Friday 22 October 2010

'This is the only part I'll remember'

X'ed Out 
by Charles Burns

After reading Burns' Black Hole I have been thrown back into his nightmarish take on adolescence and young adulthood in the first part of a new colour serial being given the hardback treatment by Jonathan Cape. When I first saw the cover of this new book I immediately thought of Tintin and then came across this piece which helpfully explained exactly why. This latest work is clearly influenced by the work of Hergé with artwork, character names and the look of his main character all Tintinesque. It is all infused with Burns' own unique style of course and in my limited experience of his work he joins a small band of artists with the ability to unnerve and disturb in a way that genuinely gives me the willies (I'm thinking also of Lynch and Cronenberg).

The hero this time is Doug who seems to be a troubled young man. Living in his parent's house, he subsists on a diet of pop-tarts and some kind of tranquilising medication. Looking back through his obsessively compiled collection of Polaroids he dwells on his adolescence, a time spent doing performance poetry as his alter-ego 'Nitnit', an achingly uncool thing to do as a warm up act to the new wave of punk bands sweeping the stage. But in Doug's dreams Nitnit has the central role as he wanders a post-apocalyptic world peopled by lizard-faced humanoids, grub-eating street merchants and those distinctive speckled eggs seen on the cover (this dream world had me thinking of another possible influence, William Burroughs). The disorientating moment that accompanies each new moment of awakening is that same thing we all feel when we wonder where we are and even whether we have really awakened or are still dreaming. The images flow from one world to another so that there is a connection between the conscious and unconscious states. With the book beginning in one of these dreams it takes a while to piece together what is real, what a dream, what affected by medication and the curious bandage to the side of his head has already become for me a way of charting which state he's in (anyone who has seen Inception will know the skills required to keep parallel storylines in place). Much more than that is hard to say with this just the first volume and only 56 pages at that. But I really want to know what happens next in a morbid, curious, don't-eat-the-eggs kind of way.


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