Casting Internets

First things first, time to let you know about my friends and the cool creations they’ve been creating. Go check out Sean T. Collins‘ new monster comic “I remember when the monsters started coming for the cars” drawn by Isaac Moylan. After that, go read Justin Aclin‘s short story featuring his Dark Horse Presents-starring S.H.O.O.T. First team on Robot 666 called “The House That Ate Halloween.” That’s almost too much Halloween goodness and it’s all free!

To further blow my friends’ horns, Alex Kropinak, Ben Morse and the rest of the What The?! crew over at released a new Halloween themed video starring Dracula, Dracula’s son, Kitty Pryde, Blade and more. Fun stuff!

Speaking of Ben, he did a great post over on The Cool Kids Table about the Thor Corps. I also never read read the comic of the same name but inherently love the concept. Someone get on bringing this book back!

Back to Halloween for a few links, I loved Scott C’s Night of the Living Dead piece today on Great Showdowns. Are these being collected in a book or mini comic because they really should be? I haven’t watched NOTLD this season, but maybe tonight or tomorrow.  I’d never heard of these Dell interpretations of Dracula, Frankenstein or Werewolf before reading Christ Sims’ post about creepy comic characters over on Comics Alliance. I now need to track down all these issues. Saw this piece of art over on It’s by Katie Cook. I kind of want to hug it and also run away from it.

This review of the Apple Trackpad on kind of makes me want to buy one, but I might also have to start working at a desk or table. As it is, I haven’t used a mouse in over a year.

The video of Arizona senate hopeful and Tea Party member Sharron Angle I saw over on Esquire is both disturbing and funny. She says she’ll let people know her opinion of foreign policy once she’s elected and yet people are supporting her. Crazy people in power can be a dangerous thing.

Why didn’t they just get Ed Asner to play Granny Goodness on Smallville like he did on JLU? Let’s finish today’s links with some eye candy. First up, you’ve got Chris Samnee’s What If? entry for ComicTwart. Nick Fury’s Howling Avengers? I would actually go to the store and buy that comic book. That’s saying quite a bit. I want to go to there and draw Ninja Turtles with all these pencils, 6-year-old style. I don’t know if it originally came from Suicide Blonde or not, but that’s where Ffffound got it. Mine would be organized better, but that’s cause I’m a little crazy when it comes to these kinds of things. Sunken boats scare the crap out of me, specifically swimming through them or running into them while swimming (yeah, I know it’s weird). Originally posted on the loveyourchaos Tumblr (via Ffffound)

Halloween Scene: Demons (1985), Halloween (1978), The Ring (2002), The Substitute (2007) & My Bloody Valentine 3D (2009)

Even though the weather went from very Halloween to ridiculously sunny today, I frontloaded my week so that I could give myself a horror movie marathon day. Today I watched Demons, Halloween (the original of course), The Ring (US remake), The Substitute (dubbed, poorly I might add) and My Bloody Valentine 3D in 3D for the first time. So, let’s tackle these bad boys in order.

I actually watched Demons late last night, which is still technically today. I was catching up on emails and some links I wanted to read, so I wasn’t paying 100% attention and I don’t really understand what was happening. Considering this is an Italian horror movie, I’m not sure if I would understand even if I was sitting in a room by myself with just this movie to draw my attention. Far as I can tell, some people are in a movie theater and somehow the movie turns the viewers into demons. Once the demons are loose, they somehow create more demons, which kind of makes them zombies with a different look (glowing eyes, big claws).

Even though I don’t really know what was going on, I do know that the effects and kills in the movie were both awesome and cringe-worthy. You’ve got claws popping through a woman’s finger tips, a woman being scalped by a demon and razors near nipples among plenty of other things.

Aside from not making perfect sense (or at least being interesting enough to draw my attention away from the computer to pay attention which is obviously less of a sin than actually not making sense, but still not good), the movie also spends a lot of time with some cocaine-loving punks who (I think) only serve to show up at the movie theater later to become demons. It’s a weird choice, but I guess one that’s somewhat common when it comes to Italian horror (I’m not very well schooled in this subgenre). But, any movie that ends with a dude riding a dirtbike through a movie theater swinging a samurai sword to kill demons right before a helicopter falls through the roof is worth watching. It’s not a good movie, but it’s a fun story to watch.

