One o' them "Graphical Novels" the kids're all excited about these days

Today I finished Charles Burns' "Black Hole," which is one of the biggest things to hit the comics world in a while - everybody's been reading it and everybody's been talking about it. And now I see why. This book is great - totally engrossing (with a definite emphasis on the "gross") from start to finish.

I will say that the narrative is perhaps a little clunky, and kind of falls apart at the end...but it's not really a story-driven work. It's much more about character, setting and mood. And that, my friends, is all quite masterfully handled.

First off, the art...well, it's simply gorgeous. And my cardinal rule of comics is this: If the art's no good, the comic is no good (though my standards of what constitutes "good art" are pretty broad). It's all very dark - Burns must go through black india ink by the bucket. But at the same time, his lines are very clean. Every lock of hair and every shadow has crisp, well-defined edges. His characters have a simple, cartoony look, but are very expressive. It's sort of a "Sin City" Frank Miller meets Tom Tomorrow look, overall - though I suppose that sells Burns' wonderful eye for fine detail short. Every panel is worth examination. And he doesn't shy away from the graphic and disturbing images that his story requires.

It's remarkable how well Burns both evokes the exact era in which his story is set (the mid-'70s, "when it wasn't exactly cool to be a hippie anymore, but Bowie was still just a little too weird," to quote from the dustjacket), and creates a timeless quality as well with the overall mood. He captures perfectly the way what's cool for high schoolers can shift from day to day, and the way that every teenager, from the freaks & geeks (to borrow a phrase) to the cool kids feels alienated, isolated and misunderstood...and how every teenager can go out of their way to make others feel it, too.

I loved it, and it'll probably only be a couple of days before I start reading it all over again. Comic books like this are rare, wonderful treats, worthy of reading and rereading over and over, worthy of close inspection and intense discussion.