Monday, 13 June 2011

Recent reads: Black Hole by Charles Burns

There's a secret pleasure in picking up a graphic novel.  It reminds me of childhood and a fortnightly treat when I was allowed to buy a comic, which was usually The Beano, I think, followed by Valiant.  It was a treat because comics were generally looked down upon as lazy reading, inasmuch as they demanded so little of the reader.  These days, while part of me associates that same delicious laziness with graphic novels, they have a 'grown-up' legitimacy about them, which allows me to enjoy them even more.  That's not say that graphic novels can't be dense, layered texts, which they clearly can (and I might hold up Jonathan Walker and Dan Hallett's superb Five Wounds as one of the best examples of this), but that because most people are visual readers first, there is a distinct pleasure associated with reading a story principally from images rather than words (and why we like our written stories to create strong visual impressions, perhaps).

Charles Burns's Black Hole is an impressively thick book, and I approached it with some awe (and respect for the work that must have gone into creating so many detailed pictures), but it's also an easy and reasonably compelling read, and only took me a couple of brief sessions to finish.

While I enjoy texts that are more layered than this one, and that require more work of me as a reader (so I can get fully involved), there were a number of elements I especially enjoyed about Black Hole.  Chief amongst these was Charles Burns' decision to tell the story from overlapping points of view.  Given that it might be harder to provide characters in graphic novels with the same depth as those in non-graphic novels, it was good to be provided with these different perspectives of the same story.  The exploration of the drug-addled, sexually promiscuous 70s - albeit an American version - also added to my interest. Furthermore, but linked to this perhaps, I was intrigued by the symbolism that seemed to tie so much of the story together, but did wonder by the end whether I was imagining so many references to vaginas or whether these were indeed intended.  There was nothing like that in The Beano.

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