Cartoonist Charles Burns’ novel, Black Hole channels the extremes of nostalgia and bodily transformation, which makes it a perfect Halloween read.
In the early 2000s, I was more interested in idiosyncratic comic artists like R. Crumb, Daniel Clowes and Charles Burns than the superheroes of DC and Marvel.
While Clowes has gone on to mainstream popularity, adapting several of his works (Ghost World and Wilson among them) for the big screen, Burns is not quite as well-known.
Critics and fans properly cite David Cronenberg as the originator of “body horror” as a cinematic subgenre. Many have tried to capture his unique approach to corrupted human physiology and many have failed.
Charles Burns, however, has mastered his own strain of body horror…albeit in graphic-novel form. Which is advantageous, as it opens up more possibilities for grotesque and unsettling imagery. (Hollywood CGI can pull off fantastic feats, but abstract concepts usually wind up looking fake in the end.)
Black Hole began life as a 12-issue comics series that was compiled as a graphic novel in 2005 (around the time I discovered it). I was immediately taken with Burns’ drawing style, which favors smooth lines and character designs vaguely reminiscent of an old Archie comic.
While Cronenberg always seemed more attracted to characters who had already transcended their teen years, Charles Burns is fixated on the dark nostalgia of youth and the pain and confusion of adolescence.
Not being too far-removed from my own teenage experience, the process of reading Black Hole was cathartic. It was incisive in its understanding of human emotion and the complexities of relationships, but also dazzlingly grotesque in its depictions of mutation and drug-fueled hallucinations.
The plot involves a sexually-transmitted disease that causes the host to undergo said mutation. Not unlike Cronenberg’s Shivers, sex is the catalyst for change, with notions of sexuality becoming more perverse as events proceed. Some characters embrace the mutation, while others resist. The conflicts and emotions are compelling throughout, and the visual style renders each plot turn with startling impact.
While Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) made a short-film adaptation of Black Hole in 2010, a feature version has been in various stages of development for years. Unfortunately, David Fincher’s one-time attachment fell through, and the project has been in pre-production with writer-director Rick Famuyiwa for some time.
Black Hole could be condensed to a feature film but my personal wish would be for a limited event series that follows the story panel by panel, not unlike Robert Rodriguez’s adaptation of Sin City. No matter how graphic it gets, it’s still a masterful and moving work of art.
Dim the lights, read it before bedtime, and let your nightmares run wild.
Have you read Charles Burns’ Black Hole? Let us know in the comments.