Skin Deep by Charles Burns

Skin Deep
by Charles Burns
Fantagraphics, 2009

A welcome reprint of three short stories previously printed in Art Spiegelman’s legendary RAW magazine and the strip Big Baby. I still remember reading Central Library’s tattered copy of RAW #6 in the ’80s, containing A Marriage Made in Hell, the torrid tale of Lydia Dough and her unconsummated marriage to war veteran John, who turns out to have a rather complex private life. Dog Days features the likable character Dog-Boy, who receives a canine heart transplant – this cartoon was later made into a memorably bonkers serial for MTV’s Liquid Television.

Burns is famous for his thick black lines and precise jagged hatching, which suits the heightened nightmarish drama of his stories. This style is both distinctive and consistent – his work from thirty years ago looks very similar to his current work, which isn’t at all a bad thing. These stories tap into the same dark well of ’50s Americana associated with David Lynch’s Blue Velvet – underneath the bright and shiny surface, something evil lurks…

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