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Cover image for Black hole
Black hole

New York : Pantheon Books, [2005]
Physical Description:
1 volume (unpaged) : illustrations ; 25 cm
Biology 101 -- Planet Xeno -- Ssssssssss -- Racing towards something -- Who's Chris? -- Cut -- Bag action -- Cook out -- Seeing double -- Windowpane -- Under open skies -- Woods -- Lizard queen -- I'm sorry -- Summer vacation -- Dream girl -- Rick the dick -- Driving south -- End.
A chilling graphic novel set in suburban Seattle during the mid-1970s describes the lives of the area's teenagers, who are suddenly faced with a devastating, disfiguring, and incurable plague that has descended on the young people of Seattle.


Call Number
Burns, C.

On Order



Suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the out-set that a strange plague has descended upon the area's teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease is manifested in any number of ways -- from the hideously grotesque to the subtle (and concealable) -- but once you've got it, that's it. There's no turning back.

As we inhabit the heads of several key characters -- some kids who have it, some who don't, some who are about to get it -- what unfolds isn't the expected battle to fight the plague, or bring heightened awareness to it , or even to treat it. What we become witness to instead is a fascinating and eerie portrait of the nature of high school alienation itself -- the savagery, the cruelty, the relentless anxiety and ennui, the longing for escape.

And then the murders start.

As hypnotically beautiful as it is horrifying, Black Hole transcends its genre by deftly exploring a specific American cultural moment in flux and the kids who are caught in it- back when it wasn't exactly cool to be a hippie anymore, but Bowie was still just a little too weird.

To say nothing of sprouting horns and molting your skin...

Author Notes

Charles Burns grew up in Seattle in the 1970s. Hs work rose to prominence in Art Spiegelman's Raw magazine in the mid-1980s and took off from there, for an extraordinary range of comics and projects, from Iggy Pop album covers to the latest ad campaign for Altoids. In 1992 he designed the set for Mark Morris's delightful restaging of The Nutcracker (renamed The Hard Nut ) at BAM. He's illustrated covers for Time, The New Yorker, and The New York Times Magazine. He was also tapped as the official cover artist for The Believer magazine at its inception in 2003. Burns lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters.

Reviews 5

School Library Journal Review

Starred Review. Gr 11 Up-Set in a Seattle suburb during the mid-1970s, this dark, atmospheric story is a gripping (and often unsettling) journey into the psyche of suburban teens on the brink of adulthood. The bug is a sexually transmitted disease that causes strange and irreversible mutations: one boy grows a miniature second mouth above his collarbone, a girls skin begins to molt, and another grows a preternatural tail. Some are able to conceal their mutations and live a normal life, while others are shunned and forced to seek refuge in a supportive, but tenuous community deep in the woods among the homeless and the homicidal. The impact of the plague on the community is seen through the eyes of two teens, Keith and Chris, both of whom become infected and develop mutations. Burns skillfully explores the inner drama of high school alienation with tenderness, precision, and grace. His masterful black-and-white illustrations evoke an eerie surreal tone that beautifully complements the underlying horror of the textual narrative. This accomplished graphic novel is a serious work of artistic and literary merit and is essential for any collection that includes adult graphic novels such as Dan Clowess David Boring (Knopf, 2000), Craig Thompsons Blankets (Top Shelf, 2005), and Gilbert Hernandezs Palomar (Fantagraphics, 1989).-Philip Charles Crawford, Essex High School, Essex Junction, VT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. All rights reserved.