Halloween‘s still my favorite slasher movie of all time. I reviewed the flick a few years ago, which you can read here. The sitting-up scene still gives me a charge. I don’t know if I’ve noticed this before, but I have no idea why Laurie’s friends with Annie. She’s SUCH a bitch. Man, what a jerk. Anyway, I love how Loomis’ decent into madness can be seen even in this first installment. Love that guy.

This was only the second time I’ve seen The Ring, but it’s still one of my favorite horror movies. The first time I saw it was in college at a date event my fraternity threw. We rented out a small room at the tiny theater in town called The Strand, everyone brought a date and we all sat there in the dark watching the movie. It’s my all-time favorite horror experience in a theater because, knowing everyone there allowed a lot of us to cut loose a little, so there was all kinds of screaming. You tend to hold that back when you’re in a theater with strangers, but this was a room full of friends. It was awesome. The only problem with the experience is that the missus swore off horror movies after watching the flick with me. Even worse, some of my fraternity brothers tried to scare us when we came back to my room later that night. Their plan was to have a tape sticking out of my VCR, the channel set to static and someone behind the couch to turn the TV on when we walked in. We stopped off to get some food, so we took longer to get back than everyone else which is good because, had they pulled the prank off, I don’t think the missus would have slept ever again. Or killed someone. By the time we got back to my room, some dudes were walking out, saw us and told us their aborted plan.

I had a wonderful time watching this movie again. I was worried that it would have lost a lot of its punch with me as I watched it by myself and during the day, but instead I was struck by how well put together the flick was. Gore Verbinksi did a great job with the visuals and mood of the movie. I also like that the Noah character seems to say the things that critics of the movie might say “It’s very student film” and “must have been scarier at night.” Those little bits give the script some self-awareness that I like without it being too in your face. Ring’s another slow burn type of movie, which I think I’m starting to appreciate more and I also like that there’s a mystery to the film. You think you get the answer and then that answer turns out to be completely wrong. I love when that happens in movies. You’re just trying to put the pieces together along with the Naomi Watts, but just because you’ve got a series of facts doesn’t mean you know the full story.

I was also struck by how many now-famous people are in small roles in the movie. Sara Rue (who was on BBT and those Jenny Craig commercials), Adam Brody, Amber Tamblyn and Pauley Perrette (the goth chick from NCIS) all have small parts. Plus, Samara is played by Daveigh Chase who voiced Lilo from Lilo & Stitch, which is kind of funny because the missus loves Lilo & Stitch and HATES The Ring.

In case you’re wondering, yes I’ve seen the original Ringu movies, but didn’t like them as much. I bought bootleg versions of them at a comic convention after seeing the movie in 2002, which was funny because, at the same time, the missus had bought me the legit versions for me for Christmas (the previous Christmas the same thing happened, but with the Jay and Silent Bob action figures). I don’t remember specifically why I didn’t like Ringu as much, but I would imagine it boils down to Americans not having the same weird cultural fears and hangups that Japanese folks do. Verbinski did a good job with the water and the kids, but those things don’t normally because I’m a grown man who can swim. I also remember having a problem with the subtitles which were white on often white backgrounds. I left these DVDs back home when I moved out here, so it’s been a while and I should definitely give them another watch.

Speaking of more watches, I watched The Substitute again and I think it’s the best Ghost House Underground movie of the bunch. It still reminds me of The Goonies but with an alien broad who can shrink people and control minds instead of the Fratellis and pirates. My only problem with the movie is that the dubbing is awful. Is it really so hard to get some actual kids to record voices instead of people who usually do cartoons? Seriously, pull a group of 16 year olds off the street and give them the script and it’d be way better than this. Just saying.

