“Permagel” cover art by Charles Burns, ink on paper, 18" x 13", 2008

Adam Baumgold Gallery: “Permagel” cover by Charles Burns, ink on paper, 18″ x 13″, 2008.

Permagel is an large-dimension art book edited by French publisher United Dead Artist in 2008. The 16 x 12 in, 32 pages books was printed in double black impression on 170gr Rives paper. In the United-States, the book was distributed by Buenaventura Press but they don’t have it anymore. In fact, it’s currently sold out everywhere and may only be found in used books market. As I write this, eBay has a mint condition copy selling for about $110US.

Although I don’t own a copy of Permagel I got my hands on the first instalment of his new series X’ed Out (Pantheon Books, 2010; when it came out in 2010, it made the first position on The New York Times best sellers list for hardcover graphic novel). I bought it after I came across the Permagel cover while browsing online.

I knew nothing of Charles Burns when I started reading X’ed Out and after a few hallucinated pages, my first reaction was to imagine Tintin recast as the protagonist of David Lynch’s Eraserhead. As it turns out, it’s quite a common and somehow adequate reaction. Hergé’s work is an important source of inspiration for Charles Burns. The Permagel cover is an obvious détournement of the cover art for the tenth album of The Adventures of Tintin, The Shooting Star (L’Étoile mystérieuse, Casterman, 1942). And Lynch is so often mentioned by commentators of Burns’s work that he’s openly joking about it in interviews:

But I try not to pay attention to whatever those publicity lines are… I’m the David Lynch of comics, in case you didn’t know [laughs]. Dan Klaus used to be the David Lynch of comics and, well he probably still is. We’re both probably the David Lynch of comics…unless I’m the Cronenberg and he’s the David Lynch… (Full Stop: “Charles Burns in conversation with Jesse Montgomery”, May 9, 2011)

Charles Burns is an American cartoonist and illustrator born in Washington D. C in 1955. He currently lives in Philadelphia with his wife and two daughters. His most notorious work is probably the twelve-issue comic book Black Hole released in collected form in 2005:

In 1994, he began the most ambitious and best work of his career, Black Hole, for Kitchen Sink. Upon Kitchen Sink’s collapse, he moved the series to Fantagraphics in 1998, finishing it in 2004. This tale of modern horror focuses on a plague that can only be transmitted between sexually active teenagers. Since its debut, Black Hole has been a multiple Harvey, Eisner and Ignatz Award winner, and made The Comics Journal’s list of the “Top 100 English-Language Comics of the Century.” It was collected as a hardcover by Pantheon in 2005. (Fantagraphics Books: “Artist Bio – Charles Burns”

There are very good interviews with Charles Burns available online, as well a rich galleries of his work. For more, see the following links:

  • Monster Brains has a gallery of more than 70 hi-res illustrations by Charles Burns. It’s an excellent iconographic introduction to his work: “Charles Burns”, July 25, 2011.

  • Adam Baumgold Gallery in New York held an exhibition about the work of Charles Burns in Fall of 2008. Their website still offers the official press release for the exhibition, as well as 68 medium to hi-res reproduction of some of his illustrations. That’s where I found the reproduction of the Permagel cover depicted above.

  • Many of Charles Burns comic albums are available for sell on the official Fantagraphics Books website.

  • Comic Book Ressources: “Charles Burns is “X’Eed Out” an interview by Alex Dueben, October 18, 2010.

    CBR News: Typically the first question is, “What is the book about?” Someone asked me that about “X’ed Out,” and I said the best comparison I could think of was “Tintin” meets “Black Hole.”

    Charles Burns: There’s a little bit of that. There’s certainly a very strong Herge influence. If you just think of the Franco-Belgian style of creating comic albums in that format, the way those European make them which is the 64 pages, 48 pages. A hardbound albums with continuing characters. I was one of those rare kids of my generation who grew up reading Tintin and it had a very profound effect on me, so this is the way that I can kind of reflect on that and play with some of those ideas.

  • The New York Times: “Graphic Books Best-Sellers: Charles Burns on ‘X’ed Out’” an interview by Adam Kepler, October 29, 2010.

    “X’ed Out” is the first in a series of three books. The format is based on French and Belgian comic “albums” that are color, hardbound books, typically 56 to 64 pages long. I’ve always loved the format and when I decided to create a color comic that’s what immediately came to mind. I realize there’s an preconceived idea in most people’s minds of what a “graphic novel” is (a massive, telephone-book-size comic) and I promise I’m not trying to foist off slender version of that – I’m simply creating a story that will work perfectly in 3 Franco/Belgian style books.

  • Focus Vif: “Tintin sous influence(s) dans “Toxic”, de Charles Burns” an interview in French by Vincent Degrez, October 14, 2010.

    J’ai commencé à “lire” Tintin avant de savoir déchiffrer les mots. Hergé s’est certainement gravé dans mon propre ADN. Gardez à l’esprit qu’il n’y avait que six livres disponibles à ce moment-là. Mais les deuxième, troisième et quatrième de couverture énuméraient tant d’autres personnages et histoires… Je regardais inlassablement l’arrière de ces livres et j’aurais donné n’importe quoi pour embarquer vers l’Ile Noire flottant, insaisissable, à l’horizon. D’une certaine façon, l’histoire que j’imaginais était nettement plus intense et satisfaisante que le livre que je lus bien des années plus tard.

  • FInally, a good and quick introduction to X’ed Out is offerd in the following video presentation by Charles Burns filmed in Paris on November 2010 (in English):

“L'étoile Mystérieuse” cover art by Hergé (Casterman, 1942)
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