There have been many novels, graphic or otherwise, about the feelings of isolation and rejection that most of us experience during high school. But few have handled this type of story with the such a skillful and grotesque treatment. In Black Hole, a new disease has emerged among the teenagers in a 1970's Seattle suburb. A disease that is passed through sexual contact and leads to monstrous changes in those infected. The story that unfolds is not a quest to cure "The Bug" or even to understand it. Instead, Charles Burns presents the story of five teenagers, some who are infected and some who aren't (yet). As we follow these characters, we see a drama of love, rejection, and acceptance.
Burns's art tends towards a stark black and white, with spare use of hatching to convey a sense of volume in his subjects. This art style lends itself well to the story the Burns is telling. His world is dark and scary, full of doubts. Burns harnesses his high contrast art style to great effect for a number of scenes that involve dreams and hallucinations. In these scenes, the dark inking vastly overwhelms the white space, highlighting the confusion of the characters.
Although there are some fantastical elements to the story, Black Hole is fundamentally about the struggles that the characters face. This, I feel, is one of the ultimate strengths of both Science Fiction and Fantasy. As discussed in above, Burns also uses dreams and drug induced visions frequently in the story. These narrative methods are used effectively for foreshadowing and examining inner conflict within the characters. Without spoiling it, the end of the story is rather grim for most of the main characters.
To summarize, Burns has produced a very compelling graphic novel. The dark nature of the story can make it somewhat difficult to read, and it may not have been the sort of novel that I would have selected to read on my own. However, I think Black Hole has a merit beyond mere entertainment and moves into the realm of literature.
Overall: 3.5 / 5