I finished things out by watching the copy of My Bloody Valentine 3D I picked up from Blockbuster and the pink and green 3D glasses I bought online. I’m not sure what to think about the experience of watching a 3D movie at home. This was the first time I ever did that and the first time I’ve used these kinds of 3D glasses. When I first put them on everything looked to be washed in those hues, but after a little while your eyes get used to it. As I’ve said, I tend to work on more than one thing at once which means every time I looked away from the screen or took the glasses off, it would take all that long to get back into the swing of things again. The other problem I had was that I couldn’t find a good angle to watch the movie. My usual seat isn’t directly in front of the TV but off to the side, so the 3D effects didn’t always hit me in the right way. Maybe I was too close or too far away. I tried some different angles, but never got a great view of things. There were a few things tossed at the screen that did make me flinch, but I missed the eye gag in the beginning because I was looking at email. I’m lame. The movie itself was the same as it was last time, though I remembered the twist this time around. I guess it still works and is a fun enough slasher flick to buy for $5.

Jersey Shore Season 2 Reunion Episode

Sorry for the delay in getting this up, but last night’s Jersey Shore reunion episode was fairly inconsequential. Here’s the quick hits as to what happened in the episode.

Everyone but Angelina was there, she apparently opted out of appearing. No one onstage or in my house cared.

The hostess seems obsessed with getting these yahoos to just spout off the catchphrases they’re turning into. Way too much time is devoted to “T-shirt time” and “cabs are here!”

After that Ronnie and Sammi get the spotlight and tell us they’re still together. I thought there was an after show where the two were broken up, but what do I know? Pretty much everyone in the cast thinks they make a shitty couple and shouldn’t be together. Couldn’t agree more. They talk about the letter, but it’s nothing new. JWOWW still thinks she did the right thing. Whatever.

Then Vinny and Pauly are invited up to the hot seat where a big deal is made about them getting so tight this time around. This is only interesting because Mike looks PISSED that he’s not involved. When they bring him up, he talks a big game and says he doesn’t think he got in the way of Pauly hooking up. Pauly’s very nice and agrees with him, which you can tell is BS. Oh, Pauly and Vinny are no longer seeing their Miami girlfriends Roccio and Ramona. Things died down, though Ramona visited Vinny’s family. I think there’s more there than he’s saying. Fame whore perhaps?

Snooki still has a crush on Vinny, but doesn’t like that he hooked up with Angelina. Vinny says he did it to shut Angelina up.

That’s about all that happened. Pour one out for another season of Jersey Shore.

Halloween Scene: Dawn Of The Dead (1978) & House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Dawn Of The Dead is one of my absolute favorite movies, not even just horror. There’s something about it that used to draw me to it constantly in college. I bought a VHS of it on accident, thinking it was Day Of The Dead on a trip to a going out of business video store in my college town and watched it over and over. Eventually, I found the four disc set with the theatrical, extended and European versions of the movie as well as a whole disc of extra features. I used to even put the movie on when I was sleepy because there’s all that rad action in the beginning and then it cools down for a little while in the middle. That mix of action, horror, comedy and honest human reactions to extraordinary events make this, in my mind, one of the best all around movies, specifically because it hits all those bases. I love Usual Suspects for a lot of the same reasons, but it doesn’t have heads getting chopped off, now does it?

The movie, of course, is not perfect though. Director George Romero claims he wanted a comic book feel to the movie, which explains the bright red blood and pastel-to-neon complexioned zombies. None of that bothers me. What DOES bother me, though, is the sound effects. When one of our heroes punches someone, it sounds like something out of a Streets of Rage game for Sega Genesis.

Aside from that though, I think I’m firmly in love with this movie. We could talk about different aspects that someone might not like (it’s long, it goes back to that whole “humans are the real bad guys” motif that Romero and other zombie movie makers seems obsessed with), but I don’t think anyone could sway my opinion and, if I’m being honest, I’d probably think a little less of you for not liking the movie.

