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.