Charles Burns – “X’ed Out” and “The Hive”

Charles Burns (The Believer’s house cover artist) is two books into his X’ed Out trilogy, and I’m pretty excited for the conclusion.

Because Burns is playing the long game in this series, the first book (which ended abruptly, seemingly at random) left me unsure of whether he knew where he was going. But this blend of realistic and surreal threads is starting to coalesce and take on some real emotional weight.

Burns pushes his reptilian hive-world past the breaking point: In one panel, a woman births a pig via c-section. But the cartoony style makes it closer to palatable and flattens even the most extreme moments so they fit with the rest.

A general observation about the surreal: With exceptions, it’s a visual genre. I’d rather see it than have it described to me.

A hint about how to read the series comes in “The Hive”: A woman reads her way through a series of romance comics, but her collection is incomplete. When she returns to her characters a few issues later, she’s disoriented by their new problems and new relationships to one another.

We readers are too, but it becomes increasingly clear that unlike the woman, we’re being led.

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