FYI.

This story is over 5 years old.

The Fiction Issue 2010

Charles Burns

The author and artist behind uncannily creepy comic books like Black Hole, Big Baby, and Skin Deep. In his work, he’s created a world that feels like an eerie parallel to those of David Lynch and some of Lovecraft.
SH
Κείμενο Sammy Harkham
1.12.10

Black Hole

Big Baby,

Skin Deep

Black Hole

Dazed & Confused

X’ed Out

Tintin

Crickets

Kramers Ergot

RAW

Vice: How do you start a project like X’ed Out? And, you know, this is a question I’ve always had about Black Hole as well. Do you begin with a heavy outline?

Charles Burns:

Black Hole

Black Hole

Sure.

I would assume that, like most cartoonists, you take a long time to complete the whole thing and that new ideas might be popping up or you might be changing as a person as you go.

ΔΙΑΦΗΜΙΣΗ

X’ed Out

Black Hole

Tintin

Grounded, let’s say. More reality based.

So was it a eureka moment of, like, “Oh, color”? Once you introduce color it changes how you write.

So you write in text at first?

Tintin

Tintin

Endpapers from Black Hole #11, 2003

Was it daunting to have this huge palette opened up to you?

In addition to the Tintin motif running through X’ed Out, there are also recurring references to Burroughs and his idea of Interzone. Was he someone you were thinking about when you were writing? I know that you’ve talked about him being an influence on you in the past.

Was it partly to get yourself back into the headspace of that character?

You worked on Black Hole for ten years. Did you feel completely spent afterward? Like, emptied out of every idea you’ve ever had? I find that as soon as I’m asked to do another story after I’ve just finished something, my first impulse is to almost do the exact same thing because my head is still there.

Black Hole

And then did a time come when you said to yourself, “OK, enough time has passed. I’m going to sit down and come up with something”?

Even though there were a couple of false starts because you felt like you were harking back to Black Hole too much, there are elements in X’ed Out, like a couple visual motifs that you’ve played with for a long time and certain looks for characters, that feel familiar in a nice way. It’s definitely not a sequel to Black Hole, but we can immediately tell that we’re in your universe.

Front cover of Black Hole #4, 1997

How do you feel about having the first part of this story released when you still have so much more work to do? Will the response to the first episode have any bearing on where you go from here in terms of the story?

ΔΙΑΦΗΜΙΣΗ

Or if everyone kept using the same terms to describe it, like, “Well, it’s very dense, Charles.”

What is your daily schedule like? Do you keep regular hours for your work?

So as much as you know what the structure of X’ed Out will be, you still have to come up with ways to get it out?

Then there’s someone like Dan Clowes, who’s says that he’ll be working on a story and as soon as he realizes what the story is actually “about,” he’ll see what he’s tapping into as far as his own life, and it kind of stops him. He loses interest in it. But, anyway, what else, Charles? What else can we talk about?

Black Hole

I’m acquainted with a lot of film people since I live in LA, and Black Hole does come up. I don’t know if that’s because they know I’m a cartoonist, and so they talk to me about it, but Black Hole is like the golden ring. Everyone wants to write a script of it. Everyone wants to make it. Everyone’s tried to do a draft. And you’re not really involved in any of that, right? Like, you don’t care?

Right, you never know with movies.

You’ve done some set design too, right?

The Hard Nut

The Nutcracker

Oh wow.

Front cover of Nitnit #3, 2010

OK. So, here we go: When do we see the next book?

People want to know.

That’s great.

You’ve been living in Philadelphia for a long time.

And do you like it?

Are you engaged with what other people are doing in comics right now?

When you were first starting to do comics, there was a certain vibe of mid-50s Americana in your work. Even looking at X’ed Out today it still seems so true.

ΔΙΑΦΗΜΙΣΗ

Black Hole

Cover of the Yo-Yo’s “The Time of Your Life”/“Seven Shades of Blue” single, Sub Pop, 2000

Front cover of Johnny 23, 2010

Not about ironically playing with a certain notion of Americana.

Black Hole

There’s a certain well of pop culture that you go to for inspiration: horror movies, Godzilla movies, old comic books…

Tintin

The Secret of the Unicorn

Tintin

Right.

X’ed Out

Tintin

Do you have older siblings? How were you seeing Tintin before you could read?

Tintin