An ongoing series of reviews by the folks at your UTC Library featuring selections from our collection.
Over the recent Labor Day weekend, we spent some quality time with funny bits of colored paper (before the rest of the semester robs us of fun time reading). So, enjoy this double dose of What We’re Reading.
Title: Black Hole
By: Charles Burns
Find it here: PN6727.B87 B53 2005 (3rd Floor)
Bo Says: I’m a little bit of an adolescence junkie fueled by melancholic nostalgia for that passage from juvenile to adult — what I like to generalize as “the awkward years.” Black Hole, a graphic collection by Charles Burns, provides one of the darkest, most engrossing takes on “the awkward years” I’ve encountered — in any medium — ever.
Set in a 1970s Seattle suburb, Black Hole reveals a dark and hazy adolescent world where an unnamed sexually-transmitted disease works it way through the local teenage population causing the infected to mutate physically. Some grow tails, some shed their skin, some become more obviously (and more grotesquely) disfigured, but pretty much all of the infected become ostracized. As the infection spreads, alienated teens take refuge at a small camp colony in the nearby woods.
Our two protagonists, Chris, a girl who falls for the “foxiest” guy in school, and Keith, a mellow stoner who is seduced by an older girl, find themselves among the infected as a result of their impulsive, moony-eyed crushes. The fallout for each character proves tragic when murder occurs at the camp and divisions between the infected and uninfected result in violence.
Yes, this take on “the awkward years” stews in a melange of psychosexual delirium and violence rendered in Burns’ high-contrast black and white illustrations. But, while at times nightmarish, Black Hole does not totally cross over to weirdo teen stalker faire and remains grounded in emotional notes of desire crushed by heartache and adolescent ennui.
After reading the book in one sitting, I closed it tight, shed a tear for poor souls struggling to get through “the awkward years,” felt thankful for growing up, and immediately read it again. Fans of the The Virgin Suicides, David Cronenberg, Freaks and Geeks, David Lynch, J.D. Salinger, Dazed and Confused … this one’s for you.
Bo Baker is the Information Commons Librarian at UTC Library. He’s still a bit awkward.
Title: The Incal
By: Alejandro Jodorowsky & Moebius
Find it here: PN6747.J63 I532 2011 (3rd Floor)
Brian Says: I keep trying to picture the 1980s minus the ubiquitous Star Wars universe and its attendant paraphernalia. I imagine how different my impressionable childhood could have been, if instead the peculiar space opera The Incal had transitioned from comics books into movie theaters. If, rather than Hans Solo, I had been tossing “Entity Of Transdimensional Energy” action figures off rooftops or chewing on “Pyramid Island” LEGOs. Alas, some visions are better left to stew in the backwaters of cultural expression, where they can maintain the integrity of their idiosyncrasies.
So. The Incal. Intermittently released in French during the 1980s, the story introduces readers to what is affectionately referred to as the Jodoverse, a handful of psychedelic tales set in a corrupt intergalactic empire populated by Jungian archetypes made flesh. This collected edition (a gorgeous hardback from publisher Humanoids) finds Sasha Watson and Justin Kelly tackling translation duties. This couldn’t have been easy, as the language is an awkward mixture of new age platitudes, flexed action film dialogue, and Silver Age declarative statements.
The plot? An ignoble and disgraced P.I. named John DiFool attempts repeated evasions of a bloated empire across expanses of space and transfigurations of body. Why? Because he’s in possession of a mystical, sentient crystal (the titular Incal) that threatens to disrupt the stranglehold of decadent ruling powers. The cast of characters? Including: a talking seagull, an androgynous child-messiah, a reluctant mercenary, a conjoined telepathic emperoress, and…a renegade president whose consciousness is implanted into a giant red robot. It’s a cosmic Tom & Jerry cartoon filtered through bandes dessinées sensibilities. Anything more specific will only ruin the exceptional weirdness of what transpires between the first and last pages.
The art is a wonder to behold. Moebius (who died back in March after an illustrious career) realizes the abstractions of Jodorowsky’s text with a skill very few attain. And the colors come in palettes you don’t find in American comics. The Incal proves consistently visually mesmerizing, even if the reader is often left with the task of discerning what’s being put forward. What is clear is the collaborative spirit between genuinely imaginative creators. Recommended if you like your comics baffling and your heroes disjointed.
Brian Rogers is the Web Design & Instruction Librarian at UTC Library.
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