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Tintin on acid: Charles Burns ends his dark trilogy with 'Sugar Skull'




Graphic novelist and artist Charles Burns, at the Mohn Broadcast Center, 9/18/2014. He's just completed his trilogy with the new book Sugar Skull.
Graphic novelist and artist Charles Burns, at the Mohn Broadcast Center, 9/18/2014. He's just completed his trilogy with the new book Sugar Skull.
John Rabe

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Graphic novelist Charles Burns stopped by the Mohn Broadcast Center to talk with Off-Ramp host John Rabe about "Sugar Skull," which completes the trilogy that includes "X'ed Out" and "The Hive."  He's doing a signing tonight (Thurday, Sept. 18) at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz.

Why the trilogy? Burns says, "I had finished another book, "Black Hole," which was this very long graphic novel, all in black and white, and I wanted to do something in color, so I conceived a series of books, based on a series of my life, late '70s, the Punk Era. It started that way, and then it turned into something else."

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The look of Burns' books:

... is drawn from one of his childhood favorites, the Belgian Tintin, who had all sorts of politically incorrect adventures:

"It's called the clear-line school of comics. And it's exactly what it sounds like: very clear lines, but perfectly rendered in color."

If there's more shadow in Burns' books than in Herge's, that's because the lines between good and bad, dark and light, reality and unreality are blurrier in Burns. The trilogy moves back and forth in time and place, including between the normal world and a bizarre world in which a character named Johnny 23 struggles with many of the same issues the protagonist in the real world, Doug, faces... including a pregnant girlfriend.

(From Sugar Skull, by Charles Burns. )

Are they two separate stories or Doug's subconscious world? Burns won't say. "That's for the reader to figure out. I don't really ever clearly explain those things at all, and I like to leave those things open. Interpretation is great, as far as I'm concerned."

Burns turns 59 on Sept. 27. How does he like approaching 60? "As far as the day-to-day landscape, things are more settled in. But as far as my sweltering, swelling, itching brain, that hasn't changed at all unfortunately."