Speaking of those two potentially negative aspects of the film. This is one of the few slow burn type movies I really like. All those scenes of them playing in the arcade and going through the bank could be cut as far as the action goes, but all those little moments help to tell the emotional story. These are people living in a world that’s completely flipped the script on them. The dead don’t stay dead anymore. Can you imagine how that would change the way you think? Roger tries to ignore it, letting his bravado get in the way of his safety and he pays for it. Francine lets it overwhelm her at times, but she’s also a planner who’s smart enough to learn how to defend herself and more importantly fly the helicopter out there. All of them finding a refuge inside a mall isolates them for the shit going on in the rest of the world and gives them a place they could theoretically stay until things get better, they die or someone comes to save them. Once save inside their cocoon, they try to live the lives they’ve always wanted to live with every material thing they could ever want just a short walk away. But they’re not really happy. Without getting into it too heavy handedly, Romero deals with isolation and–corny as it sounds–the idea that money and objects don’t really make you happy. There’s a lot more going on here than simply “man is the real evil!”

I could talk about this movie all day and considering I still need to write up the next movie, I should probably move on. Oh, one last thing, I think Roger might be one of the most tragic characters in horror. He’s got a Madam Bovary vibe to him, though he romanticizes heroics instead of, well, romance.

I believe that House On Haunted Hill was not only the first Vincent Price movie I ever watched, but also one of the first old horror movies. We weren’t exactly early adopters in my house growing up, so it took a little while for us to get a DVD player, but once we did, I hopped on eBay and spent some of that glorious teenaged disposable income on DVDs. I got a four pack that included two double sided discs. This one has Hill and Satan’s School For Girls, which isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds. I don’t remember what’s on the other disc because, for whatever reason, I left it at home when I consolidated my DVD collection into a binder before moving out to New York. I know there was some Christmas-themed movie with a bunch of people in a house being hunted by a deranged man on the holiday. I think he used to live there and escaped from an asylum.

Anyway, I really loved this movie the first time I saw it and still do. Price’s character is just so wonderfully manic and kind of an asshole. He’s in most of the scenes, which is exactly how I like my Vincent Price movies. The story behind the movie is basically the exact plot of every ghost investigations show: a bunch of people get locked inside a supposedly haunted house and get scared by things. In this case, however, the people have a chance to win some big money if they last the night. Oh, also, there’s a murder plot a foot.

The movie has lots of twists and turns and not a few still-good scares. The old woman popping up out of nowhere looking like Nosferatu’s uglier, older sister gets me every time. The skeleton rising up at the very end really stayed with me too, for some reason from my first viewing, though I guess that’s because I didn’t already know the story.

SPOILER TIME. The house isn’t really haunted, though it is pretty damn creepy. Most of the things we’ve seen that give us the willies are either staged acts (the hanged woman) or just strange occurrences (the creepy old lady, she’s just creepy, not a monster). I’m still not 100% on the plot because I was doing some work while watching today, but the murder plot as a double and then, I believe, triple cross in there with Price walking away on top in the end. I like this movie even in spite of it having two traits I don’t really like: the haunted house and the “everything you knew is wrong” themes. As it turns out the house isn’t haunted, but even if it was, they’re still trapped in a big old house and go through this stuff in a short period of time, so they’re not staying in a place they could easily leave for months on end (which is what I hate about modern haunted house movies). The “what you thought is wrong” aspect is done in more of a Usual Suspects way than a High Tension way, which means you didn’t just waste your time watching something that doesn’t matter, but that you were being tricked along with the people in the movie, which I actually think is pretty rad. I should give this one another view in the near future to see how it plays with the twists fresh in my head.

These two movies aren’t really related other than the fact that they’ve both been remade. I’ve definitely seen the Dawn remake and don’t really remember it much, but would definitely see it again (love zombies movies AND Zack Snyder). I don’t think I’ve seen the Hill remake, though I always get it confused with The Haunting which I believe is a remake of the very similar sounding The Haunting Of Hill House. The real reason I paired them together is that they’re favorite horror films of mine, though very different that I wanted to give another look at and write down some thoughts. Hope you guys enjoyed it and let me know what you think in the comments section.

