By Charles Burns
Barbican Comic Forum
00000000 / Kraken
There’s a part of me that wonders how smart Black Hole is.
(And there’s another part of me that wonders if that’s missing the point).
I mean – obviously Black Hole is a weird trippy dreamy comic right? All of your worst nightmares and darkest desires dipping in black ink and dripped across the page… And to scratch your chin and say “yeah – but what does this all mean?” feels a little like missing the point maybe: like – what does a sunset mean man? What does your face mean? What does this sentence even mean??
My own inner-mind personal theory of what art “is” is that they’re Meaning Firelighters. The bad ones just kinda sit there and don’t do anything even if you douse them in gasoline and use a million matches. But the good ones…. The good ones enter your mind and spark off all of these different thoughts and feelings and sensations inside you. That sunny day in the park. The way that people say “fuck.” A hand placed on the side of your face. Normal human cognition is standardised and routine: stuff goes in and things come out. The machine runs smoothly and the robot does what it’s supposed to. But a good piece of art is like a small stick of fudge placed into an “input” socket. It disrupts the organised running of your brain and makes things go different – so see things you’re not supposed to: run alien code and react in all sorts of involuntary ways… That’s what’s so good about it.
And so to ask what it means means that you miss it.
(Actually – maybe there’s a better term than “Meaning Firelighter” – and (I love it so much): symbolic object. Which I think I first heard in a news article that was like “earliest symbolic object discovered” and it was like a rock with a few lines on or something: but yeah – “symbolic object” is cool because it describes what it is and also how it works you know?).
I’m sure there’s probably a good dozen essays on the internet already that can tell you what Black Hole means and maybe sets down a timeline or two so that it all matches up and you can make it “make sense.” That’s like thinking that the meaning of a sunset is a scientific diagram of how the Earth moves around the sun as opposed to the experience of it.
The trouble with that line of thought is that it leads you into a bit of a cul-de-sac about how to actually write about this stuff. Like if the best way to understand Black Hole is to read Black Hole then what am I even writing for? Like maybe every review of every book or film or whatever should just be a link to the appropriate page on Amazon (or better yet: the location of the nearest library).
Also: I don’t know if it tells you how good this comic is: and like – that’s a helpful thing to be able to do right? (Some sunsets are better than others)
And well yeah: like I said right at the start – I’ve got question marks floating over the top of my head: because is there a way to get my teeth into how smart this comic is? Or – to put it another way: is Charles Burns just randomly making this shit up / guided by some animal instinct and letting the chips fall where they may – or is there some deeper order: are there effects and meanings that he’s trying to create? (Altho hell – LOL at myself for even thinking this way. It’s like with Lost and that ever-present complaint of: “They just made the whole thing up.” Which on the one hand is a real criticism about how maybe it seems to some people that there wasn’t really an over-arching order or explanation of what the mystery island was or stuff like that – and on the other hand: is actually an unknowing description of what all art is: some stuff that people made up. Symbolic objects).
I think the reason I’m a little skeptical maybe is that a few months ago I finally got round to reading his Last Look trilogy thing (X’ed Out / The Hive / Sugar Skull) and I think my reactions to that are kinda telling – mostly: right at the start when it doesn’t really make sense and are those different ideas and pictures juxtaposed against each other like a broken mirror I thought it was kinda cool and then towards the end when it started to wrap up and make sense I thought it was kinda lame. And it retroactivity made all the stuff that came before it seem lame too. You know –
“Oh yeah? All that cool stuff? That all just kinda meant – this”.
Me: “Oh. Ok then. Well – that’s a shame.”
But shit – you know: maybe that’s the bind right there? No one wants their symbolic objects to just be meaningless nonsense / meaningless noise (well ok – maybe there’s some people…) but at the same time you don’t want some trite little Hallmark sentiment at the end of the journey (they all end up in a church or whatever). And maybe that’s what’s good about Black Hole? That it manages to balance itself upon that cusp between chaos and order – between complete randomness and a message inside a fortune cookie.
News just in: apparently Dope director Rick Famuyiwa is going to be the one to finally make a Black Hole film. In the past both Neil Gaiman and David Fincher have both tried and failed to make a Black Hole movie… (a Neil Gaiman written Black Hole movie kinda boggles my mind a bit: as it doesn’t really seem like Black Hole has all that much scope for Neil to do his “I am the dream-weaver / Story-master stuff” but then again – that 3D Ray Winstone Beowulf film might just be one of the best thing he’s ever done: and as for David Fincher: I mean him doing Black Hole sounds fucking amazing and I would have been first in line if he ever managed to make it… (altho the film I really wanna see him do is a Morgan Freeman starring Rendezvous with Rama: but whatever).
I’ve been trying to find some good review of the Black Hole comic and haven’t really managed to get that far (unless someone else could point me in the direction of where the good ones are?). Like: maybe I’m being too harsh or whatever – but it seems like pretty much everything written about it just goes: oh yeah there’s a bunch of kids at high school and there’s this bug that’s going around and you get it if you have sex and it’s basically like a metaphor for AIDS or STDs or whatever. And then that’s it. Which I don’t know – makes me wonder. Like: is that problem with the reviewers or with the book itself (or both lol): that no one ever really gets any further into the book itself. Like: is it just the case that all of the meaty goodness is in the pitch? And the rest of the book just circles around the one idea in various pretty loops? (reminds me a little of the stuff I wrote about High Rise / Nameless)…
But whoops: maybe I need to actually get a copy of the book and read it through properly again?
Maybe it only really makes sense and feels right when you’re in it?