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Charles Burns: "I know that my books are not for everyone, certainly not for someone very young"


The cartoonist, considered one of the most influential and peculiar creators of contemporary comics, starts a new and disturbing trilogy with 'Labyrinths'

A page from 'Labyrinths', by Charles Burns.

Most of the time, he was alone.

His sister, at school.

Dad, at work.

And mom, who apparently was at home, who knows how many issues she would have to deal with.

In the absence of company, the little boy entertained himself as best he could.

For example, taking books off the shelves.

He didn't even know how to read yet, but he watched, especially the ones full of vignettes.

And once he whined at his mother, she said, "Sit down and draw something."

It was what he did.

The legend of Charles Burns (Washington, 66 years old) must have started that day.

Perhaps the anecdote serves to understand why loneliness, melancholy and restlessness dominate his comics.

But childhood is not enough to explain the trajectory of one of the most influential creators in the history of comics.

It is necessary to add, at least, a dazzling and peculiar talent, a very personal stamp, as well as an atmosphere that some have defined as "the terror of everyday life".

Psychoanalysis, dreams, nostalgia, traumas.

All of this returns in


, his last work and the beginning of a trilogy that Reservoir Books will publish in the coming years.

More information

Charles Burns: Get out of the hole

“I've been in this for so long that I thought it would make me more professional.

But it is never true.

When I start a story, I always start from scratch and fight.

I have a lot of false starts, go slowly, take notes, sketch scenes or drawings.

Sometimes there are images or ideas that keep coming back.

I try not to censor myself and explore them”, says the artist by phone, also famous for an artisanal and slow-burn creative process.



he was inspired by a sketch he himself had made in the seventies: a cartoonist looks at his reflection in a metal toaster.

At the same time, he often visualized a flying creature with huge tentacles.

And he wanted to rescue a period of his life: “When my friends and I worked on eight-millimeter films.

I like films as recordings of memory.”

How do you mix three such distant concepts in a book?

Mysteries of Charles Burns.

To clarify them —or complicate them— a sentence pronounced by the protagonist of the comic is worth saying: “I am a compressed alien, sitting at another table, in another world”.

“It's a part of me, I look at some of my stories and realize how dark they are, and it scares me.

Although I think there are also elements of hope and beauty.

I put images on Instagram from time to time, and sometimes later I think that maybe they are not appropriate, or that they are very dark”, adds the author.

His profile on the social network, in effect, is populated by two-headed beings, strange worms, and individuals with expressions common in Burns's works: stunned, overwhelmed, insecure, absorbed.

Of course, they practically never smile.

“I don't think so.

But soon there will be a character who laughs, ”he jokes.

Or not.

Two pages from 'Labyrinths', by Charles Burns.


Although Burns has never worried about choosing a hostile path, or little traveled.

He tried painting, sculpture, photography.

Finally, he chose the comic.

“When I started there was no established place to publish my work, I had to fight to find a site that would publish me,” he recalls.

Too alternative, independent.


it was said then.

So he moved through fanzines and more risk-taking magazines, until he found fame—and a permanent home—at


, the publication founded in the 1980s by artists and publishers Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman.

But Burns remembers that part of his myth began to be forged also from Spain: the first time he published abroad was thanks to the magazine

El Víbora.

It began, then, in the margins.

And, in a way, there it is.

Because works like

Black Hole

(The Dome) or

Final View

(Reservoir Books, his previous trilogy) are adored by several critics, but they could hardly be considered best sellers.

Between subtleties, allegories, dreamlike scenarios and awkward moments, reading can be as absorbing as it is disturbing.

“I don't want to repeat what I did in the past.

I don't look back at my work, sometimes it seems like the work of a stranger”, he says.

But certain traits do remain in his trajectory.

His father was an oceanographer: Burns, on the other hand, dives to the shadowy depths of the human mind.

Charles Burns, portrayed by himself.

Like that famous "fuck the average viewer" pronounced by David Simon, creator of the series

The Wire

, in a 2008 BBC program, the author himself is aware that his work puts obstacles to the masses.

Not that I do it on purpose.

Burns says that he just follows his inspiration: “If I were to consciously look for another kind of approach, it would be false.

I try to be authentic and express my ideas in the best way, without simplifying them.

I know that my books are not for everyone, certainly not for someone very young.

The best authors are the ones you read again and get something else out of.

And I would like that to happen.

But I never write to shock.

What pushes me is to create something that I didn't expect myself to be able to do."

To summarize the concept, the creator uses a more graphic way: “I am like that, I can't help it.

I wish I had long blonde hair, but I'm bald."

He is also, by now, a cult author.

But he prefers to distance himself from the applause: "The process of sitting at a table and working is not connected to the outside world, to the public."

And he adds: "I'm a legend only in my own head."


In his vignettes, the phrase would give way to bitter introspective reflection.

At the other end of the phone, however, laughter is heard.

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A post shared by Charles Burns (@fictopicto)

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Source: elparis

All life articles on 2022-05-16

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