Dédales. Charles Burns (Cornélius)

Charles Burns seems to be returning to his roots, by treading known ground. After the masterpiece of body horror meets teen angst that was Black Hole and the masterful genre-crushing disguised as weird ligne claire homage Last Look trilogy, the author puts out the first volume of a purported new series focusing, once again, on a young slacker loser and his awkward love interest, a more mature young woman, and references galore to Americana, B movies, and its crossing with science fiction, horror and kaiju. It is also, even if to lesser extent in terms of power and subtlety, about comics-creation itself.

Truth be said, if someone presented this book as being created before Last Look, I would believe it. It is less sophisticated than that earlier tome, but then again this is the first volume, so it may be too early to understand where this is going. Published as it was in French only at the time of this writing, I’m pretty sure this book will have its English edition pretty soon, and from that, a larger readership across the globe.

Materially speaking, this is a short book, very much in the vein of the European-styled one-shot albums Burns created in the late 1990s, early 2000s. It focuses on a young man, Brian, who is a loner. Even if in parties packed with teens dancing and drinking, he rather prefers to stay in the kitchen, drawing himself both distorted in the reflection of a toaster and in his mind, as the result is a strange bulbous headed creature. Enter Laurie, a red-haired beauty who, for some reason, gives Brian the time of day. She finds his art intriguing, and that’s a good point of departure for a putative relationship.

Charles Burns - Dédales, 01

Brian shoots very low budget sci-fi/horror films with his childhood friend Jimmy. They are involved in a new project, and Laurie jokingly attempts to become the star. This common interest makes them watch Don Siegel’s 1956 Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s not exactly Laurie’s cup of tea, but she’s intrigued. Brian’s seemingly droning tone and his sketchbook filled with strange art – including what seems to be conceptual art with her resemblance – end up by convincing her to at least stay for a longer time and listen…

Dédales is a book in search of polyphonic effects, no matter how simple: the first-person captions navigate between Brian’s and Laurie’s voices, giving us different perspectives of the diegetic world, and allowing us to understand the inner emotions of each of the characters in relation to one another. However, when it’s Brian’s turn, the lion’s share is occupied by fantastic daydreaming scenes, mixing Brian’s own art, creative projects, and what one can describe as hypnagogic hallucinations, always informed by not that much hidden desires and bone fide weirdness. Somewhat like Dave McKean’s Celluloid, the opportunity to bring cinema into the mix allows for strange metatextual fluctuations and questionings within the story. And while, as I said before, not as sophisticated (thus far) as the X’Ed trilogy, it’s still worth it to think about it.
Like in Tintin‘s classical albums, some of the pages present wordless splash panels, showing the desolate landscapes and the bulbous alien creature floating above it. There’s something about these scenes that may contain the secret to Burns’ new project itself, but only future chapters will confirm this, as well as revealing the direction the author will turn this. As usual, he employs almost emotionless, descriptive dialogue and captions, not much familial context for the characters apart from a few snippets, in such a way that the narrative world is really concentrated on their minimal actions, apathy and interaction…

Charles Burns - Dédales, 02

One brilliant page from these “internal dreams” sequences shows three oblong panels of different sites. But look how some pieces connect to one another, the peak of a mountain to its ridge, the ridge to the foothills, but the rest of the landscape making no sense in a logical way. This very description of the page, however, might as well be applied to both the overall story as to Brian’s own connections to the actual world. There are things that click together and form almost what one could call a “plot”, while others are disjointed and only the time-consuming and forward-moving act of reading makes us connect them. What they mean, however, is beyond our grasp. The French title means “labyrinth”, from the mythic architect Daedulus. We just found out that we’re inside one, but there’s no recognizable path, not even the will to move perhaps, much less an exit in sight…


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