Casting Internets

I had a busy day today, so I’ve got a lot more links waiting to read than I’m writing about here. These are mostly fun images and quick bits I read today. Enjoy!

We’re kicking off, as you might expect, with some Halloween links. Wired has their list of the 25 best horror movies. It’s pretty standard stuff. There’s a few I don’t like, but that’s common with lists. I’m a lot more interested in reading Stacie Ponder’s list of horror movies she “hearts.” Like she says in her intro, we all pretty much know what the best horror flicks of all time, but we’ve got other ones that we just love even if they’re not technically as good as the others.

I subscribe to a few Twitter feeds through Google Reader and saw two interesting notes on Kevin Smith’s. First up, Red State‘s almost done. Second, you can submit speed metal and country songs that might make it into the movie. Pretty cool. Dan Hipp‘s drawing of Hellboy as Mario and Abe Sapien as Iron Man is awesome. If I was smarter, I would have tried to buy it earlier.

I should be better about linking to my stuff, but if you’re looking for a Halloween-themed list to read, check out my list of camps not to send your kids to over at Topless Robot. If you’re STILL looking for some lists, head over to the slutty Halloween costume list I did for Gamma Squad and my list of awesomely bad horror movie songs, both of which I wrote last year. That’ll be the end of the self promoting section of the evening.

My buddy Sean discovered that Grant Morrison invented LOLCats in We3. Take that internet!

There’s a lot of good, new Sheldon from Big Bang Theory shirts at 80s Tees. This one’s my favorite. I saw this via Ffffound and now I need to go through and look through all the posts on Animated Albums. I love Nirvana and I love In Utero, so this is right up my alley. Finally, Han Solo in Carbonite done in Lego is awesome. How does Great White Snark find this stuff?!

Live Blogging Big Bang Theory S4 “The Irish Pub Formulation”

Tonight’s episode of Big Bang Theory involved Leonard’s secret affair with Raj’s visiting sister. I would guess that the episode was written before Kaley Cuoco got hurt and was probably expanded a little bit because there isn’t much of a B-story. I didn’t really have a problem with that as the episode had some good old fashioned physical comedy and yet another great performance by the cast, including Jim Parsons’ Sheldon. All that being said, I do miss Penny. The show’s fine without her, but she really brings something special to the show. Or I just have a crush on her. Hit the jump for the full live blog. Continue reading Live Blogging Big Bang Theory S4 “The Irish Pub Formulation”

The Challenge Cutthroat Episode 4 “Swat The Hell?”


About to get dirty.

Tonight’s episode of The Challenge: Cutthroat actually got a rise out of me. By the time the first challenge started, I was pretty into what was going on. The challenge was pretty intense and basically came down to a matter of strategy, while the Gulag was completely crazy and out of nowhere. There were, of course, healthy doses of drama with TJ showing up at the house hours before the Gulag started, the usual voting shenanigans with a first ever occurrence and even a cross-team romance that has some of the players raising their eyebrows. Hit the jump for the full report. Continue reading The Challenge Cutthroat Episode 4 “Swat The Hell?”

Casting Internets

Today I came across a lot of Halloween themed links that tickled my fancy (metaphorically, of course, I keep my computer in front of me at all times). There’s lots of other stuff going on too, that I dug, so let’s jump in.

First off, Topless Robot’s list of good and bad toy-based Halloween costumes is rad. Go check it out. My buddy Chris sent around this link from Coolest Homemade Costumes on how to build your own Lego minifigure costume. They look epic. Also, if you dig Halloween mixes, give Chris’s a listen

In other costume news, Instructables has a how-to on creating this awesome Transformers Soundwave costume. I’ll just look at the pictures in awe if that’s okay (via Toyark)

Apparently I’m not the only one who finds the Halloween Snickers commercial creepy. It’s also apparently for sale, which is terrifying.

