Charles Burns interview

October 31, 2010 | Interviews


Charles Burns has proved over the past two decades that his graphic novels are well worth waiting for. And it looks like he’s ready to put that theory to the test once again.

X’ed Out, the long-awaited follow-up to Burns’ multiple-award-winning opus, BlackHole, hit bookshelves this week, prompting two immediate questions: Will readers have to wait 11 years for the whole story like they did with his last effort. And is he actually working in colour?

“It’s not that I’m turning my back on doing things in black and white, because I’ve always enjoyed that, obviously. I think every comic I’ve done so far has been in black and white, ” Burns, a featured guest at the recent 2010 International Festival of Authors, tells the Star via phone from his Philadelphia home. “(But) it’s like having another set of tools to use.”

Burns also notes the use of colour helps emphasize the differences between this book and his past work.

“I had a couple of false starts (on X’ed Out) and I think I realized that at first I was kind of imitating myself, which is pretty typical, ” he says. “I think whenever you’re done with a long project, you end up kind of falling back on what you know.

“I really wanted to do something different or push myself in a different direction. I took on this format, I took on a colour comic all with the idea of having this, not experimental, but different style of storytelling; just trying to put together ideas in a different way.”

The result is a highly unconventional, though extremely intriguing tale, which revolves around a young man named Doug, who sports a bandage on his head, is taking handfuls of opiates and has some of the weirdest dreams you’ll ever see.

“He’s obviously had some sort of physical, and what seems like mental, trauma take place, ” says the 55-year-old Burns. “The story focuses around him and his struggle to come to terms with that trauma.”

Being the first volume in a series, and a mere 56 pages, X’ed Out may seem like just an appetizer to those hungry for more, but he insists the payoff will be worth it.

“The first book really introduces a lot of pieces, a lot of conflicts, a lot of mysteries, ” Burns says. “There’s all these little threads that are introduced that will be followed through on in the following books.”

As for the first question on readers’ minds – how long a wait until the next volume? – Burns says not to panic: He’s got a plan.

“The style of it, or the look of it, is based on the kind of Franco-Belgian album format, like Tintin, and the idea that it be a series of books, ” he says. “Originally I was going to do two, so it would be like Tintin in Destination Moon and then Explorers on the Moon. As I’ve been working, I realized that I’ll need three volumes to put everything together.”

The second volume is already “well underway, ” he says with the tongue-in-cheek caveat, “But I am slow. In many ways.”
(This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

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