Publisher's Weekly Review

The prodigiously talented Burns hit the comics scene in the '80s via Raw magazine, wielding razor-sharp, ironic-retro graphics. Over the years his work has developed a horrific subtext perpetually lurking beneath the mundane suburban surface. In the dense, unnerving Black Hole, Burns combines realism-never a concern for him before-and an almost convulsive surrealism. The setting is Seattle during the early '70s. A sexually transmitted disease, the "bug," is spreading among teenagers. Those who get it develop bizarre mutations-sometimes subtle, like a tiny mouth at the base of one boy's neck, and sometimes obvious and grotesque. The most visibly deformed victims end up living as homeless campers in the woods, venturing into the streets only when they have to, shunned by normal society. The story follows two teens, Keith and Chris, as they get the bug. Their dreams and hallucinations-made of deeply disturbing symbolism merging sexuality and sickness-are a key part of the tale. The AIDS metaphor is obvious, but the bug also amplifies already existing teen emotions and the wrenching changes of puberty. Burns's art is inhumanly precise, and he makes ordinary scenes as creepy as his nightmare visions of a world where intimacy means a life worse than death. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

There's nothing funny about high school in this black-and-white comics collection, which should strike a particularly sharp chord among those who endured and survived their adolescent rites of passage in the early 1970s. Though originally issued as a series of 12 comic books, this anthology by the Seattle-based Burns (Big Baby, 1985) has the thematic coherence of a graphic novel. It details the sexual and psychedelic misadventures of a group of teenagers, from their initiation into the grisly mysteries of Biology 101 through a summer in which some of their lives seem like science experiments gone awry. Within the world delineated through the nightmare caricatures of Burns, intercourse can leave an indelible impression on the skin, like a strange stigmata, while indulging in drugs can blur the already thin line between reality and illusion. Identity is up for grabs, as experience and circumstance wreak transformations that leave some of these kids strangers to themselves, as well as to their friends. Yesterday's girl next door falls under the glam-rocking spell of David Bowie's Diamond Dogs, while Neil Young's equally popular Harvest seems to serenade a parallel sphere. This is a world in which boys discover that girls have tails, and girls discover that boys are unfathomable. Ultimately, these befuddled characters drift away from the security of home and the regularity of familiar relationship into a wooded wilderness where they stumble upon dismembered limbs and strange effigies and run the risk of disappearing into a variety of black holes. If this were a movie (and in the wake of Sin City, it could be), it would need to be toned down and cleaned up to avoid an NC-17 rating. Yet Burns uses full-frontal nudity for more than titillation (the sex isn't very sexy, the flesh often repugnant) and disturbing imagery for more than shock value. If the world he conjures is unsettling, it's also eerily familiar. This volume should expand the cult following of a cutting-edge illustrator. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Burns' Hard-Boiled Defective Stories0 (1988), Skin Deep0 (1992), and Big Baby 0 (2000) are pretty weird, but satiric elements keep them from being disturbing. Black Hole 0 isn't satiric, seems emblematic, and is definitely disturbing. In a middle-class suburb in Washington State in the seventies, what the teenagers call the bug is spreading among them, physically marking its hosts. Eventually, the afflicted kids disappear from school. When Keith wanders away in the woods from his pot-smoking pals, he discovers a tent community of disappeared kids. Each has become more marked; for instance, one boy's face has become decidedly catlike. Keith has a crush on his biology lab-partner, Chris, but since sex with him after a party, she's fixated on Rob, who has a tiny mouth on his throat. They fall in love, and Keith is desolate until he meets Eliza, who has a short, hairless tail, a second time. Both young-lover pairs are ill-starred. All have horrible nightmares, Eliza is abused before Keith meets her, Chris has to run away, Rob is attacked by one of the tent kids, and Keith leaves town implicated in a mass murder. Is the bug "punishment" for sex (of which there's plenty, frankly rendered)? Maybe, but the tent-kids may be virgins; it's not indicated that they aren't. And at the end, Keith isn't showing his bug stigmata, and Chris may have lost hers. As always, Burns' gorgeous high-contrast art deepens the atmospheric darkness, and this time he really gets under the skin. --Ray Olson Copyright 2005 Booklist

Library Journal Review

He's done New Yorker covers, sets for Mark Morris, and album design for Iggy Pop, so why not a graphic novel about a sinister plague attacking teenagers in 1970s Seattle? This one has been long awaited by GN fans. With a five-city tour. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.