I haven’t read the Frazer Irving interview my buddy Kiel did over on CBR yet, but my other buddy Sean posted this image on Robot 666 today. It’s awesome. I hope to catch up on Batman fairly soon. I don’t want to read the full interview with Detention director Joseph Kahn did over on io9 yet because I don’t want anything spoiled. I was sold with the concept of a slasher movie mixed with a time traveler flick. Also, the above image is both scary and awesome. When can I see this movie?! (via /Film)

Okay, one last Halloween-related link. The August Society is doing a series called 8-bit Cavalera. I’m not exactly sure what that means, but I love the idea of painting anything on old NES cartridges. This one by Evan Lopez is my favorite so far. Apparently you can actually buy Roger Sterling’s book from Mad Men. Sterling’s Gold is available on Amazon for $11.43. (via /Film)

If you’ve got some extra cash to spare, bid on this 14-inch Hal Jordan DC Universe Classics prototype signed by The Four Horsemen over on Charitybuzz. Proceeds benefit Mattel’s Children’s Hospital UCLA, so it goes to a good cause and it’s an awesome, one-of-a-kind collectible. (via Toynewsi)

If you’re looking for an internship at Marvel, check out this article on

Wynn Ryder’s sketch of Bruce Lee on Sketchjam is rad. Nuff said.

Halloween Scene: The Fly (1986) & The Came From Within (aka Shivers) (1975)

I know, I know. Yesterday I said I was going to watch The Fly remake and its sequel today, but after having so much fun with David Cronenberg’s wild take on the original 50s classic, I decided to switch the theme from flies to Cronenberg and watched Shivers (or They Came From Within, but I like the one-word title and not just because it’s shorter).

Much as I was charmed by the original Fly, I liked the remake a lot more as a horror movie and as a story in general. I like that, this time around, the scientist (Jeff Goldblum) isn’t married to the girl (Geena Davis) who is a reporter for a science magazine instead of a doting wife. I also like that the story is more linear than the original because it doesn’t cut the legs out from under the drama (we know he’s dead in the first few minutes, we just don’t know who or what he is at that point). Plus, how can you go wrong with the scenes of Goldbulm’s parts falling off. I’ve watched a lot of horror movies this month, but I think this might be the only one to give me the willies (regular readers with better memories might be able to correct me on that one as my memory sucks).

I think that this might have been my first full, unrated viewing of the movie. Like I said yesterday, I knew the basic plot, but that was from seeing the movie on TV. I don’t remember giving it a rent when I was a budding horror fan back in the day, but it could have happened (remember that bad memory I mentioned?). I’m on board with people who think this is a great horror movie even if, as a comic book and horror fan, I’ve been significantly smashed in the face with the whole “scientist getting obsessed with his project and not caring about anything else” storyline. The effects, the script (I didn’t realize “Be afraid, be very afraid” came from this movie) and the casting are all spot on. Goldbulm first looks like a geeky scientist and then a fly creature, Davis looks like a kinda nerdy science journo (though not a very good one as it takes only a matter of days for her to sleep with her subject, what would Gay Talese say?). The awful clothing and hair can be a little distracting at times, but overall I really, really liked this flick. A question to Fly fans, is Fly II worth a watch? I’ve never seen it.

Shivers is kind of a combination of Dawn of the Dead and Towering Inferno with some Alien effects thrown in. The interesting part? The movie was made before Dawn (1978), was made before Alien and only really share a similar kind of setting with Inferno (which only came out the year before). The idea is that these people live in a huge building with all the amenities (medical facilities, stores, all that kind of stuff, so basically a really tall mall you can live in without have to fly in via helicopter). As it happens, a scientist who lived in the building was developing a parasite that would break man down to his basic urges. He supposedly killed them all, but that’s not the case and these weird worm things spread throughout the building making crazy sex zombies who just want to bone you and pass on the blood and sex lust to you.

Like The Fly, this movie has some spectacular effects. The scene reminiscent of Alien comes when a guy has one of the parasites in his stomach expanding inside, much like the chest buster. I can’t remember if Shivers influenced Alien or if the effects just happened at the same time. Cronenberg’s vision obviously grew in the ten or so years between these two movies, but you can see where he was coming from here.

