X’ed Out by Charles Burns – A Review

The media juggernaut supporting the release of Spielberg’s Tintin movie is thundering ahead at full speed, drawing growing numbers of celebrity fans of the Belgian Boy Reporter out of the woodwork. All this despite the growing number of less than flattering reviews from a number of quarters. Many of these celebrities don’t seem to come as much of a surprise and it could be considered that their personal views may not match their public endorsements.

Based on X’ed Out it can be assumed that dystopian graphic novelist Charles Burns may not fall into the celebrity supporter role. However Burns’ passion for Hergé’s hero can be clearly seen throughout the piece. The front cover is a loving pastiche of ‘The Shooting Star’ and early on the reader is introduced to a much-loved pet and sidekick ‘Inky’ who leads the hero, Doug, into otherworldly adventures. This is of course a Charles Burn narrative and Doug is far from actually being heroic and spends a great deal of time convalescing in bed, popping pills. Add to this the fact that Inky is supposed to be dead and we realise that the Tintin elements in X’ed Out are viewed through a very distorted glass indeed.

The plot is unveiled through flashbacks to Doug’s art school past, his yearning for an enigmatic fellow student, his convalescence and what appear to be warped dream sequences. As an avant garde performer Doug, in very familiar mask and quiff based wig, goes by the name of Nitnit. It is during one of his performances where he first meets Sarah and becomes infatuated. However, it is not these normal occurrences that make the story of X’ed Out. The stand out moments come when Doug, as a Tintin clone, is thrown into a strange and distorted world. Here he is accosted by lizard men, encounters large and sinister eggs and is lead astray by a man who can work wonders with cigarettes while wearing a nappy. There is imagery upon imagery throughout these sections and some of it this is repeated in the real world story, which weaves in and out of Doug’s apparent madness. The eggs, and what appear to be pig’s foetuses, are chilling in their silence and stillness.

Burns’ sharp and crystal clear artwork in unsurprisingly good at telling all the layers of this interwoven narrative. Doug is Doug, in flashback, in bed with dressings around his head, as Nitnit or as his adventuring amalgam, Tintin mirroring self. Each aspect is rendered differently yet each is obviously Doug. Although it must be noted that it is the most surreal and more Hergé-esque segments that stand out most of all.

The plot cracks along at a rapid pace, jumping from element to element with ease and skill. The reader is drawn along through the sinister and surreal with the comforting presence of Tintin just in the periphery. In fact most readers may find themselves drawn up short, as the climax to the book comes a little too quickly with far too few of the mysteries unravelled. Xe’d Out, it appears, is the first of an ongoing series and as there is no news, to date, of part two ‘The Hive’. This rapid read therefore ends on a slightly unfulfilling note. As it is such a quick and enthralling read it is a simple thing to return and re-enjoy, maybe even at the same sitting, but with no information regarding the progression of the multiple plots, readers may well be advised holding off pursuing Xe’d Out until the future of the series is know.

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