Fantagraphics Studio Edition: Black Hole By Charles Burns

Charles Burns’s graphic novel Black Hole is one of the medium’s most iconic works of the 21st century, a towering achievement by a master cartoonist, and perennial classic some 15 years after its initial release. Set in suburban Seattle during the mid-1970s, it’s the story of a strange plague that has descended upon the area’s teenagers, transmitted by sexual contact. The premise lends itself to metaphorical interpretations as well as functioning as a perfect outlet to mine teen ennui and puberty-induced anxiety.

This Fantagraphics Studio Edition showcases Burns’s original art for the book, featuring exact reproductions of over 150 of his original pages, at their actual size. While appearing to be in black & white, each page has been scanned in full colour to retain the integrity and fidelity of the actual original art, warts and all. It includes several full chapters from the book as well as selected excerpts that showcase Burns’s impeccable sense of design, composition, and execution. Hypnotically beautiful and horrifying, Black Hole is a genuine American classic and this is the closest most of us will ever get to sitting in the author’s studio.

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As with all AE format material (Artist’s Editions, Artifact Editions, Gallery Editions, Art Editions, Studio Editions, etc), this is a collection of classic comic material and I’ll be reviewing the book and not the story. For a complete list of all current and announced editions, with review links, please visit our Index. Also, see What is an Artist’s Edition and our Artist Index.

Another high quality Studio Edition from Fantagraphics. As with the others a different editor and designer worked on this volume, Eric Reynolds and Charles Burns himself. There was a name change along the way, from what is currently solicited by Fantagraphics to what you see as this review’s title: always use the indices as the definitive name.

Let’s address the lack of information in the publisher’s blurb: this is a selection of complete stories from the series, but it’s not a consecutive block. Here’s the list of stories included and their corresponding issue number:

  • Biology 101, issue 1
  • Planet Xeno, issue 1
  • SSSSSSSSSS, issue 1
  • who’s chris, issue 3
  • Bag Action, issue 4
  • Seeing Double, issue 5
  • Window Pane, issue 6
  • Under Open Skies, issue 7
  • The End (partial), issue 12

Following these stories are six covers. No table of contents, no interview, no biography, no page numbers and no foreword or afterword explaining why this material was selected. We get the indices page, stories, and covers. There are chapter dividers before each story, and endpapers. It reads well, but keep in mind it’s a selection of work and provides no additional information or insights to process or story.

Scan quality is superb; no issues whatsoever. Burns was doing it all and therefore no notes on any margins. Pages have aged very little, all being off white to cream. Very little correction fluid and only a few paste ins: a panel replacement, some background images. Blacks are consistent until the final story where we see a lot of gradients; probably a change of ink by the artist. Seeing Double shows guidelines in the word balloons. It appears Burns cleaned up his art while inking so we don’t see a lot of process on the pages.

Design is clean and unified, coming from the cartoonist directly. Art used for endpapers and chapter dividers is clear and well employed. Love the design used on the box. No lettering on the cover or spine is a strong artistic choice; because of the size this isn’t a volume to be stuck on a shelf amongst all the others. No page numbers, just a white border around each page.

Production is excellent, with a sewn binding of heavy matte paper stock. Printed cover with a cloth spine. The binding is a little tight here and there, with most pages lying flat after smoothing the center. The comes without shrink wrap in a white cardboard case with a black and white sticker showing product information.