Written and drawn by Charles Burns, Black Hole is like a bad LSD trip combined with a nightmare. With a distinct drawing style and interesting characters, Burns grabs your attention from the first page and doesn’t let go.
Black Hole tells the story of a very weird STD in the 70’s. Those who contract it begin to see horrific hallucinations, and have odd physical changes such as growing a tail or casting off their skin like a snake. The disease itself is hardly investigated or even talked about, and the cause or possible treatments are never examined. The story mainly focuses on a group of teens who either contract the disease or know someone that has it. While not a coming-of-age story in the traditional sense, Black Hole does explore how the various teens deal with the disease and how they change because of it, physically and mentally.
The comic was originally released as a 12-issue series between 1995 and 2005. It was released in a single trade that is a cross between a soft cover and a hardback. It looks and feels like a hardback, but the covers are flexible and lightweight like a paperback. From what I understand, there are some missing pages in the trade, but since I never read the singles I’m not sure what these may be. The book itself is bound very well, with hardback-style flaps that fold outward. On the front and back inside covers are a series of yearbook pictures. The inside of the front cover shows various characters in their “normal” state, while the inside of the back cover shows the same characters how they might look in a mutated state after contracting the disease.
Heavy black lines define the characters, while thin white lines against a wall of black define the backgrounds…often with as much as 90% of the frame taken up. The comic itself is not overly wordy, although there are some pages that will take a bit of time to read through. The layout is very rectangular in nature, and you won’t find yourself wondering which panel to read next (unlike Desolation Jones or Asterios Polyp.) It’s a decently long read; you could finish it in one extended sitting, but you will likely want to take a few nights to read through it. There is a lot to digest, and reading it too quickly will cause you to miss out on a lot of subtle nuances. Not to mention you will want to spend some time looking at the horrific things that the infected see or feel. Fair warning: drugs, sex, and nudity abound in this one. Definitely not one for the kiddies (not that I review many comics that ARE for the kiddies)
Black Hole is a fantastic comic, abundant in its lessons and imagery. If you are looking for a bit of a mind-bender, you can’t go wrong here.