Even though Cronenberg was known for being a really out-there director, it’s surprising how many still-taboo elements he dealt with this in the movie. You’ve got sexually transmitted disease, sexual assault, murder, pedophilia, the place of lust in society and what can happen if man gives over to his animalistic tendencies. It’s not exactly clear where the director comes down on these subjects, which is cool because it gives the viewer room to make their own decisions. Even though it’s brave, the movie could have done with some editing. Much like Scanners, this movie takes a lot of time not to get going but to get from middle to end. Luckily, by the time he did The Fly, it seems like Cronenberg learned a little bit about brevity.

I can’t remember if I first saw this movie as a rental from my beloved Family Video back in the day, but I do know that I purchased it my Freshman year of college from a going-out-of-business mom and pop video store in my college town. I went a few times and bought Dawn of the Dead (in a Day of the Dead box), Mom, Hot Potato and this one on VHS. I’ve watched it a bunch of times and even converted it to DVD thanks to my combo, recordable VHS/DVD unit. It’s actually pretty fun watching the movie with all the weird hiccups of a tape, but on DVD. There’s something great about that look that really works for older, smaller budget movies. I didn’t realize it, but the tape has an extra feature at the end with Cronenberg talking about the movie. I didn’t watch it this time around, though I might in the next few days. I think I’m going to watch a few un-reviewed favorites tomorrow starting with Dawn of the Dead. We’ll see where I wind up from there.

Trade Post: Black Hole

BLACK HOLE (Pantheon)
Written & drawn by Charles Burns
Collects Black Hole #1-12

Man, being a teenager sucks. Everything you experience is so crazy and intense because you basically have nothing to compare it to. That seems to be one of the big themes behind Charles Burns’ Black Hole which I just read for the very first time thanks to my newfound urge to expand my comic horizons. I’ve always considered myself a realist, going as far back as I can remember thinking about how I think about things, so I can’t exactly relate with the impetuous decisions many of the characters in this book make (my buddy Sean pointed out how hyperbolic everything is when it comes to this group of teenagers). The logical part of my brain says “hey, don’t screw the girl you KNOW has an STD that will turn you into a mutant” and “it’s no big deal to go back home, your parents will love to see you,” but I get that the teenage mind doesn’t always work that way, especially when faced with extraordinary events like life-altering disease and the death of a loved one.

Here’s my best attempt at explaining the book. There’s two main characters: Chris (a girl) and Keith. Both are teenagers in a small town with a nasty STD making the rounds that seems to give each victim/carrier a different physical mutation: skin peeling like a snake, warped faces, extra mouths, tails and huge boils or warts among others. Keith has a thing for Chris, but Chris likes a dude named Rob. Rob gives Chris the bug. Even though Keith like Chris, he still hooks up with Eliza and gets the bug himself. Overall, Keith is all around bored with his life, unhappy at every turn and obsessed with a girl he’s put up on a pedestal who can’t help but fall once he learns more about her. I might not be able to relate to the bad choices these kids made, but I can relate to that feeling of disappointment in someone you hold in esteem. I had a lot of that in my younger years. Meanwhile, Chris is just trying to figure out what life’s all about, following her passions for Rob and falling in love with him even after he makes her sick (it’s actually interesting, now that I think about it, that her mutation is mostly absent for the latter part of the book, I wonder if it went away). To be fair, most of Chris’ bad fortune is a result of her bad choices instead and not the disease.

Burns’ use of squiggly panel lines to denote flashbacks and dream sequences are the comic book equivalent of the wavy effect they use to show flashbacks on TV and in movies, except it doesn’t just start and end those sequences. It’s always there, which gave the images even more implied motion in my brain. Not only was there implied  movement between panels, like in every other comic, but it was almost like the panels themselves were moving, vibrating, humming or doing that TV flashback thing. I’ve never spent this much time looking at panel lines, but there was something hypnotic about those perfectly round waves which continued from one panel to another, though invisibly, between panels. There were also times where the curved nature of the panel borders gave the panel itself added depth, I think that’s because, oftentimes, the line would cover dialog boxes, giving the illusion of layers. Very cool.

