - such as that which has produced the Columbine killings and their like - and from adult society.

Burns's stunning graphical style - reminiscent of woodblock printing - is not an obvious choice for the subject matter and all the more powerful and strange for it.

Compelling, sad, compassionate, novelistic in scope and depth, Black Hole does not reveal its mysteries readily and will bear (even demand) repeated reading.