Five questions with Charles Burns

Thanks to the fine people at Pantheon Books, Wordcandy was recently given the opportunity to ask Charles Burns (author of Black Hole, one of our recent Featured Book titles) a few questions.

1. Your eye-catching, idiosyncratic artwork remains remarkably consistent throughout Black Hole. (I recently walked past a book cover you’d illustrated—an image of a startled pair of eyes—and recognized it as your work at a glance.) You’ve achieved some impressive commercial success with your signature style, including a memorable series of Altoids advertisements. Are you ever tempted to produce something completely different?

CB: I’ve been tempted to work in a radically different style from time to time but my occasional attempts to “loosen up” have been miserable failures. My “style” is something I’ve arrived at naturally over the course of my lifetime; there’s a line quality found in illustrations and comics from the 40’s and 50’s that I’ve always been attracted to and have tried to emulate... it’s something that has slowly evolved into the “look” you recognized in the Chipp Kidd book cover I did recently.

2. Condoms and other forms of sexual protection are conspicuously absent from Black Hole, but they were definitely available in Seattle in the seventies. Why doesn’t anybody in the book make an effort to protect themselves? Why don’t any of the characters consider methods to avoid the bug, or at least prevent an unwanted pregnancy? (I don’t know about the rest of the world, but if sex had the potential to turn people into shambling zombies, protection would have been the number-one hot topic at my high school.)

CB: If Black Hole featured safe sex I guess there wouldn’t be a story would there? I realize condoms were available in the seventies but my characters don’t use them… “It… it just doesn’t feel right… it’s not ‘natural’… now pass that fucking joint over here.”

3. Black Hole is the second Seattle-based horror story I’ve reviewed recently. (Life here in Washington is pretty creepy, apparently.) Did you choose to set the book there simply because it was part of your teenage experience, or was there something unique about North Seattle in the seventies that inspired you?

CB: I chose to set the book in Seattle because that’s where I grew up and it was a place and time I could write about accurately. The story isn’t really about Seattle or the seventies or sexually transmitted diseases; it’s about a series of characters suffering though adolescence.

4. I didn’t read Black Hole as it was being released serially, but I’ve spoken with a few passionate fans of the book who invested a decade’s worth of interest in it. When the story was released as a graphic novel in 2005, did the critical reaction to it change? Did seeing your story in the new format make you wish you’d done anything differently?

CB: The collected version of Black Hole was the way I had always envisioned the story being published. Because I work so slowly, having it come out periodically as a comic book was a good solution. I’m not sure I understand your question about the critical reaction to the book but I think you’re referring to the fact that the book found a larger audience than the comic book, right? It’s just a simple fact: more people go to bookstores that comic book stores. Maybe it’s the format…and maybe it’s just a shift in reading habits… As far as wishing I could do it all differently, I’d have to say no, I’m happy with the final version of the book.

5. I hear there’s a movie adaptation of Black Hole in the works. Unlike most comic book movie adaptations, this idea doesn’t fill my heart with dread—after all, nobody can expect material like Black Hole to turn into a PG-13 special effects extravaganza, so it seems like there’s no chance anybody will try to turn your work into X-Men: The Last Stand. What’s the status of this project, and how involved are you?

CB: A while back I signed an option with Paramount Pictures for Black Hole. It was just announced a couple of days ago that David Fincher has been “attached” to the project as the director. I have no idea of how things work in Hollywood, so I can’t predict what the final outcome will be. At this point I’m not involved with the project in any way other than keeping track of the latest developments.

We sincerely appreciate Mr. Burns getting back to us so promptly, and wish him the best of luck with his future projects!
Posted by: Julianka


29 Feb, 2008 04:49 AM @ version 0

I don't see how they could make any film version of Black Hole and avoid an NC-17 rating--unless they made it into some kind of horrible after school special ("Having premarital sex, kids? WELCOME TO HELL!!!").

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