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Skin DeepReview - Skin Deep
by Charles Burns
Fantagraphics Books, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Feb 20th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 8)

Charles Burns is one of the most distinctive comic book artists working today.  His bold black and white highly stylized work clearly owes a great deal to the pulp comic books of the 1950s, although they are more surreal and darkly humorous.  This book contains three stories: “Dog Days,” “Burn Again,” and “A Marriage Made in Hell,” as well as some unused panels.  They appeared previously in a weekly comic strip Big Baby and came out between 1988 and 1992.  

            The first story features Dog Boy, who has strong tendencies to behave like a dog, including he sniffing of other people’s behinds and barking when he gets excited, and this gets him into trouble.  The second, longest story, is about a religious cult that worships an alien, led by a very strange man by the name of Bliss Blister.  The final short story is of a very unconventional marriage in which a woman discovered the bizarre truth about her husband. 

            Most of the characters in these stories are fantastically ugly.  Their motives are self-serving but they are terribly alone, hiding secrets from each other, or trying to discover the secrets of other people.  The stories are both funny and a little disturbing, but really the weirdness has more kitsch value than ability to reveal anything about human nature.  It’s hard to identify with the main characters, and so one gets little sense of understanding what motivated them.  The stories and artwork go well together, and the plot is strong enough to make the reader keep on turning the pages from start to finish. 

            But it’s Burns’ art that really commands respect.  The not-quite-human faces of most of his characters are alien and unsympathetic, the eyes especially devoid of warmth.  The strength of the lines and the featuring of contrasts give the images an iconic power comparable to Keith Haring’s work.  The characters may be creepy and weird, but it is Burn’s ability to convey those qualities so effectively that makes his work so memorable. 

 

Link:

Charles Burns web page at Fantagraphics Books

© 2002 Christian Perring. First Serial Rights.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


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