Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Graphic Lit -- 1/22

These reviews ran in last Sunday's edition of The Patriot-News.

"Black Hole"
by Charles Burns
Pantheon, 368 pages, $24.95.

Charles Burns has long been regarded in comic book circles as one of the masters of horror, or at least the decidedly eerie, although the bulk of his work has often leaned toward the cartoonish or surreal.

"Black Hole" marks a step away from all that, with its focus on a character-driven plot and real-world setting. The story centers on a sexually transmitted plague that sweeps through a Seattle high school in the 1970s, turning teens into grotesque monsters.

As some victims attempt to hide their deformities, others camp out in the woods, shunned by "normal" society. And that’s about when the murders start.

It sounds like the setup for a slasher film, but Burns is going for something a lot more thoughtful and rewarding than that.

Rather than become a thriller, the teen plague becomes a powerful metaphor for the pains of puberty. His dialogue perfectly captures adolescent angst and alienation, while his inky panels hint at horrors that lie far below the occasional webbed finger or odd growth.

"Black Hole" is Burns’ most humane and powerful work to date. It’s also one of the best graphic novels of last year.

"Spiral-Bound"
by Aaron Renier
Top Shelf Productions, 184 pages, $14.95.

Renier’s debut graphic novel imagines a charming town of anthropomorphic creatures where little dogs can build submarines and a secret underground newspaper gets the dope on everything via a network of hidden doors and tunnels.

The plot centers on a shy, young elephant who discovers an aptitude for sculpture, a rabbit that badly wants to be an investigative reporter, and a mystery surrounding the eerie lake in the center of town. Filled with lots of charming details, Renier’s pages are a tad busy at times, but the book overall is crammed with plenty of moments that will bring a smile to your face. In short, it’s a perfect book for comic-loving parents to share with their kids.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006

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