Thursday, October 26, 2006

Black Hole, Son

If we had a ranking system as many forums do (the former A-level Latin student in me always wants to say fora), Swlrir and Michael would be Gold Star posters on this blog! Excellent work as ever: I will try my best to enthuse my colleagues here at Bolton to post more frequently. We've just had a reshuffle here and we've a new (to the post) member of staff tasked with outreach and development and I'm sure Michael can sort her out with an invite to the blog (and a rudimentary introduction to Blogger). (Apologies for volunteering you for extra work, Michael!)

In a seamless segue from stars to black holes, I've just read one of the most impressive graphic novels I've ever come across. In fact Black Hole by Charles Burns is one of the those works that truly deserves the epithet of 'graphic novel'. The story is set in Washington State in the 1970s, where the teenagers of a small town are struck down by a strange sexually transmitted disease, known only as 'The Bug'. No two people are afflicted in the same way, but while the disease doesn't seem to be fatal, its debilitating effects spread like wildfire through the closed high school community.

To give a couple of examples of the various symptoms, one character grows a tiny mouth (complete with teeth and tongue) at the base of his throat, while another's skin sheds after contact with water. Many of the most visibly afflicted run away from home into the back woods of Washington and things start to get gradually worse for them.

Lest I give the impression that this is merely a cautionary tale about promiscuity and STDs, Burns uses 'The Bug' as a jumping off point for a story about love, trust, jealousy and loneliness. As one may imagine the themes of the book, as well as its images and dialogue are particularly adult (and it seems that there was much more drugs and free love in 1970s Washington than there ever was in 1970s Lancashire - all we had were Vesta curries and The Grumbleweeds), but the issues explored are both timeless and timely. Not to mention the exquisitely rendered artwork: the two-page introductory spreads for each chapter could keep an entire university semiotics department busy for months!

It's also genuinely horrific in places: both narratively and graphically. If you're not particularly a fan of graphic novels, you can achieve the same effect as reading Black Hole by sitting alone in a darkened room (preferably in an empty house at night) and listening to East Hastings by the Canadian anarchist musical collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Now that's scary!

1 comment:

swlrir said...

I've got my own copy of "Black Hole", which is approaching the top of "To-Read Pile B" : (Interesting stuff that was too big, thick or weighty to read immediately).

On the basis of this recommendation I'll move it to the top of Pile A : straight after I've finished "A Canticle for Leibowitz" which is this month's SFX book.