Art by: Charles Burns
Publisher: Pantheon Books (US), Jonathan Cape (UK)
First published: 2010
Apart from the obvious fact that Charles Burns’s chosen creative medium is comics, you could be forgiven for assuming that the gravitational pull of his influences drag him more towards B-movies than graphic novels. But with X’ed Out, Burns draws heavily on an obvious love of Tintin to create an incredible post-apocalyptic dreamscape, integrated into the usual Burnsian world of teenage angst, illness and ennui.
The hero, Doug, is a typical Burns protagonist – a young man trying to chart a course through his late adolescence. He finds it difficult to relate to others, wishing his circumstances were better but seemingly incapable of escaping a genetic cycle of dysfunctionality he shares with his father.
Doug doesn’t help himself though, being obsessed with taking Polaroid self-portraits, reading Tintin books and performing dreary Burroughs-inspired poetry at open-mike sessions in front of teen audiences – cool, wannabe punks who’d rather listen to bands than watch naive teenage poets.
Then, in his dreams and hallucinations Doug becomes a Tintin-inspired character called Nitnit. Here he explores an ugly, post-catastrophic flood world, peopled by lizard-faced humanoids and assorted malformed and mutated creatures.
This dream-world takes over more and more of Doug’s waking life as he drifts in and out of a drug induced semi-consciousness, lying on a sofa bed in his mother’s basement. He shaves his head, leaving just a quiff like his alter-ego, and lives on Pop Tarts.
Burns flips artistic styles between dream and reality, with the ‘real’ sections in his regular style (though in full colour) and the dreams turning into a clear line style, in homage to Hergé.
Perhaps unfortunately, at 56 pages, this is a short read that doesn’t finish – it’s only volume one of a multi-part graphic novel that’s due to be published, at least initially, in separate volumes. This is, perhaps, another inspiration from the continental European style of comic publishing.
It’s a cracking read though, and fans of Burns’s feverish, teen-angst weirdness will be right at home. It’s dark, deeply layered and very, very strange. Its short length and unfinished nature is a limited disappointment but only because we’re so desperate to read more. It’s certainly well worth living with for more amazing output from a true modern master of comics.
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