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

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(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.

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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.


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

Buy X'ed Out on Amazon