Welcome to suburban Seattle in the 70s: where a mutation based sexually transmitted disease is transforming teenagers into monsters. Although sometimes housed in the adult graphic novel section, Black Hole by Charles Burns is certainly a story for teens sixteen and up. Through the perspective of several high school students, the reader witnesses a sweeping plague that manifests itself differently in every teen: one grows a tail, one grows a second mouth on his neck, and one must shed her skin regularly. Dozens of infected teens must chose whether to continue their lives in shame, or to join the growing colony of monstrous teens in the forest. As if that wasn’t enough, add crazy dreams, one mysterious murderer, and all the regular stressors of high school living? You’ve got a fast-paced sci-fi horror hybrid for the masses.
In addition to the high levels of suspense, the sexy content matter, and the wonder inspired by the strange infections, the artwork of the graphic novel is one of its most appealing features. The black and white visceral illustrations range from terrifying and nauseating to mysteriously beautiful. Black Hole is one of those beautiful horror stories: so appalling that you want to look away, but so extraordinary that you can’t.
It is important to note that the story depicts drug use, underage drinking, and occasional nudity. However many readers have interpreted the story as a cautionary tale about the dangers of unsafe sex. Given the 1970’s setting, and the main conflict of the story, these aspects are arguably on-point, and non-promotional.
The many reoccurring tropes, such as snakes, the image of a man tied to a tree, and of course a black hole, will give readers with a literary interest something to sink their teeth into. Charles Burns manages to create a piece with high literary value, while maintaining a high interest level, making it a worthwhile recommendation for a wide range of readers. I highly recommend this title, with the reservation that mature content matter may offend some readers.