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This is a very clever idea for a book: a new STD appears among a group of teenagers. This particular STD causes the body to be "disfigured" in unpredictable and grotesque ways. A kid might grow a tail, or an extra mouth, or webbed fingers... It quickly makes these young people outcasts, who have to try to figure out what to do with themselves. Some try to hide their differences and fit in while others take to the woods and live on their own.

The artwork here is also very good. The story is told in black and white but much heavier on the black than the white. Some pages seem almost completely awash in ink with only pinpricks and slashes of white showing through to create the images. It is beautiful and eerie, completely appropriate to the story.

If there is a weakness here it is that the story doesn't quite live up to the set-up and the art. The plot builds only very gradually and the pay-off isn't really worth the time invested in getting to it. It felt like Mr. Burns got a bit weary, and ended things quickly with a cliché-ridden bow. Still, for the most part, there's a lot to enjoy.
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on September 3, 2010
Having lived in Seattle for six years while I was in college, the haunts that the characters inhabit seem especially vivid to me. The author absolutely nails the feeling of the region which gives me goosebumps upon reading. The reader can feel the setting getting in to their bones, inhabiting their moods. It is not a stretch to imagine the outsiders (myself included at the time) who hung out at Ravenna park to be infected with some sort of disease. One of the beauties of this story is how the author expands on the troubles of adolescence. The alienation is cast more clearly when it is found out that many of the teenagers have diseases that turn their bodies in to disgusting writhing masses. Youthful sexual encounters are tainted when naked bodies expose the ugliness within. While not much more than a collection of scenes, this book captures the feeling of youth as well as any other author. Adolescence is a time when people feel awkward about who they are. Not yet intelligent enough or self-aware to be confident in who they are, they float in some sort of netherworld between a childish innocence and a purpose-driven adulthood. Some teenagers, often the popular ones, through ignorance innocently pretend to have their act together, to know what is going on. But they too can catch the disease of social awkwardness and self-doubt as the characters in the book catch a much more horrid disease. The outcasts who are infected with this awkward disease yearn to be normal. They construct collages of normal bodies in hopes of understanding their sexuality. The normal kids come upon these collages and are horrified for the window in to self-doubt that is opening to them. This is the feeling of adolescence. No other book I've read does as good a job of capturing this fascinating period.
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on February 10, 2014
I first remember reading Charles Burns in RAW magazine back in the 1980s, and his work still has the ability to unsettle even the most jaded reader. Whether it is the stark black and white drawings (which have the feel of an alien woodcut) or the topics (which take the alienation of teenagers and misfits seriously, without a wink or a nudge) it is hard to read Burns without being awed and horrified in equal measure. Black Hole is Burns' magnum opus, and it is worth every chilling panel - a virus spread by sexual contact is ravaging a group of teenagers in the 1970s, but there is so much more to this book than the superficial plot. One day, Burns may be thought of in the same category as Roberto Bolano and other literary stars with a passion for the disturbing. One can only hope so, at least - highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon March 17, 2006
The artwork of the graphic novel is impeccable as is its presentation. The drawings within are remarkably perfect and for once, you have no trouble differentiating between characters, environments and interpreting the images. The book is a solid (like a big textbook) hardback decorated with more of Mr. Burns remarkable art.

The story is not as straight forward as might seem apparent. The artist/author has crafted a tale of a sexually transmitted disease that, on its surface, appears horrific (varied external mutations) and ostracizing. But the deeper story is a dystopic one of the alienation of youth. The period of the story, the 1970s is a perfect one. That was the decade I grew up and much of what takes place aligns very well with my memories. Everything from songs, to images to little touches that the artist supplies.

I won't pretend that there aren't repellent images and thoughts within. The artist does not stay away from portraying nudity and sex with his characters. Instead, he tries to use these images to show vulnerability and the same kind of confused inner life that we experienced and survived back when we were teenagers.

