Sugar Skull – Charles Burns – Review
When I read Black Hole, it was a shock to the system. It clawed at a teenagers fear of sex and also the unknown world of adults, and kept a dream like quality throughout. It was a new work that had something impressive to say. The art work contained stark images of a vividly depicted world. It didn’t put a foot wrong, so to speak. This sent me scurrying through Burns’ back catalogue to find work of a similar standard, a few more lost gems, of which there was very little!
Sugar Skull is the third and final instalment in the sequence of books that started with X’ed Out (October 2010) and continued with The Hive (October 2012). These three books inhabit a similar world to Black Hole. It is a world almost in reality, but sometimes takes a radical step in the opposite direction. There are a number of narrative strips in these books that move along simultaneously. They seem to have the same hero in each, a young man who looks similar takes the lead in all of the various threads, but it is the reader’s job to slowly slot them into place and make sense of one against the next.
As the final instalment, Sugar Skull was the one that was meant to make sense of it all, where you got a clear understanding of what the other two fragments were meant to be. This simply isn’t the case, and the story is left with as many loose threads as the writer could muster. This only helps to add to the mystery though. It becomes clear that the protagonist has had a brain injury after some type of attack, and that one of the worlds may be a result of this. Of the time he spent in an unconscious world where elements of reality crept in, but really that is trying to force order on something where none exists. There is no clear answer to explain the story and that is as the writer wanted it!
While this may not be as impressive a work as the Black Hole, it picks at the same wound. Burns is an unusual writer that likes to keep his reader in an unpleasant space, where they question all around them. The art work is very impressive and the subject matter is something that lurks at that back of your psyche.
Find out more about Charles Burns here.