Graphic Novel Revisited: Black Hole by Charles Burns (2005)

By Cristina Miller

I decided to pick up a book that I have not read since I put it down during my final year of college ten years ago. Black Hole by Charles Burns, takes place in the coniferous confines of the Pacific Northwest during the 70's. Something grotesque both physical and psychological is happening to a group of high schoolers. The book starts with establishing two characters, Keith, the typical, introspective nice guy and Chris, the cute, pretty girl Keith has an infatuation with in biology. We follow them as they go through their daily lives. Chris contracts a transformative "bug" through a quickie in a cemetery with a guy she meets at a party while Keith finds himself wondering where all his classmates disappeared to?

The characters do nothing heroic to combat the transformations that are happening to the young people in this town. Transformations that range from the extreme like bulging, melting foreheads or excess appendages, to the more concealed, like a small mouth in the lower neck or webbed hands. The ones with obvious deformities have retreated to the shelter of the woods and created an outcast community made of tents. They are the abandoned or forgotten and left to fend for themselves emotionally and physically. Led by a dog-faced young man named Dave, this small group of pariahs were once the geeky kids of the high school. Their deformities being more pronounced, these kids were now permanently shunned from society. From the outside world.

As I think back to the first time I read this, I was at a point in my life when I needed an escape from the academia that I was in. It probably reminded me of my desert home, as I was attending school 100 miles away. The ennui of growing up in a place that did not have much to offer except hanging out in the high school parking lot after the local carnival closes or stomping down to the Thursday night street fair with your friends sipping on spiked Cokes in McDonalds cups. It is, as the title says, the black hole of growing up or descending into your own developing maturity. Perhaps it was the front cover of the book, the smile of the eyeless person that drew me in. The idea that you cannot see the world until you are shunned from it.

With my college years no longer a walking distance behind me and immersing myself in this piece once again, I found myself as an observer and feeling a disconnection. I could no longer feel a total camaraderie with the characters but as a sympathetic outsider.

Black Hole is one of those books that need to simmer and should not be taken all in one sitting. This was not a quick read for me as much as my first Graphic Novel Revisited. The story is dense and engaging. In the near future, probably in another phase of my life, I will dust this off again and descend once again.