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X'ed Out (Pantheon Graphic Novels) Hardcover – October 19, 2010
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Fusing the unsettling kitsch of EC horror comics, the storytelling sensibility of Euro-classics like Tintin, and the astute observations about young adults that made Black Hole so engrossing, Burns has turned out a haunting first chapter in what promises to be a spellbinder. The opening pages flip among the various realities of Doug, a young man recovering from a head injury of some kind with only a box of pills and some strawberry Pop-Tarts to speed his recovery. Flashbacks and dreams switch among various scenes: Doug and his hypocrite father; a wild party gone awry when Doug's crush object's crazy (but unseen) boyfriend goes on a rampage; and, most mysteriously, another world--found behind a hole in a brick wall--where dead cats live, worms weep, and a giant hive rules a grim city of deformed creatures. Burns's control of the story is masterful--the recurring imagery make it unclear just which is the reality and which is the dream. His sharply delineated art captures a grotesque yet sympathetic view of kids thrust far beyond a world that they can control or even understand. The only disappointment about X'ed Out is its brevity--the first of several installments, it will leave you begging for the rest of the story.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
The latest work from Burns, who is known for his weirdly cryptic yet strangely comedic graphic novels, may be his most enigmatic effort yet. It opens with Doug, a young student with an unspecified head injury, recalling a dream—or is it?—in which he follows his dead cat, Inky, into a bizarre, devastated environment populated by lizard-faced men and other grotesque creatures. Doug’s waking life is nearly as disturbing: his mother is mostly absent, his father is zoned out, and the object of his affections, a girl from his photography class, has a violent but mysteriously unseen boyfriend. Burns’ neurotically precise, high-contrast artwork evokes a surface normalcy that makes the underlying creepiness all the more disconcerting. This too-brief volume—the first in a series—is tantalizing but frustrating, raising questions that readers can only hope will be answered in future installments: What is the nature of the injury that’s left Doug largely bedridden and dependent on pills? Where will the ominous relationship with his classmate lead? And what’s with all the Tintin references that permeate the tale? --Gordon Flagg
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X'ed Out is the first book in what will ultimately be a three volume series. The format of the book is based on a European comic album (Tim Hensley's Wally Gropius, released earlier this year, is presented similarly) and is printed in beautiful full color (Burns' work is normally presented in a strikingly graphic black and white). On one side of this checkerboard of a story is Doug, an art school student in 1970's America who reads his William Burroughs inspired poetry at punk shows and snaps photos with his Polaroid SX-70 instant camera; on the other side is Doug's dream-world alter-ego Nitnit, a character homage to one of modern comics more important ancestors, Hergé's Tintin. For the story, Burns' drew on his own subconscious influences and conscious memories, collected over the span of his lifetime and arranged à la Burroughs' cut-up into the final product.
Tintin, though, is perhaps the most important influence found in the pages of X'ed Out. Burns' has been creating loving tributes to the adventurous boy reporter and his band of misfit friends for some time now -- the back cover of his 1992 collection Blood Club and the endpapers of 1999's El Borbah are both direct references to images from the original Tintin albums, in both cases a cast of Burns' own characters replacing Hergé's.
A quote from "Dr. Jerry" (Burns himself) on the back of Blood Club reads:
Pictures within pictures for children who aren't quite sure what they're looking at.
Burns was introduced to the Tintin series when he was a young child, even before he could read the text in the speech bubbles. His family owned just a few of the volumes, so the drawings he saw on the back cover and endpapers would fill him with intrigue, offering only the most frustratingly small clues to the adventures awaiting him in the other books, unknown characters and places. Later on in his youth, a friend showed him a French language version of The Shooting Star (the Tintin book from which X'ed Out borrows its cover imagery), and once again blocked by a language barrier, Burns was unable to read the whole story.
X'ed Out, like Burns' early experience with Tintin, is a tale of fragmented and missing pieces. Burns (no surprise here) employs the comic book medium with mastery, pushing the unique visual strengths of the medium to their maximum potential. The book becomes a flip-through puzzle, a dreamy labyrinth of colors and snapshot memories. Solid color panels (like the black and red panels mentioned at the start) litter the book, serving as bumps between moments in time and space and creating a tense psychological atmosphere by teasing out connections that may or may not have any significance (notice, for example, the color of the green panel below compared to the color of Sarah's shirt).
Repeating images do the same -- the endpapers offer up a few of the more frequently used, like a running river, Mary with the Christ-child, and fetal pig in a jar, to name a few. These repetitions don't answer any questions but instead build up the importance of certain moments in the story and tie them together emotionally -- for example, Nitnit is awoken on the first page by a BZZZZZ which readers can link to the BZZZZZZ! of Sarah's intercom, or even to the ZZZZZ of Doug's tape player during his performance. And I would be remiss if I failed to mention the eggs, oh those eggs! "You like eggs, right?"
As if this all weren't enough, hardcore fans of Burns or X'ed Out will be pleased to know that much more of the story of Doug and Nitnit exists outside of this volume (or even the following two). Monthly magazine The Believer has already published a few of what Burns has called "sketchbook" comic strips under the title Random Access, small snippets of inspiration which may or may not have anything to do with the final story (though one strip does feature a lot of eggs). Inspired by Chinese bootleg versions of Tintin books, Burns has also been working on a series of "foreign cover" prints of Nitnit comic album covers, and will soon be publishing in France his own limited edition "knockoff" of X'ed Out. His "pirated" version will tell a completely different narrative by rearranging the panels of the original comic. It will be printed in just one color, and will be written in a made-up language of Burns' design (recall the noseless man who tries to sell Nitnit that terrified grub-creature, or the text in the ads and posters in Nitnit's world). X'ed Out alone is a terrific comic that fans can really dig deep into, but by telling such a story through so many different channels, Burns has elevated not just his own art, but comic art in general.
The combination of reality and fantasy is like a fever dream. This was a quick read, but I find my mind frequently returning to it. It is a story that I cannot wait to continue.
This book is a great gift if you don't know what to give someone. It will make you look hip and they will appreciate it.
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- the artwork. Charles Burns is, in my opinion, an incredible artist.Read more