Charles Burns has proved over the past two decades that his graphic novels are well worth waiting for. And it looks like he's ready to put that theory to the test once again.
X'ed Out, the long-awaited follow-up to Burns' multiple-award-winning opus, BlackHole, hit bookshelves this week, prompting two immediate questions: Will readers have to wait 11 years for the whole story like they did with his last effort. And is he actually working in colour?
"It's not that I'm turning my back on doing things in black and white, because I've always enjoyed that, obviously. I think every comic I've done so far has been in black and white, " Burns, a featured guest at the recent 2010 International Festival of Authors, tells the Star via phone from his Philadelphia home. "(But) it's like having another set of tools to use."
Burns also notes the use of colour helps emphasize the differences between this book and his past work.
"I had a couple of false starts (on X'ed Out) and I think I realized that at first I was kind of imitating myself, which is pretty typical, " he says. "I think whenever you're done with a long project, you end up kind of falling back on what you know.
"I really wanted to do something different or push myself in a different direction. I took on this format, I took on a colour comic all with the idea of having this, not experimental, but different style of storytelling; just trying to put together ideas in a different way."
The result is a highly unconventional, though extremely intriguing tale, which revolves around a young man named Doug, who sports a bandage on his head, is taking handfuls of opiates and has some of the weirdest dreams you'll ever see.
"He's obviously had some sort of physical, and what seems like mental, trauma take place, " says the 55-year-old Burns. "The story focuses around him and his struggle to come to terms with that trauma."
Being the first volume in a series, and a mere 56 pages, X'ed Out may seem like just an appetizer to those hungry for more, but he insists the payoff will be worth it.
"The first book really introduces a lot of pieces, a lot of conflicts, a lot of mysteries, " Burns says. "There's all these little threads that are introduced that will be followed through on in the following books."
As for the first question on readers' minds - how long a wait until the next volume? - Burns says not to panic: He's got a plan.
"The style of it, or the look of it, is based on the kind of Franco-Belgian album format, like Tintin, and the idea that it be a series of books, " he says. "Originally I was going to do two, so it would be like Tintin in Destination Moon and then Explorers on the Moon. As I've been working, I realized that I'll need three volumes to put everything together."
The second volume is already "well underway, " he says with the tongue-in-cheek caveat, "But I am slow. In many ways."
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)
October 17, 2010 | Trades
Reading Chew will turn your stomach. That's not exactly the ringing endorsement the hottest new comic of the past year deserves, but it's the honest truth for this delightful hybrid of Fear Factor and Law and Order. Having to witness U.S. Food and Drug Administration agent Tony Chiu noshing on everything from a decomposing finger to a cremated human being to a serial killer's face is enough for the hardiest stomach.
The twist in Chew: The Omnivore Edition Vol. 1 (Image Comics, 264 pages, $36.95) - a deluxe hardcover collection of the first 10 issues of the series that claimed both the 2010 Eisner and Harvey Awards for best new series - is that Chiu has the rare ability to get psychic visions about everything he consumes. This makes him the perfect man to solve crimes no one else can. In a world where 23 million people have died from avian flu, eating chicken is a crime and the black market for eggs and poultry is booming, he's got a lot of work on his plate.
The talented tandem of writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory have served up something special in Chew. It's worth skipping lunch for.
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)
The comic strips that detail the sordid, often surreal adventures of Julia Wertz's life could have aptly and perhaps more cleverly, been called For Better or For Wertz or From Bad to Wertz. Everything you need to know about how this talented young cartoonist approaches her life and work can be understood by learning what she did call the strip: The Fart Party.
That title, and the title of her new book, Drinking at the Movies (Three Rivers Press, 192 pages, $17), is the perfect test to see if you're a Wertz kind of reader. Either you think it's juvenile and turn up your nose, or you smile and pick it up.
Those so inclined are rewarded with some spectacularly raw, cute and clever autobiographical strips, dealing with such subjects as public urination, drinking, personal hygiene, drinking, how to lose a job, drinking, American politics and drinking. Chronicling Wertz's transition from San Franciscan to New Yorker, and from miserable barista to miserable cartoonist, Drinking at the Movies presents a remarkably identifiable sequence of events for those with vivid memories of barely surviving their 20s.
She does a great job capturing the confusion and exhilaration of being young and trying to figure out your place in the world without resorting to the usual saccharine fare that dominates autobiographical comics. The book even has, perhaps in spite of the chronically acerbic Wertz herself, a reasonably happy ending.
(This article was first published in the Toronto Star)