In my humble opinion, I believe Black Hole is a remarkable story, one that they are already talking about making into a film (which part is John Cusack talking about playing??) that I plan to revisit.

The only negative to this review is that the story can be confusing at times. It is not entirely linear and it is unclear what is real or delusion within the mythology of the story. But let's face it, if it was completely clear and straight forward, it would have been boring. Half the fun is decoding Mr. Burns' tale.
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on April 9, 2010
Years ago I picked up the first two or three issues of Burns' BLACK HOLE comic series but then could never track down the rest of them. I finally bought this collection and am very glad I did. The original series was published over something like ten years. I can't imagine trying to follow this story stretched out over such a long period of time! I read this collection over several hours on a vacation day and I think that's the way to go. The price of this book is equal to about three or four of the individual comics so there's another reason to go with this format. I'm normally a more mainstream, superhero comics guy, however I consider myself a huge fan of the comic book medium in general and BLACK HOLE is certainly a fascinating work of sequential art. Burns' artwork is really impressive. The details on his close up shots of everyday items, the way everyone looks like a real person and some intricate scenery shots steal the show. Content wise, I would recommend you know what you're getting into before buying this book. In movie terms it would be a very hard R-rated film.
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on December 22, 2008
I suppose I'm grateful to have stumbled upon this book now, as it's available all in one piece, as opposed to as the serials which were released over a 10-year time period. It would've been hard to wait that long to read more!

This book was recommended to me by a community interested in "disturbing books." How right they were, but in the best possible way. I've scarcely read anything that was so surreal, and yet still seemed so in touch and to perfectly describe the unbearable awkwardness and insecurity of being a teenager, with your hormones developing faster than your brain could keep up.

Everything in this book feels disturbingly familiar, and yet surprisingly alien, all at once, which is part of it's genius. While you feel so in touch with the characters, having experienced that awkwardness, that young love, and that desperate longing for sex, coupled with the intense fear of the consequences, everything seems just a tiny bit...off. Just far enough from reality, just surreal enough to keep you on your toes.

I would highly recommend this book, and am already trying to pass it on to friends to share the read. The book is overall very strong, and I did not find it predictable, pandering or even boring at any point, which is saying a lot. I will agree with some of the other reviews - the two biggest complaints would be that I absolutely wanted more, more of everything, and the fact that one storyline ends...in a way that feels mildly like trying too hard for a happy ending for someone, when you might not believe it could be.

Again, overall...I really recommend this book. If you're into graphic novels, if you liked Ghost World, or if you're just looking for something a bit disturbing, make the time to read it. You won't be sorry.
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on February 2, 2017
I really enjoyed this graphic novel. It may be unsettling for some people, but most young adults will probably be able to relate to the characters of the book. Not for squeamish readers, this book contains copious amounts of explicit nudity, drug use, and violence.

Printing is decent: large pages fully display the intricacies of Charles Burns's beautiful art, but as a paperback, this book is easily damaged.
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on July 18, 2013
I had no idea that a book could make me feel this way. This book is incredible.

The book itself is very weird at times but it pleads with you to just go with it. I don't know of any other book that is like this. The book itself has a very unique way of portraying what it feels like to be in a social setting like highschool. The characters are put in strange situations which lead to even stranger decisions.

This book is for somebody who has read "The Walking Dead" and is looking to explore the vast world of graphic novels that are out there.
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on December 17, 2017
A very dark (and not just the inking) graphic novel. It is as contagious as the STD depicted in the story... I could not put the book down.
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on September 16, 2012
With Black Hole, Charles Burns knocks it out of the park. This one is a bit hard to describe--1970's drugs, sex, teenage angst, and--well--the plague. It is one part horror comic, one part character study, and one part an ingenious look at the complex relationship of teens struggling to fit in, like an Archie comic on acid. Beautifully rendered in bold black and white, Black Hole leaves an impression. It will leave you thinking of the character Chris long after you have turned the last page. Highly recommended.
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