Author: sv1046

“AAAAHH!” (Black Hole)

Black Hole is a graphic novel by Charles Burns, which explores contagious disease in a radically different way, using uncomfortable and disturbing imagery to emphasize relationships between disease, alcohol & drugs, and teen culture. All characters in the graphic novel are teenagers and even the parental figures are marginalized. It is reminiscent of the 1960s subcultures with its allusions to David Bowie, hallucinogenic drugs, rampant sex, and an unknown sexually transmitted disease, which – after close analysis – seems to be a metonym for the HIV virus.

“The bug” that causes the disease has a different manifestation in each character. For example, Eliza grows a tail (which keeps growing back even after broken) and seems to keep transforming and desire solitude, therefore she gets dubbed the “Lizard Queen.” Chris starts shedding her skin and always being near, almost needing, water, which makes her represent a snake. Rob grows a lesion on his neck that looks like a second mouth with a second tongue and a second mind – or an alter-ego speaking his inner thoughts. These mutations are mostly animalistic, not unlike the deformities encountered in Animal’s World, and not unlike that same novel, the characters stricken by the disease start shifting out of the identity of “human.” Even though the manifestation of the disease seems to be contingent upon the individuals’ characteristics (personalities?), the people develop a new sense of identity as the diseased. Chris becomes a snake that sheds its skin since she is uncomfortable with her own identity, while Eliza’s bodily transformations and changes in attitude turn her into a chameleon-like being. A lot like many other books we’ve read, disease forms another layer of identity and creates community: people start hanging out in the forest (#chilling). They live in seclusion because they are ashamed of who they are and sometimes compensate for/avenge their condition by infecting others, because of jealousy or as a punishment, like Dave spitting on a bully in the fast-food store: “See how easy that was? That’s all it takes… A little spit. Some saliva… And now you’re one of us.” Morality comes into question in similar ways as it does in Journal of the Plague Year.

However, unlike our previous books, the teen plague does not seem to be a catalyst for the narrative: it does not have a known cause, no one is grappling with its consequences or even questioning its symptoms; the disease plays a different role. One of its functions influences the visual representations: the black and white scenes could be related to the infection. Feeding from the conventional color symbolism, the dark scenes are the ones that include sex and the bug and death, while the light ones are disease-free. Another structural thing to notice are the two types of frames that divide the panels: the straight lines of the frames indicate that the narrative inside it is the dominant plot line, while the wavy frame represents ambiguous fantasies and crazy dream sequences.

(Image via)

Like in the image above, these dream states often foreshadow the future (some of the recurring symbols are the tail, the cave construction, Chris floating in water, the cigarette exiting the mouth-wound etc.) These déjà vus enable the very confusing organizing structure of the novel, which skips through different stories in place and time with retrospective fragments completing the cyclical form.

Also, what is the significance of the sandwiches?

The Gulabi Gang

“There’s a whole Yar-yilaqi quarter of Khaufpur, the women in that district wear high heels under their burqas and lipstick under their veils, but if you upset one of them with some Eve-teasing type of remark she’s liable to out with a knife and stick you, this too Farouq told me, in which case it’s a shameful miracle that he has lived so long.” (Sinha, 88)

Let’s take a closer look at the role of women in this book. These veiled women with the ability to stick Eve-teaser with a knife actually exist in India. They go by the name ‘The Gulabi Gang’ (The Pink Gang). Founded by Sampat Pal Devi, The Gubali Gang is a group of Indian women vigilantes and activists who pay visits to abusive men around India and threaten to beat them with laathis (rods/sticks) if they continue to abuse their wives. They also question corrupt policemen and officials, forcing them to return bribes that they have received to cover up the truth about what has happened to burn and rape victims. The Indian media portrays these women extremely positively, causing the gang to gain immense popularity worldwide. In 2012, a well-received documentary was created on the group which also became the inspiration of a Bollywood movie that was released earlier this year.

