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“Nothing To Hold Onto.” COMICS!!! Sometimes They Swarm With Awesome!

John Kane

I know, I know, it’s the worst kind of week of all! It’s Skip Week! No Graeme McMillion$! No Gentle Jeff! No podcast! While our very own Donny and Marie are off removing shopping trolleys from canals (or whatever it is they are up to) it’s left to us poor schmucks to wonder how things can possibly get worse. Well, things just got worse and it happened like this: I’ve put some words down about a book by Charles Burns. Look at me! Can you see that? It’s my serious face! I have my serious face on because I am a serious man about a serious business! I’m on about a serious comic, seriously! You can stop looking at me now it’s freaking me out. Anyway, this…


by Charles Burns
Jonathan Cape, £12.99 (2012)


THE HIVE is the (curiously neglected by the comics buzz world) second volume in Charles Burns’ enormously satisfying reconfiguring of comics genres to his own unsettling narrative ends. In Vol.1 (X-ED OUT) it was Tin-Tin’s sterile milieu which got a grubby makeover while here Burns’ dark adapted eye falls on romance comics. As ever the friction created by the innocent originals and Burns’ grimy concerns rubbing feverishly up against each other results in all kinds of frisky fun. While weirdness abounds on every page (even the normal stuff looks weird) the real oddity is how Burns’ clean and precise delineations manage to so successfully convey the soiled sense of having licked an ashtray with your mind.

Turns out if you draw a pickled pig foetus in a jar the unsettling material trumps the distanced style. Heck, the distanced style might even amplify the nastiness. I just read the book I didn’t do any research or any of that professional shit so I don’t really know where Burns is coming from, but for me his work is evocative of that whole Immaculate Consumptive thang from the ‘80s. That fantastically fiery yet slyly funny Thirwell/Lunch/Almond/Cave aesthetic where you take the fight right to the darkness armed only with the straight razor of your intelligence and a scream that might actually be a laugh cranked too high. I realise from the haircuts and checked shirts that it’s probably more evocative of that whole Sub Pop scene but that wasn’t my scene so I guess since this old man gets to play too the work’s concerns are quite supple (universal might be pushing it, though).


Could be David Lynch needs mentioning as well. Not with the aim of suggesting any cheap imitation on Burns’ part, no, rather to indicate just how good Burns is at harmonising the humdrum and the horrific as his multiple narratives blur and cross pollinate in a fashion which obfuscates meaning without obliterating it. If that sounds a bit dry and dull be assured it’s anything but. Reading this book (which I forgot to mention is a book about young love gone bad, sour and black with rot, oh, and memory too and other stuff. It’s a busy little book.) I experienced a kind of carbonated tingle in my brain much like that occasioned in my fingertips every time they brushed the volume’s almost subliminally tactile spine.

Look, I don’t really like to bang on about the aesthetic experience of physical comics because it quite quickly starts sounding creepy; like I’m the kind of guy who loves his comics so much that not only is my cock scarred by paper cuts but I can tell you which comics put them there (oh, the one just near the hem of the prepuce? POLICE ACTION FEATURING LOMAX #2. ) but…there’s just no denying this is a really nice volume in physical terms. Ayup, THE HIVE is a physically appealing package containing cerebral, sophisticated and very funny comics. That’d make it VERY GOOD!


There you go! It was short too! Because I love you, that’s why and that means I don’t need reasons. Except when I kill. I do, however, still need COMICS!!!

Ta-ta for the nonce!

5 Responses to “ “Nothing To Hold Onto.” COMICS!!! Sometimes They Swarm With Awesome! ”

  1. Thanks for the review. I enjoyed it as well as the book itself. It’s definitely a challenging read and is on my reread pile (the book, not the review) after I reread X-ED Out). Have you read Black Hole? I have not but am inclined to read it afer reading these books. Thanks again.

  2. GeorgeT: Thanks for your lovely comment. Yes, I have read BLACK HOLE. I liked it a great deal. If you enjoyed THE HIVE you will enjoy BLACK HOLE.

    In fact there’s plenty of stuff on this very site about BLACK HOLE if you have a root about. Personally I’d go in cold and read more about it afterwards. That’s just me though.

    Unless you are expecting an adaptation of the Walt Disney 1978 motion picture The Black Hole I think you will like what you find in Burns’ book.

    (Hey, have Disney supressed The Black Hole? It’s NEVER on ANYwhere. and I keep an eye out, I do.)

  3. This is one of the funniest things you’ve ever said, “I’m the kind of guy who loves his comics so much that not only is my cock scarred by paper cuts but I can tell you which comics put them there….”

    The only book from Burns I’ve read is Black Hole, oddly enough. Sad but true fact about me…Burns’s art makes me queasy. It makes me sad because he’s a master class artist, but some of the stuff he draws is just too icky for my tastes.

    I did see him give a lengthy talk he gave at a book signing about 6 months ago. It was really, really cool. He walked everyone through his entire method for making comics. He showed us pictures of his binders full of pictures he uses and pulled out a binder with a lot of reference stuff he used for X’ed Out and The Hive. It was really cool, especially when he broke out some examples of stuff he didn’t use.

    The talk definitely gave me a much deeper appreciation of his work even though I have no desire to look at it ever again. I definitely recommend seeing him speak if you ever get a chance.

  4. See, now that’s how you write a review! Discuss David Lynch, Sub Pop, dead baby pigs, and penile papercuts. That’s all I could hope for, and more, from a free review! I don’t own The Hive yet, but you make me want to. I just hope it lives up to its review! (I just wish Burns, along with Clowes and Seth, would give us stories in more affordable versions again. While I can appreciate a tactally-satisfying spine with the best of them, I’d rather not sacrifice ALL of my discretionary gambling money for it.)
    Fine work as always, Mr. K!

  5. @Chris Hero: Burns ain’t for everyone now is he and that’s a durned fact. Pretty awesome you can appreciate his excellence while having no taste for the art he produces. Yeah, I’d sure like to hear Burns talk about his art. He can give me a bell next time he’s passing. I’ll even get some biscuits in.

    @Brian Wiggett: Now we know what you like. Now. We. Know. Good luck holding your head up in church this Sunday.

    As for affordable, well, no, okay, THE HIVE’s not cheap but it is The Good Stuff. That being a given it’s cheap at twice the price. I mean I just bought CLASSIC ALPHA FLIGHT Vol.3 and that was priced at $24.99. (I didn’t pay that as I’m nostalgic not nuts.) I’d have to say Burns’ book was better value despite the price per page. They are good pages in THE HIVE, tha ken. Proper Art and all that stuff.

    Thanks all and keep dreaming those dreams!

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