September 3, 2008

The Art of Frankenstein : Charles Burns

I try to achieve something that’s almost like a visceral effect. The quality of the lines and the density of the black take on a character of their own — it’s something that has an effect on your subconscious. Those lines make you feel a certain way.

— Charles Burns

Here’s a gorgeous Frankenstein Monster and Dracula group portrait done for The New Yorker in 1994. Can you name all the movies represented?

American illustrator Charles Burns is best known for his psychological horror comics that conjugate teen angst and sexual awakening with deformities, mutation and bizarre diseases, all rendered in a meticulous, black and white ligne claire style. Burns’ preoccupation with adolescent horrors and eerie physical transgression culminated in the acclaimed graphic novel Black Hole, patiently created over a ten-year period. Time magazine says, “Visually, it's one of the most stunning graphic novels yet published”.

Several of Burns’ earlier stories made heavy use of pop culture iconography. El Borbah was a combination private eye/masked wrestler inhabiting a freakshow world of weird characters, a bold marriage of Chester Gould and Hergé. The wonderful Big Baby stories, at once creepy and enormously touching, dealt with a small boy living in a fantasy world of cool movie monsters awakening to the cruel and dangerous real world of adults. You can glimpse a Karloff Frankenstein poster, and a Great Garloo toy on the cover of the Big Baby collection.

The Frankenstein/Dracula family portrait is part of a major exhibition of Charles Burns’ drawings starting September 5 at the Adam Baumgold Gallery in New York. See a preview of the show here.

A list of all the movies referenced in the New Yorker illustration is here.

The quote at top is from The Believer.

An interview with Charles Burns by Peter Breedveld, and another one from Vice magazine.

A fan’s portfolio of Charles Burns art, including the Goon Squad cards.

Another group portrait: Legion of Frankensteins


ARBOGAST said...

I love seeing Frankenstein 1970 in there.

Pierre Fournier said...

Same here. Don't know why, but I was happy to see the Michelin Frankenstein included, as I was with the inclusion of Sandra Harrison's vampire.

ARBOGAST said...

There's just something so damned cozy about his work - and I don't mean "cozy" as a synonym for complacent but rather he strikes a very happy nerve deep down below all the scar tissue and arrow heads.