I’m sure that if William S. Burroughs had ever been given the opportunity to direct a Ziegfield Follies segment featuring a thousand performers playing Tintin and Rosebud from “Citizen Kane,” audience members would have walked away with approximately the same sensation that reading Charles Burns’ graphic novel “X’ed Out” from Pantheon leaves on the mind. Its layouts and artwork are manically sharp, and Burns’ attention to transitions and the intermingling of narrative with lumberingly suspenseful builds toward twists has never been more pronounced. It’s a story about a human being’s struggle between iconic representations of memories and the reality beneath the surface of those memories, and wherever you presume the truth to lie at the end of this book, you should still be able to appreciate the carnival ride of the human psyche that he’s produced.
I don’t think you need to be familiar with Tintin to get into “X’ed Out,” but if you already are, it’s bound to make some places in your brain itch while you wander around on its pages. As with other Burns comics, the relentlessly clean compositions and shapes repeatedly capture horrifying abstract concepts. The story challenges readers to piece together the material history behind what’s going on amid the chaos and revelations, but if you enjoy tales that float around in that kind of space, you’ll probably dig this book.