Friday 8 October 2010

Swoon Now! X'ed Out

After Daniel Clowes' Wilson explored the life of a thinly-veiled grown up Charlie Brown, Charles Burns draws on Tin-Tin to depict an explorer of a foreign dream-land in X'ed Out (Jonathan Cape). Dressed in pyjamas, a dressing gown and slippers he follows a cat through the wall meeting alien characters and customs. At the same time we cut to waking life to discover more about the dreamer, Doug, who is bedridden with only a bandage on his head to suggest why. Whether it's due to an accident or an operation, Doug has been left emotionally fragile and permanently on a cocktail of drugs. As Doug explores the surreal world of his dream, the story jumps around between the real and un-real by revealing more about Doug's past and his present. I found this fluctuation in the narrative to be so effective not only in telling the story but also by challenging and unsettling me that it brought to mind the infamous chapter four - the Mars chapter - of Watchmen. The artwork remains familiarly Burns-like. Doug's face is frozen in a mixture of fear and awe and there are recurring motifs of slits, holes and flowing lines contrasted with the rigid rectagular panels. The effective and refreshing difference is that the book is in colour.
Negatives? Well the Tin-Tin reference is rammed home (Doug's creative alter-ego is called Nitnit), the book is rather a sleight and it has a cliffhanger ending due to it being the first part of a series as yet not specified in length. However, apart from the exceptional storytelling there is easily enough human drama and intrigue, beautifully balanced with the sureal, to make me think that Doug's story may prove to be something of an extraordinary journey. 

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