In Review: X’ed Out by Charles Burns

By: Charles Burns
Publisher: Jonathan Cape (UK) Pantheon (US)
Out: 7th October (UK) 19th October (US)

The Book:  Meet Doug, aspiring young artist. He’s having a strange night. A weird buzzing noise on the other side of the wall has woken him up, and there across the room, next to a huge hole torn out of the bricks, sits his beloved cat Inky. Who died years ago. But that’s no longer the case, as he slinks through the hole, beckoning Doug to follow. So he does. Now there’s no turning back. What the heck is going on?

To say much more would spoil the creepy, Burnsian fun, especially since – unlike Black HoleX’ed Out has not been previously serialised anywhere and will have readers guessing at every unnervingly meticulous panel. Drawing inspiration from such diverse influences as Herge and William Burroughs, X’ed Out is an engrossing new comic book fever-dream, from a true master of the form at the height of his powers.

The Review: The Urban Dictionary defines ‘X’ed Out’ as “Something formerly important that is no longer significant. Well, Charles Burns X’ed Out is definitely significant, simply for its stunning art and disturbing but effective storytelling, following artist Doug on a bizarre trip between reality and dream.

Throughout, despite the book’s description of the central character, the reader is left unsettled as to who Doug really is, as he explores a strange world of weird alien creatures in a chaotic, insane world, all the time ‘flashing back’ to his real world past and the events that led up to him being plunged into nightmare. Is he really the young artist as portrayed, or someone else? Burns, I gather, is a creator much focused on matters of identity, and protagonist Doug is certainly unsure of who he is, in both real world and dream state. His relationships with women and monsters might help him ‘find himself’ eventually but since this is the first of a series of graphic novels, matters are left unsurprisingly unresolved by the tale’s end.

Ending a graphic album on a cliffhanger these days says a lot for the publishers confidence in sales and X’ed Out is a satisfying, engrossing read, with Burns delivering some of his best comics art yet. While comic fans will delight in spotting the references (among them, most obviously, the TinTin book Shooting Star), the story’s the thing, and this mind-boggling adventure delivers. Definitely worth tracking down.

The series will continue with The Hive, but no release date has been announced as yet.

If you are in the US, Burns will be giving a slide talk, art exhibition and book signing at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Seattle on Saturday 30th October – a perfect Hallowe’en eve occasion. Among many other events, he’s also appearing at New York’s Strand bookstore on 21st October – more info here on the New York Daily News site.

More Reviews

Biblioklet: Charles Burns X-ed Out is Fantastic
“It’s weird, wild stuff, working in the idioms of William Burroughs and Hergé, brimming with punk rock energy and druggy art madness.”

Financial Times
X’ed Out is designed in full colour but its seamless and troubling transitions between dream and waking, the real and the imagined, show that Burns has lost none of his touch. Its teen protagonist is confined to bed, gobbling pain pills after a mysterious head injury and afraid to leave the house.”

“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.”

Middleton and Fermoy Books
“This novel is concerned with Burns’ enduring preoccupation with identity, the ability to cover or alter yourself, the wish to transform and become a new person – that a person may indeed be ‘X’ed Out’. Doug’s head wound is clearly visible as a result of having his head shaved, his ‘affliction’ is in plain sight. Doug can not cover the cause of his suffering, but can Doug transform himself? The eternal teenage quest for identity.


Boing Boing: A Q& A with Charles Burns and Gary Panter
February 2010

The Daily Cross Hatch: An interview between Charles Burns and Brian Heater

November 2008 – Burns talks about Black Hole (Part 1Part 2Part 3)

Check out this overview of a 2008 Charles Burns exhibition in New York

Charles Burns on ArtNet

More Charles Burns books from Fantagraphics

Charles Burns: Wikipedia Entry

Categories: British Comics

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