The art itself is just as absorbing. At first, the characters look cartoony, like something you might see in a newspaper strip, but it becomes very clear early on that these figures carry an emotional weight to them you don’t always see. The teens in this book are not having a good time of things, neither are the mutants in the woods. Man, some of them are really creepy. Burns also seeds a lot early on with imagery that pays off later in the book. There’s also the ever-present shape of an opening that realizes itself in everything from lady parts to a cut on a foot.

It took me a while to catch onto the snake theme. We’re shown snakes early on and one appears in Chris’ dream, but it wasn’t until she really started shedding her skin that I got the gag. She’s a snake, shedding her skin and possibly her old life. S[peaking of dreams, Burns has an incredible knack for creating nightmare fodder with his vast creepy landscapes filled with garbage and monsters. Just as creepy are Rick the Dick’s sculptures which look like real-life interpretations of those nightmares.

I went into this book thinking it was more horror themed. Sure there are horrific elements. I cringed a number of times while reading this book (the foot wounds and tail snaps were ROUGH) and it does have a disease that essentially creates monsters, but I don’t think I’d categorize it under the horror genre. It’s more of a teen drama with strange elements that never really get explained. But, much like Lost, this story is more about characters and less about explaining the weirdness. I was actually surprised at how familiar the story itself felt. Sure there’s the mutant STD, but at it’s core, this book’s about teenagers thinking they’re in love, running away from their problems and feeling like everything they do is so catastrophic that they can’t go back and just say “sorry.” There’s no reason Chris can’t go home again. Sure she’d have some explaining to do, but I bet her folks would just be happy to know she’s alive. It’s nice both characters got a kind of a happy ending, but much like their fear, it won’t last. Chris can’t live on the beach forever, especially in the North West and there’s no way Keith and Eliza are clever enough to avoid the eventual police investigation. Their prints are all over the McCrosky house.

In addition to making me cringe a time or two, the beginning of the book literally left me dizzy, which is something I’ve never felt from a comic before. Burns does this scene early on with Keith passing out after seeing the open wound of the frog he’s supposed to dissect with Chris. There’s this crazy circular piece of art with lots of imagery that will be important in the book and then we get a page of shots from Keith’s POV. The mooning faces of his classmates are huge in the panel, but I realized the dizziness came from how that perspective spins and flips around. This creates a kind of swaying, spinning motion that’s only exaggerated by the fact that the gridded ceiling tiles create a kind of crazy squared-off spiderweb in the background. I actually had to put the book down for a minute and now that I’m thinking about it again I’m feeling it again, though to a lesser extent. This is amazing work by a man who really understands how to use the comic book panel to his advantage and build a story with that knowledge that feels new, fresh and tragic even if some of the elements are familiar.

Okay, I’ve said a lot of positive things because I do think this is a classic piece of graphic fiction, but I do have a few questions/complaints. First up, and this one is really minor, they spelled Rob’s last name differently in its two appearances (Facincani/Facincanni). That bugged me and should have been fixed in the reprint process. I was also disappointed that the Pantheon collection has zero extras. No intro, no full covers, zilch. I could have definitely used some in-book insight after reading the book, but I guess I’ll just have to troll the internet. Finally, I’m not sure how a pair of scenes are supposed to fit together in the first few sections. There’s a scene with Keith and his buddies hanging out in the woods. Keith splits off and finds a girl’s skin in the brush. We found out in the next story that the skin came from Chris. But, Chris hasn’t been infected yet, which would seem to imply that this story is out of order compared to the rest of them. The rest of the segments seem to be told in somewhat chronological order except when denoted by the aforementioned wavy lines, but the one with Chris shedding her skin takes place seemingly too early in the story. I’m not sure what the deal with that is and maybe it’ll make sense on a later reading. And I will definitely be reading this book again. It made me actually feel something, which can’t be said about most comics and it seems like there’s a lot to unpack, making future readings even more interesting.