Charles Burns' new graphic novel: X'ed Out -- exclusive preview


(First, let's get this out of the way. Yep.)

Charles Burns' new graphic novel, X'ed Out is the 56-page beginning of a longer work to be published by Pantheon. I don't know if it will end up being as massive as Burns' epic-length Black Hole, but if X'ed Out continues to be as terrifically creepy as this first installment, I hope it goes on for a very long time.

Like Black Hole, X'ed Out features artsy, angsty, twinpeaksy teens who take drugs and engage in risky behavior, but it's more hallucinatory than Black Hole. The story here bounces back and forth between Doug -- a student who does a performance art gig wearing a Tintin mask while reciting William Burroughs-inspired cut-up poetry (Doug goes by the moniker Nitnit and Johnny 23) -- and an otherworldly character who looks like a cross between Tintin and Doug. Their stories parallel one another's in several ways (for instance, both have bandaged heads -- for unknown reasons.) Both Doug and TinTin-Doug seem to think that the other character is merely a hard-to-remember dream.


One major chunk of the story focuses on Doug's fascination and blossoming relationship with Sarah, a girl in his photography class who takes portraits of herself nude and tied up. ("If you got your hands tied behind your back, who's takin' the picture?" asks one of her classmates. Sarah doesn't answer, but an obvious guess would her unseen, scary, and jealous boyfriend.) The other part of the story follows Tintin-Doug as he wanders in a daze through a vaguely middle eastern village populated by monsters and misfits. He teams up with a dicey little fellow with a backpack who becomes his guide in this mysterious world. (The preview that follows this review will introduce you to him.)

I've really just scratched the surface here. There is something going on with an older man who appears to be both a stranger, Doug's father, and an older version of Doug. There's also images of fetal, dead, grublike creatures that pop up in different guises every few pages.

I loved every second of this book. Unfortunately, it took only 45 minutes to read it (though I did go back through it to appreciate Burns' exquisitely rendered art), and I know that I'll have to wait for many months before the next issue comes out.



Copyright © 2010 By Charles Burns. Used with permission of Pantheon Books.

Buy X'ed Out on Amazon


  1. Kosmoid: I read an interview in which CB says that the other Doug is indeed influenced by Tintin.
    I think I also read that this is the first of 3 parts, I’m guessing they will all be of about the same length as this one. I can’t imagine how all of the questions raised in this first part can be answered if this is the case – it definitely has me gripped!

  2. Definitely made me think of Tintin too, particularly with the cover being an obvious homage to The Shooting Star.

      1. Coincidence? But…you just said…

        My sarcasm meter is off, I think, but if that’s a coincidence that suggests the author doesn’t know much about comic books, which I find doubtful…I think it’s a hommage. I like it,

        But, funny how the cover art looks so much different than the inside art! Or is that just on the panels you showed?

        1. The panels shown are from the Nitnit (Tintin-Doug) sections, which are deliberately drawn Herge style. The Doug sections are more like the cover.

          And I’m sure Mark’s joking, there’s no way it’s coincidence (the whole book it littered with obvious Tintin references.)

          1. I thought Nitnit was Doug dressed up as Tintin, and these panels show Tintin-Doug.

            I’m guessing Tintin-Doug doesn’t have a name, but Tintin-Doug is what Doug calls him.

            I don’t know what Tintin-Doug thinks Doug’s name is when he’s dreaming of him. I don’t assign names to people in my dreams.

            And who’s Johnny 23?

            Mark, I’m sorry this is probably a very interesting book with a good premise, and I was too quick to judge without fully comprehending your post. It happens.

        1. Really? I had no idea that it was a reference to the shooting star cover, Anon. I just randomly added the link to the shooting star cover in the very first sentence of my review. What are the odds?!?

  3. Grotesque is relatively easy because so much of it is human-made. Beauty, on the other hand, is much more challenging. That’s why I seek it out, and let this kind of grotesquerie fall by the wayside.

  4. So far three people have brought up the Tintin Shooting Star cover, even though I mentioned it and linked to the cover in the very first sentence of my review. Interesting. I’m guessing they didn’t bother reading what I wrote and went straight for the art. I guess I can’t blame them.

    1. I did check the link, and read what you wrote, Mark. That’s why I was confused about your replies. They sounded straightforward, but contradicted what you wrote earlier.

      (like I said, my sarcasm meter is off)

      I guess one has to actually see the book not to be confused, cause it does look really crazy. From what little we see the most obvious (and clearest) thing is it resembles Tintin so I’m not surprised people still want to talk about that even though you already mentioned it.

  5. This was one weird graphic novel. And yes, the artist plays homage to Tintin. You can tell right from the cover with the red and white mushrooms. I didn’t really get the story. Maybe if there are more to come it will make more sense?

  6. IMO this artist is steeped in Herge.

    Just look at the last pic of the noseless guy… despite a slightly different style using more detail, the aesthetic similarity is uncanny… proportions identical.

    This is indeed Tintin on the brown acid.

  7. @ Davechua

    If you want to read the thing as a whole I’d say wait. But that would be the only reason, Burns said outright that all three volumes are meant to stand alone and won’t be put into one collection.


    “This is the first volume of a series of three. From your perspective, are you thinking of them as three individual volumes?

    Without giving things away, there is a reason for that. There will be three specific time periods that these books take place in. There’s a reason for that. There is certainly the traditional cliffhanger ending, which I couldn’t resist, but yeah, there’s a reason for it being split into three books.”

    —- from his interview at CBR

    Great article and even better book, read them both!!

  8. I don’t really follow comics, graphic novels, etc… But I want this. It gives me the same twisted-gut feeling I got while reading a certain issue of Eerie magazine when I was a kid… Someone mentioned the fine balance of beauty and grotesque, hitting the nail squarely on the head.

  9. I saw Charles speak here in Chicago about the book. He said the Tintin inspiration is from looking at those books when he was a child before he could even read (hence the unreadable ballons from the noseless guy). He wanted to recreate some of the experiences of trying to glean information from what your seeing whether you could read the words or not. The art-school Nitnit (Tintin backwards) is semi-biographical.
    He also mentioned he was halfway through drawing the second of the three books.

  10. Doesn`t Anyone See the very obvious William Burroughs influence


    Not only to the fact that this is going to be a Trilogy of Graphic

    Novels… very similar to Burroughs’ The Soft Machine,Nova Express

    and The Ticket that Exploded ,but also

    Burns’ X`ed Out seems to have no real Beginning or an End, again not

    unlike Burroughs’Famous Cut-Up Technique…Plus also the

    Fact that the Doug`s Hero in Burns’Graphic Novel is…You

    Guessed it…William Burroughs !!! A great interview with the

    Master Himself ….on Belgian T.V. Where He Talks

    on Black Hole and X`ed Out…

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