Thursday, 4:13pm
28 June 2012

Artfully bizarre

Big Baby / El Borbah / Skin Deep

Charles Burns<br>Fantagraphics, US$24.95 each<br>

The woodcut lines and visceral surrealism of the Philadelphia cartoonist Charles Burns figure in three deluxe hardcover collections reprinting nuggets from Pantheon’s Hard-Boiled Defective Stories and various issues of Art Spiegelman’s Raw magazine. Burns’s unsavoury fairy tales typically centre on any number of comic book clichés – sinister scientists, dogged detectives and teenage lust feature regularly – before slowly warping into tense, and often disturbing, cautionary tales. Familiar pulp iconography is given new resonance in Burns’s cartoon laboratory, his oddly gripping narratives evoking childhood’s intrigues, fantasies and fears. El Borbah follows the adventures of a masked, overweight Mexican wrestler turned private eye. Big Baby blurs suburban unease with extraterrestrial STDs and other B-movie nightmares, while Skin Deep features doomed romance, architectural hairstyles and the pitfalls of interspecies transplantation. Any one of these collections would serve as an excellent starting point for those unfamiliar with the artist’s singular mix of mordant humour and droll, stylised draughtsmanship. For Burns enthusiasts and those with a taste for the artfully bizarre, a complete set is a must. Two further volumes, completing Burns’s oeuvre are scheduled to follow later this year.