Friday, October 29, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 268 (10/29) -- X'ed Out by Charles Burns

This is not the whole story. Much like Charles Burns's last work, the great graphic horror novel Black Hole, was serialized in comics form over a decade before being collected into a single large book, whatever book X'ed Out will eventually become part of is not completed, and won't be for several years. What we have here is the first section: fifty-two pages of comics about one boy and his two worlds. So don't go into it expecting an ending.

X'ed out isn't a single story, either: at the center of it is Doug, a teen from about thirty years ago [1], living in both the real world and in another one: dream, fantasy, or dying reverie...or perhaps something else. On some pages -- such as the first sequence, when he wakes up in his basement bedroom and follows his thought-dead cat through a hole in the wall into a strange dusty town -- Doug looks cartoony, with Tintin-esque dot eyes. At other times, which seem to be flashbacks, or perhaps just glimpses of his current, "real" life, Burns draws Doug in his more usual, realistic style.

Doug's journey through the strange world is symbolic, perhaps -- that world, which is brighter and sharper than our own, has details that send the narrative back to Doug's teenage life, to his pills and the girlfriend who doesn't appreciate how tormented he is (and to the artsy girl who will become his girlfriend, and who, we think, does appreciate how tormented he is), to his unhappy parents and that dingy basement room where he sleeps. Doug is passive in the stranger world, and only a bit more active in the real one; even by the end of X'ed Out, he's as confused as we are, reading his story.

The two worlds have some deep connection -- as I said, it could be a dream, or an afterlife, or a drug-induced vision, or several other things, and we don't know which yet -- which will be revealed eventually. Perhaps the next book -- which the last page of X'ed Out teases as "The Hive" -- will explain what has happened to Doug, and how these two stories are connected. For now, though, we have fifty pages of brand-new Charles Burns comics: bright, sparking, and cutting, like the pieces of a broken mirror. There hasn't been a new major Burns story in a decade, so it's best just to sit back and let this one wash over you -- it will all become clear eventually, in time.


[1] He has an unironic punk hairdo and a cassette recorder with corded microphone, and a box of Pop-Tarts comes with a 7-cent coupon. From this, and other data, I deduce a milieu of late '70s or early '80s.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So far, I like it better than Black Hole.

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