Emma Peel Sessions 54 – Burroughs without the sex, Herge without the heart.

X’ed Out
Charles Burns
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This is an awful piece of shit.

Burroughs and Tintin. Hey, I love Burroughs and Tintin. You know what I hate? This. I hated Black Hole almost as much as I hate this. Coming of age stories are just poison to me – reek of all the horrible coming of age stories ever written about white boys in the suburbs discovering their sexuality, and adulthood and all that garbage, I fucking hate that shit. Which is why I read, and hated every single page of Black Hole. Burns is an amazing artist, I mean anyone could see that the guy is profoundly talented, but as a writer? The guy is atrocious, Black Hole is a collection of 90s cliches strung together, from the 70s setting to the Spanking The Monkey approach to “frank” sexuality to the “slacker” cast on down, the only element of it that works at all is the body horror aspect. If I’m being honest, the entire approach to the deformities always rubbed me the wrong way. I’ve been a Cronenberg fan since before I understood how sexual his approach to the body was, and as an adult I can still watch any of his films and experience them both intellectually and viscerally. The body is both a theoretical battleground and a messy physical object. Cronenberg himself doesn’t fully understand what he’s grappling with – misogyny, violence in sex, homosexuality – the body is porous and changes along the psychological lines of the characters. Black Hole, while it was drawn gorgeously, approached the same ideas in a way that makes Cronenberg’s early near-porn works Shivers and Rabid seem downright baroque in their psychological rigor. Reading the collected Black Hole made me angry in general at all the people who treated it as a great work of art, and Burns himself as someone who could be stunningly gifted in one realm completely giving him a pass for being a terrible writer.

But that was a few years ago, and I generally distrust my opinions on things when they are aimed at my specified interests (in this case “body horror”), and X’ed Out is released. To fairly resounding praise (Abhay hadn’t review it yet). So I bought it, I thought the idea of Tintin traveling through Interzone sounded far enough away from coming of age and the 70s and Baby’s First Body Horror Reader. I bought it, because I am an idiot who actually listens to people, and the preview art looked great. I paid $20 for this. Those Tintin books that have 3 reprints in one are only $18.

My problem with X’ed Out is that I could give a fuck about some shithead with his horrible 70s haircut that I could have sat next to in an art class yesterday. Or his girlfriend who cuts herself. I could give a shit abouti that same guy reading his poetry, or eating pop tarts off the floor. I could give a fuck about his girlfriend making out with some other girl with the same shitty 70s haircut and acne. I don’t see how anyone could care about this whiny little shit with a headwound who reads poetry in a Tintin mask to punk kids in some ill-defined time period (80s? 90s? TODAY?). Ooh look he drew Patti Smith, hoo-fucking-ray. This seems intentionally dated and irrelevant, it feels like the kind of work made by someone whose tastes atrophied at least 15 years ago.

Some kid in a local punk scene, his girlfriend who is suicidal and bi-curious, a guy who lives with his dad and eats a lot of pop tarts and is obsessed with photo albums (full of Polaroids, so… not this decade) and a comic book character? If I’m being honest, the whole 90s alt-thing never sat right with me, and it’s probably why I spent so damn long avoiding Fantagraphics’ output until just recently (now? They publish Prison Pit and hire Jog for columns, I’ll fucks with them all day long), is because it always felt instantly dated to 1994. I was 9 in 1994, I have no interest in going back there mentally unless you are talking about rap music or Mike Allred comics. X’ed Out is the most 90s thing to be released in 2011, it feels like. Sure, Burroughs and Tintin are things that are certainly relevant to today, even though their heyday was decades ago. As is an american comic being designed to mimic a european album. There is some really interesting thematic ground to be covered in the intersection between the boy’s detective travelogue that is Tintin and the use of travelogue in Burroughs work to create fictional spaces out of real locations… but it’s all being told in this story that is actively working on the last raw nerve of 90s nostalgia.

Here’s the real problem – this isn’t that comic about the exploration of common ground between two disparate sections of popular culture, it’s another goddamn coming of age story about well, a character that is barely fleshed out but still manages to grate on the reader with every line of dialog. The majority of the pages are about a kid with a head injury who spends his days in bed. The story is carried on by inertia alone. There is an attempt to use black and color-coded panels to create a sense of transition and incompleteness, but in execution feels like padding. For a story which seems like it would have to actually put some effort in to feel lazy. When it isn’t wallowing in characters who mean nothing, it presents a (gorgeously drawn) fantasia of signifiers and icons in place of actually developed imagery unique to itself. Lizard Men in Business Suits! Gigantic Eggs with Red Spot Patterns! A Pig Fetus In A Jar! A Handful of Pills! What does any of it mean?

Nothing. It means nothing.

Tintin in Tibet is one of the greatest works in the history of comics as a medium. Naked Lunch is the greatest science fiction novel ever published in any language. They are profound works made by creators who had a lot to say, created from whole cloth while still owing much to the people who came before them. They speak to the incompatibility of their authors with the world around them, and their need to create something fictional that still documented their experience whether that meant obsessively researched comics or cut-ups written in blackouts, assembled by others into a comprehensible whole.

X’ed Out is meaningless and empty. There’s nothing here to talk about.

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-Sean Witzke, April 2011

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About sean witzke

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4 Responses to Emma Peel Sessions 54 – Burroughs without the sex, Herge without the heart.

  1. DerikB says:

    That was refreshing.

  2. Dylan says:

    I read X’ed Out twice to see if I could catch what everybody else was raving about and yeah, I agree with you 100%. Thanks for saying it.

  3. itzaviv says:

    Ever since Black Hole I hoped he won’t be writing his own comics anymore because holy crap that was the worst. But oh well… guess that’s not happening. What’s really bad about X’ed Out though is that it could have actually been great, not just look great. What a waste. I’ll be reading the rest of it just for the art… I can’t help it, he’s amazing.

  4. Pingback: 4thletter! » Blog Archive » The Cipher 04/06/11: “Imagine if this was the last rhyme I ever wrote”

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