Charles Burns: X-Ed Man


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Charles Burns has gone from the back pages of arthouse comics to the front shelf of your local bookstore. His latest shows he will be there for a while.

It seems fitting that Charles Burns’ first published works appear in Heavy Metal and in RAW magazines, because it makes it easier to sum up his art. He seems to bridge the dark recesses between the popular hard science-fiction stories of the former and the artistic, thought provoking stories in the latter.

After all, Burns’ most famous characters include a 400-pound luchadore, a man with a dog’s heart transplanted into him, and big headed man-child. These are not your typical arthouse comic characters, yet are a little weirder than you’d find in your mainstream comic book.

The 400-pound luchadore, called El Borbah, first appeared in the pages of Heavy Metal in 1982. He was a hard-boiled private eye who just happened to be dressed as a Mexican wrestler. He would investigate cases involving teenagers with robot prosthesis’s rebelling against their parents, sperm donors who create an army out of their donations, and other bizarre sci-fi connect themes.

Burns and El Borbah soon made the move to Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman’s RAW Magazine. Burns would soon become a regular at the magazine, and he would create the Big Baby character there. After his involvement with RAW ended, he put out a graphic novel called Skin Deep, which featured a lead character who had a dog’s heart transplanted into his body.

During this time, Burns gained a cult following which garnered him work in other fields. He did album covers for the likes of Iggy Pop, illustrations for magazines like Esquire, The Believer and Time, advertising work for companies like Altoids and Coca-Cola, and had one of his stories, Dog Boy, animated and shown as part of MTV’s Liquid Television program.

In 1993, Burns started on the work that would launch him into the big time. Black Hole started as a 12-issue miniseries first at Kitchen Sink then moving to Fantagraphics. It told the story of a plague that could only be transmitted through sexually active teenagers. It won numerous industry awards and was optioned to be made into a major motion picture.

Black Hole is widely recognized as Burns’ greatest work to date. It has made The Comics Journal’s list of the “Top 100 English-Language Comics of the Century.” Naturally, this presents an immense challenge to Burns—how to follow that masterpiece up?

The answer begins this week as he and Pantheon Books bring us X’Ed Out. It is the first volume of a new series and the plot is something you’ve come to expect from Burns—a premise loaded with darkness and mystery with potential for a great deal of humor.

Doug is woken up by a strange buzzing sound coming from the other side of his wall. As he sits up, he sees across the room a hole torn out of the brick wall and his long dead cat Inky staring at him. This is the start of a long, strange adventure as Doug tries to find out what is real and what is not.

Since Burns has been growing as a creator with every book that he has done, there is an expectation that this new offering will be a masterpiece that will even surpass Black Hole. Whether it does or not is inconsequential. With a creator like Burns, you know whatever you get will be good.

Also out this week:

Vertigo Resurrected #1:

If you haven’t heard, this issue features a long hidden Hellblazer story that was originally intended to run back in 1999 in the ongoing title. The story involves school shootings, and in the post-Columbine world, DC thought it would be too risky to run as is. It was shelved and it looked like it would never see the light of day.

However, the recent upheaval at DC and the new powers in charge have a different opinion about the controversial story, and they decided that it shouldn’t remain on the shelf any longer. It will appear in this special, along with a sampling of rare and little seen stories by some of comicdom’s greatest creators.

Various (W), Various (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $7.99, Special.

Ghostbusters Holiday Special: What in Samhain Just Happened?!:

The Ghostbusters in a Halloween special just makes sense. They bust ghosts, ghosts are a popular part of Halloween, therefore the Ghostbusters are a perfect fit. But an even better fit is Peter David writing the Ghostbusters as part of this special. He is a master of writing licensed material, capturing the feel and tone of source material. His work on the Star Trek and Dark Tower comics is proof of that.

This special focuses on Janine, who has graduated from receptionist to a real Ghostbuster. When the guys don’t want to take a case in a haunted house because they think it’s a publicity stunt, she steps in to prove she can do the job all by herself. But the house turns out to really be haunted, and the task might be more than the whole team can handle.

Peter David (W), Dan Schoening (A), IDW Publishing, $3.99. Special.

Night of the Living Dead #1:

One of the creepiest things about the original Night of the Living Dead film, once you get past the horrific events taking place on the screen, was what might be happening elsewhere in the world. Is this zombie plague localized, or a global catastrophe? This miniseries goes back to the year the film was released to give us an answer to that question.

Washington, D.C. is undergoing an invasion by the most dangerous plague of its time—Vietnam War protestors. But while the hippies and peaceniks fill the town and clog the streets, what is following behind them is far worse. The undead are about to hit town, and they are completely bi-partisan. A crowded D.C. is about to become their all-you-can-eat buffet, and they won’t stop until they get to the White House.

Mike Wolfer & John Russo (W), Tomas Aria (A), Avatar Press, $3.99, Five-Issue Miniseries.

DCU Halloween Special 2010 #1:

Somebody at DC must really like doing these holiday specials. Over the last few years, they have been publishing these anthologies around every holiday. Since Halloween is just around the corner, it is time for DC to roll out another one of these specials.

These anthologies usually feature up and coming or little known creators working on the legendary characters of the DC Universe by putting them spooky stories. This year, it seems that Superman, Wonder Woman and the Teen Titans are making an appearance. Not every story is a gem in these kind of things, but you usually find a good one every now and then. It might be worth a shot if you are feeling adventurous.

Various (W/A), DC Comics, $4.99. Special.


William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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