Archive for December, 2010

“X’ed” Marks the Spot: Charles Burns

Charles Burns’ most recent work of graphic fiction, X’ed Out (Pantheon, 2010) is testament to the ability of words and pictures combined to stand tall among the finest works of nonlinear prose.

Tribute to Burroughs

X’ed Out not only assumes the structurally complex qualities of postmodern literature, but also pays tribute to one of the movement’s early pioneers, namely William S. Burroughs.

In an annotated slideshow featuring scenes from X’ed Out, Burns provides intriguing and essential commentary explaining the primary influences in the first volume of his three-part series. The book simultaneously chronicles the ongoing events in the life of Doug, a young man with artistic aspirations, and the dreamscape inhabited by Doug’s alter ego, Nitnit. Burns explains,

The world where Nitnit lives is straight out of William S. Burroughs, populated by lizard-men and cyclopes. “Naked Lunch was originally called The Interzone—an agglomeration of places that Burroughs had visited, Mexico or New Orleans or Tangier,” Burns explains. “Where Nitnit is wandering is a reflection of that, vaguely Middle Eastern–looking but full of diverse elements, like punk-rock posters on the wall” (“Tintin gets scalped.” NYMag, October, 2010).

Portrait of William S. Burroughs by Charles Burns. Robert Bly described Burroughs once as a "green-skinned reptilian."

Portrait of William S. Burroughs by Charles Burns.
Robert Bly described Burroughs once as a “green-skinned reptilian.”

The above portrait was included as part of an Adam Baumgold Gallery exhibition in 2008 of Burns’ recent work. Burroughs is credited with having been one of the early innovators involved in literary experiments with fragmented narrative, in particular as embodied in the classic Naked Lunch. Burroughs’ approach was defined through the application of the cut-up technique. The cut-up approach has recently seen renewed notoriety, thanks to dj sampling and multimedia mashups. As early as the 1950s, Burroughs and Byron Gyson experimented with audio cut-ups using electromagnetic tape reels. Continue reading ‘“X’ed” Marks the Spot: Charles Burns’

Notes on Cole and the Plastic Arts

Jack Cole, 1914-1958

The Early Years

In 1940, Everett M. Arnold’s Quality Comics publishing was going strong, with Will Eisner’s Spirit in the limelight. The Spirit newsprint strips were being reprinted in Police Comics, to the delight of the public. Eisner was part-owner of the Quality line. In his capacity as editor, he hired Jack Cole to work on a string of titles including “Death Patrol.”

In 1943, a total of fifteen pages per issue of Police Comics were consecrated to Plastic Man. Consider that in the same year, both Superman in Action Comics and Batman in Detective Comics were only given thirteen pages per issue.

Splash for Plastic Man story in Police Comics #11

Also in 1943, Plastic Man was given his own comic, with four stories coming in at a total of 54 pages. The new book was not published by Quality Comics, but by the printer of Vital Books, named Julian Proskauer. During the war, Proskauer got into the comics and paperback business because he suspected he’d make more money at it. Vital published Plastic Man, The Spirit, and Nick Carter.


Cole was producing a higher volume of material with the increased page count. As a consequence, the amount of detail in his work diminished, particularly in terms of his backgrounds and his shading. Cole was receiving the highest page rate of any comic artist at the time, and received more than one bonus to the tune of $2500. Particularly for an artist who didn’t even own the copyright to his work, Cole was doing well for himself financially. Continue reading ‘Notes on Cole and the Plastic Arts’


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