Sugar Skull by Charles Burns

Sugar Skull, Part 3 of Charles Burns' trilogy, is a comedown of sorts. Had to read all three parts again, by the way, as memory fails.

While both X'ed Out and The Hive were kinda hallucinogenic and mesmerizing in a typical sick and dirty way Burns is known for, Sugar Skull is much more open and sad. It has a NIN Hurt-like halo around it.

With no new nasty creatures (well, not entirely true), this time pieces of the puzzle mostly include real people, their fears and pains, poorly drawn plans and hastily made decisions.

The dream ends, and it ends, and it ends.

Still, to be fair to myself – it took Burns a while to make this book – and this trilogy is indeed a great piece of comic literature. Not sure whether it is a success commercially, but personally, I was waiting for the book to come out – as I will for next one.

Here's a quick interview with Burns from The New Yorker, where he speaks on Herge as his inspiration – and it gives tons of page scans as well. And damn, I need to make sure I read all the Tintin books one day!




El Borbah by Charles Burns

While waiting for Charles Burns‘ latest installment of what I call the Tintin on drugs trilogy, I purchased El Borbah, an old collection of “defective detective” stories published in mid-1980s. From my count, this is the only published book by Burns that I haven’t read so far.

Also, if I’m not mistaken, El Borbah was Burns’ debut work the sickness and talent of which further evolved into the mesmerizing tale of Black Hole, which I guess I have to pick up from my shelf and re-read.

As the notion of defective detective may suggest, El Borbah is a tale – well, tales – about a series of cases solved by a wrestler-lookalike private eye that breaks bad boys’ noses and finds missing lads and ladies. The stories are short, wicked, beautifully drawn – too sad that I am lazy, get sucked into the storyline quickly and thus spend far too little time on each page, which is a shame.

A perfect addition to and a true enhancement of El Borbah experience would be, in yours truly humble opinion, finishing the book by watching Guy Maddin’s Sombra Dolorosa, a 2004 short that pays homage to Lucha Libre / Mexican wrestling.

I am making (yet another futile) promise to myself – read Black Hole, read Black Hole, read Black Hole – and I am waiting in awe for Sugar Skull to come out.


The Hive by Charles Burns

The Hive is a dark and disturbing continuation of X'ed Out, recently published part 2 of Charles Burns' new trilogy definitely inspired by Hergé's Tintin – but with a Naked Lunch twist.

Given it's a very complex multilayer story (part 1 made no sense on its own, part 2 now start to form patterns of sense), I was left with no option but to re-read X'ed Out again – just to remember what it was about. Timelines cross – reality, imagination, hallucinations, present and past, all intersect and collide – and oh boy, now both X'ed Out and The Hive have become a thrilling read.

My problem – by the time part 3, called Sugar Skull, hits the shelves, I will have forgotten X'ed Out and The Hive entirely, and will have to re-read both again. It looks like a marketing scam, I would say, splitting a 300 page graphic novel into 3 thin installments to sell 3 books $20 a piece and not just one for $25. Oh well, I like it so much now that I couldn't care less. Finally, a great follow up to Burns's renowned Black Hole, well overdue.

P.S. … and if you didn't like my imprecise praise and want to read proper review of the books, here's a decent one. Enjoy


Big Baby by Charles Burns

Finally got my hands on Big Baby, a recollection of Charles Burns‘ horror stories from late 80s – early 90s. Man, how I like Burns and how I liked this book.  
First, it’s like childhood coming back – campfire horror stories mixed with the good old “Alfred Hitchcock presents…” and Tales from the Crypt in one bottle. Dunno about you, but I was totally hooked on monsters, vampires, the undead, all that stuff. Kind of, still am.  
Second, his drawings are impeccable and his art is a work of genius, sick minded one, but still. I don’t know how he sleeps at night if these monsters still haunt him – but judging by this very book, little Charlie might’ve had some difficulty with that back in his childhood days.  
Third, the Teen Plague story looks like a direct predecessor to Burns’ most respected and awed graphic novel called the Black Hole – which is sooo tense and gripping that it beats a good lot of decent Holly horror flicks. Erotic as well – what else would you expect from a book on an unknown decease that hits teenagers, which is transmitted only via intercourse and that starts an irreversible body mutation process. Grow a tail.  
Fourth – black and white. Black and white. People like Burns should fire colorists and always push back on publishers if they propose colored. B&W always.  
All in all, one two-pager story and three thirty page ones, barely an hour read – but so much fun. Didn’t really enjoyed as much his recent X’ed Out part 1 – but we’ll see how that turns out.  


X’ed Out by Charles Burns

New Charles Burns book is a bit raw and difficult to understand. Just like this old Memento movie, but all the sequences are mixed up and don't seem to relate much to each other. The answer is simple – X'ed Out is just the beginning, part 1 of a bigger serialized graphic novel, so it has far too little merit for now on standalone basis.

Well, we'll wait for more, as Burns' longer work (yes, what else, Black Hole, a dark and mesmerizing comic masterpiece) was a total page turner , while his shorter stuff like Skin Deep turned out to be much less sound.

Picture-wise, hard to argue with the whole of world wide web that Burns paid homage to Tintin – however, if the Belgian fellow were indeed involved, this one would've been called “Tintin in the land of drug fueled nightmares“. True so.