Friday, September 10, 2010

X'ed Out - Charles Burns

Doug is in bed with a head trauma, he is woken by his cat Inky who died years ago. The cat is sitting in front of a hole in Doug's bedroom wall, the cat enters the hole and Doug follows, through this portal into another world.

So begins this graphic novel of the American sequencial artist Charles Burns, a homage to Herge's Tintin ( the cover specifically references 'The Shooting Star') and William Borroughs. Doug is a teenage artist who possibly got into an altercation with the boyfrind of a (possibly) ex-girlfriend which resulted in the head injury. At home in bed, drugged with pictures scattered around him, Doug drifts between reality, flashbacks and drug induced hallucinations. The hallucinations take over more and more of his life until it becomes increasingly unclear what is reality and what's not.

This novel is concerned with Burns' enduring preoccupation with identity, the ability to cover or alter yourself, the wish to transform and become a new person - that a person may indeed be 'X'ed Out'. Doug's head wound is clearly visible as a result of having his head shaved, his 'affliction' is in plain sight. Doug can not cover the cause of his suffering, but can Doug transform himself? The eternal teenage quest for identity.

Filled with strange creatures and grotesque human figures -and eggs, Doug hallucinates a reptilian race who clearly hold some power. This race have found a new Queen and Doug is instantly smitten but she is being taken to the hive - yet another possible reference to the erasure of the individual, subsumed into a collective mentality much as modern society demands conformity.

Tintin is also referrenced in the artwork Burns' has produced, the hallucinated panels are in the style of Herge with flat bright colours. The panels dealing with Doug's reality have a different visual style, much darker. Images from Doug's reality are replicated in his dreams, much as Burns has replicated some of the images that recurr throughout his past work in this novel.

This is the first in a planned sequence of books (the next is 'The Hive'). There is much to look at and think about in this, the first part of Doug's story. My only critism is that it is too short. There is no sense that we have understood or resolved anything from this first part of the story, indeed I suspect that I have only just begun to scratch the surface of the complexity that Burns will offer to his readers in this series. Whilst the brevity of 'X'ed Out' is frustrating there is enough to engage the reader and keep them guessing until the publication of 'The Hive' (for which I have no release date).

I am indebted to an interview between Charles Burns and Brian Heater at The Daily Cross Hatch here .

I would also like to thank Jonathan Cape and Random House for my copy of 'X'ed Out' for review.

'X'ed Out' is released on the 16th October.


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