cover image Final Cut

Final Cut

Charles Burns. Pantheon, $34 (224p) ISBN 978-0-593-70170-6

The manias of art-making and adolescent lust are brilliantly rendered by Burns in his first standalone graphic novel since Black Hole. Fans will recognize Burns’s lovingly etched backdrops and pulp sensibility as he returns to the subject of confused hormonal youths lost in a netherworld caught between reality and nightmare. The narrative is told mostly from the perspective of Brian, who is so busy drawing his eerie waking dreams (alien brains, his naked floating self) that he’s barely conscious of the world around him. Then he meets Laurie, an awkward beauty whose interest in Brian’s sketches sparks an obsessive frisson in him. As Brian and his friend Jimmy pursue their yearslong hobby of making B-grade horror flicks, Laurie agrees to be Brian’s cinematic muse. It becomes clear her interest in Brian is not only platonic but tempered by concern over his manic fugue states, much like Jimmy takes the filmmaking as more of a lark than Brian will allow. The romantic misunderstandings play out in an atmosphere of lightly thrumming dread. When the trio—along with another young couple and a blonde with an unpredictable streak—march into the woods to stage Brian’s homage to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, bloodletting seems sure to follow. But despite Burns’s nods to body horror and creature features, his themes are more wistful than terrifying. Rarely has the pursuit of art been more potently characterized as a substitute for love and acceptance. With perfectly attuned emotional and aesthetic details, it’s an instant classic from a master of the form. Agent: Nicole Aragi, Aragi, Inc. (Sept.)