Saturday, February 21, 2015

Black Hole by Charles Burns

I’m not much into graphic novels, but I thought I’d give this one a try after hearing about it on one of my favorite podcasts. Here’s a piece from the blurb on the front flap on the edition I have:

The setting: suburban Seattle, the mid-1970s. We learn from the outset that a strange plague has descended upon the area’s teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The disease manifests itself 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 that is what the novel is--although at times it is more eerie than fascinating. Fulfilling many of my own stereotypes about graphic novels, Black Hole fails in being a fascinating drama about its characters (indeed, often, it’s hard to tell one character from another), but it succeeds in painting an eerie and lingering portrait of the helplessness and aching emptiness that accompanies our transition from teenager to adult.

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This post was written by Eric Lanke, an association executive, blogger and author. For more information, visit, follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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