X’ed Out by Charles Burns
Charles Burns stories are surreal by nature, and when you toss twisty dream-logic into the mix you know you are in for something challenging and unique. Such is the case with X’ed Out, the first entry in a new trilogy by the creator of Black Hole.
X’ed Out is the story of Doug and Sarah, a couple of young artistic types who meet up at a party in an abandoned warehouse. He’s into beat poetry augmented by constructions of random noise; she’s into fetal pigs and bondage photography. The two hit it off right away, to the chagrin of Doug’s long-suffering girlfriend and Sarah’s boyfriend, a screaming ball of anger that’s kept offscreen throughout this first entry. Through flashbacks we begin to follow the development of Doug and Sarah’s relationship – a relationship that we gather from the present-day segments of the story has not ended well.
In addition to the current timeline and flashbacks, Burns utilizes a third narrative in the story, a surreal dreamworld that kicks the book off with recurring images of floods (water, waste, and blood), alien creatures, crying maggots and giant eggs. This dreamworld may in fact be hallucinations brought on by Doug’s drug abuse. Either way, these three timelines continue to dovetail as the slim volume progresses, giving us more information on the real-world relationship while opening up a lot of questions about Doug’s dreams. Are they symbolism, alternate reality, or something more? Does the X-shaped bandage Doug sports on his head in the dreamworld (in the real world it’s a large square bandage) speak to the significance of the volume’s title? What’s with all the eggs? And what’s going on in the giant dreamworld beehive thing?
X’ed Out presents a lot of questions, a few possible answers, and some great teasers of what’s to come. Unfortunately for us, Burns indicates in this review that it may be a matter of years before the story is complete. Hopefully that won’t derail readers from giving this work a look – it’s an engaging, engrossing start by one of the most talented comic artists working today.