With prominent characters such as Nisha and Elli taking control of unjust situations in the novel, we have to consider the role they play in questioning the law and uncovering truths about crimes committed against the people of Khaufpur. We’ve seen that on the other hand, the men in this novel (specifically officials, judges and the Kampani owners) run away from justice rather than delivering it.

“The ever-swelling crowd is full of energy, it wants to do something, but no one can agree what. The women, possessed by nothing’s power, begin their chants, “We are flames not flowers. With our brooms, we will beat the Kampani, we will sweet them out from Khaufpur. Out of India we will sweep them. Out of all existence.” (Singa, 311).

Since the introduction of Ma Franci and her love, Nisha and her charity, Elli and her attention to strangers’ health, the women in this book are portrayed as being strong individuals with honest, respectable and moral goals. Why was there a brief mention of the mysterious veiled women? Is the author intentionally depicting the women of this book to be wise and good while portraying the men as ‘bad’ and unjust? What role do they play in delivering justice and uncovering the truth about what happened ‘that night’?

How has there not been a Freddy Mercury reference yet…

Freddy Mercury, lead singer of the band ‘Queen’, found himself getting weaker and weaker after being diagnosed with AIDS. This, however, had not been made public. His denial allowed him to ignore the shadow of death that threatened to swallow him and avoid media speculation. Despite growing extremely ill, Mercury continued to perform for his fans. In 1990, 1 year before his death, he recorded the song ‘The Show Must Go On’ which fits the themes and characters of this play perfectly. Much like some of the characters of the play, the disease had completely invaded Mercury’s body such that he was barely able to walk. Even so, he continued to perform. His story and ‘shows’ are not very different to those of the characters in ‘Angels in America’.

Watch either the Music + Lyrical video or the Angels In America Version

 The song, when heard in the context of the play, gets us thinking about AIDS, the implications of the disease, what it means to be a homosexual in our society, etc. Moreover, it asks us questions about performance. Despite the fact that this is a play, to what extent are the characters performing even within the play?

“Behind the curtain, in the pantomime

Hold the line. Does anybody want to take it anymore?

The show must go on,

The show must go on.”

So… Which one of you is Pushkin?

To fully understand the context of this play, it is important to consider how much of the playwright’s own life influenced the story. After being held in quarantine for three months due to the infection, Pushkin experienced a surge of ideas and thus wrote many of his finest works, including ‘Feast In the Time of the Plague.’ He had faced many hardships prior to this incidence and yearned for love for many years in the midst of a terrible epidemic.

“Pushkin’s drawings at this time show constant preoccupation with the persecution and hangings of his friends; surrounded by “spies, whores, and drunkards” he soon was pining again for the simplicity and peace of country life, for his nanny Arina Rodionovna—and she for him (“To my Nanny”). Even a bright new company of musicians, gypsies, and the great exiled Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz, whom Pushkin befriended in Moscow, did not much console the poet.” [] 

During time of persecution, political conflict and disease, Pushkin and his friends regularly submerged themselves in social gatherings and feasts. This may have been the perfect setting for them to neglect their hardships or to grieve in a comfortable setting. In reading the play, then, it is not hard to see that two characters in particular may directly mirror Pushkin’s situation and state of mind at the time; the priest and Chairman (Walsingham). 

I don’t know one like that – here’s what I’ll sing:
A hymn in honor of the Plague. I wrote it
Late last night, after we had parted.
I found I had a strange poetic impulse

Much in the same way that Pushkin had, Walsingham also finds himself strangely inspired by the pain and suffering that surrounds him. He alludes to both his lack of and loss of love (as he had had various unstable relationships in the past) as well as the insecurities that arose from his loneliness. He clearly craved family and “the simplicity and peace of country life” which he had lost at a very young age. Thus, Walsingham’s story closely represents Pushkin’s own life. The Priest’s also plays an important role. He could either be representative of a different perspective that Pushkin had on the idea of celebrating during times of suffering or may even illustrate his friends’ reactions to his ways of dealing with grief. Nancy K. Anderson also touches upon this idea but does not expand on it fully.

Either way, Pushkin sure liked to party and had his characters do the same.

[Image via]

– Sheba