[Three and a half stars]
Writer/Artist: Charles Burns
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Charles Burns’ Black Hole ended in 2005, and since then, all we have had from the master-storyteller has been the occasional French anthology contribution and the odd album cover, until 2010, when the first chapter of X-ed Out was published, another long series-in-the-making chock-full of Burns goodness.
X-ed Out deals with territory that Burns has trodden before: teenage angst and grotesque imagery dipped in copious amounts of mind-fuckery. The cover is deceptively innocent ”“ it reminded me of Tintin and The Shooting Star, and as it turns out, the series bears a massive Tintin hangover, right from the protagonist Doug’s cowlick; or the fact that the black cat that leads him into an alternate world through a hole in his bedroom wall is called ”˜Inky’. Things are not quite all right with Doug. He’s got a bandaged head-wound that he’s taking pills for, so his foray into this strange world where orange creatures with rotting noses chew on maggot outgrowths on walls does not quite seem out place. At the same time, we are given bits of Doug’s backstory ”“ a missing mother, a father who’s also not all there, and a girlfriend with a propensity for self-inflicted violence.
At 60 pages, there is not much you have in terms of content, but the surreal nature of the storytellling invites multiple re-reads to follow just exactly what’s going on. The way the story builds up its slow creepiness might not be anything new to readers familiar with Burns’ earlier work, but there’s no doubt that X-ed Out gets off to a promising start.