Black Hole by Charles Burns

Title: Black Hole
Author: Charles Burns
Genre: Graphic novel / comics

Rating: 3.25 / 5

Goodreads | Powell’s

It’s September! And even though some people don’t think it’s officially fall until the equinox, I say that it’s fall enough to start reading scary books now. I was never a huge fan of fall growing up–winters were always long, dark, and snowy, and fall not only meant back to school but plunging temperatures. Now that I live somewhere where 110 degrees is not an uncommon summer temperature, though, you bet fall is about my favorite thing in the world! This year I started thinking about seasonal autumn reading in August so I would be ready to roll.

And Black Hole was my first “scary” book of the season! I decided to focus on graphic novels this year, for a few reasons:

1. They’re awesome.
2. I’m back in school with a somewhat heavy load, and graphic novels are not only quicker but a different way of reading than wordswordswords.
3. Interlibrary loan means I can read a bunch of graphic novels of my choice for free, something I will almost certainly not have the ability to do once I graduate and those privileges evaporate. Get it while you can!!!

But anyway… being the inaugural creepy-themed book, did Black Hole deliver on that front? I would say, mostly yes. With reviews saying things like, “I wouldn’t keep it in my bedroom,” “disturbing,” “disquieting,” and the like, I was expecting it to deliver a little more. I mean I decided to pick it up because it was on a couple of creepy graphic novel lists, one of which called it “horrifying.” I guess lots of things would seem pretty tame after all that hype! Or maybe I just don’t find stories like this all that scary.

In any case, the art was very dark–whereas most comics seem to start with a white page and add black, it seems like Burns started with black and added white. It was an interesting effect, and while I can’t say it’s my favorite style, I did like it. Lots of nice clean lines, and I think it was well suited to this story and there were some really beautiful–as well as grotesque–panels in here.

I thought the story was pretty good. I found it fairly engrossing and finished it quickly. My biggest gripe with the book is the the moments that seem like they contain the most “horror” to me were moments like the two panels where one of the main characters, Keith, is going to the bathroom and overhears one of his friends with his girlfriend, who is telling him, “slow down…it doesn’t feel right” and “come on Dee… it kind of hurts… just slow down, ok?” while the friend, high on LSD, just ignores her. That was probably the creepiest moment of the book for me, and I’m not even sure how intentional it was. It seemed that it was just being used to heighten the unease of the main character, who already felt out of place. It didn’t really seem like a comment on male entitlement or unhealthy sex practices. Then again, [SPOILER] the murders in the book happen at the hand of a jealous and “romantically” entitled guy character, so maybe Burns was trying to say something about it after all.

I didn’t think this book was as deep/metaphorical or as disturbing as many other readers, but I did think it was a solid graphic novel–good story, good art, good execution, a mostly satisfying conclusion–and I think it worked really well for a creepy fall reading kick-off: room to get creepier, but still delivers on the creatures, the dark, the rainy nights and campfires, and an overall sense of unease.

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