No one is better than Charles Burns, and his unnamed trilogy—X’ed Out, The Hive and the new Sugar Skull—may be an even greater achievement in horror than his masterful Black Hole. The horror is on the page—talking maggots, ruined faces, a grim grey land of cannibals and humanoid insects—but the true terror is the most fearful thing of all: learning to love and understand another human being.
Tim Hodler interviews Burns at the Comics Journal in a piece called “I’m Not on This Planet Forever”: that talks about the autobiographical roots of his work—although experienced first hand, Burn’s imagination transforms them into the universal.
That particular character, that was a conversation with my girlfriend’s roommates. I just never heard — we knew a lot of bands and I just remember her saying like, “Huh, we could do a band, but everybody’s doing a band.” It was like, “Everyone’s doing that. I’m going to do something different.” So it really was from that. When I went to school, I studied fine arts. I didn’t go to comics school or learn graphics or anything like that. Anything useful.
But I really did have a chance to kind of explore a lot of different mediums. I did painting, and sculpture, and I did a lot of photography. That part comes out in the book a little bit — that aspect of being a photographer. I felt like I was able to kind of allow different things into my work. But also it did come down to me just liking the accessibility of comics and wanting to tell stories. I think early on I never really kind of settled down enough to tell real stories. There were little fragments of things, or a page of something, or it might be some kind of more visual narrative. But I hadn’t really sat down and worked through the whole storytelling part of it. Which is a hard thing. Something I had to teach myself.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.