Monday, July 13, 2009

Charles Burns rarities and the Buenaventura Press

Charles Burns is an artist/graphic novelist who has a devastatingly small collection of widely available works. His opus Black Hole was released in 12 issues between 1993 and 2004 and is now available as a collection by Pantheon Books. Black Hole is the story of a group of teens in a small town who contract a strange STD they call "the bug" or "the teen plague". It causes these kids to mutate in very slight and troubling ways. What's incredible is Burns's ability to make you look past these startling mutations and see that deep down these are just kids in love, kids growing up. If you've not read Black Hole, I strongly urge you to do so. He manages to tap into the nightmare-side of your subconscious and shows you that its perfectly okay (and even healthy) to explore its depths.

Maybe you've already read Black Hole and think that's the extent of Charles Burns's works. Not so! His pre-Black Hole short stories have been anthologized by Fantagraphics and can be found at a number of book shops. Wikipedia tells me that a final volume of early stories called Bad Vibes is on its way as well.

Burns had an animated piece included in a french film called PEUR(S) DU NOIR. Check it out:

Peur(s) du noir Teaser

And finally, I'd like to point you towards the estimable Buenaventura Press. Buenaventura is responsible for the finest comics art publications I've ever encountered, namely the Kramer's Ergot anthologies. Not only does Buenaventura put out some flawless publications on their own, they manage to track down rare works from publishers around the world and sell them through their webshop. I've been able to pick up some obscure Charles Burns pieces through Buenaventura Press, including the limited edition, letter-pressed Swipe File.

These are still available, but won't be for long. I've wanted an original piece by Burns for a long time and Swipe File is a perfect compromise for those of us with a modest budget.

I was able to meet Charles Burns at the Buenaventura booth at the MoCCA fair last month. It was also great to talk with Alvin Buenaventura--he's hugely passionate about the work he does and I'm very eager to see what's to come from BP. Hearing that I was a big fan of Charles Burns, Alvin told me to ask Burns for some "free shit", like it was some sort of secret code word. Turns out Burns often prints a home-made mini-comic called "Free Shit" that he hands out to friends and fans at these fairs! Free Shit #14 is the little blue thing in the picture below:

Also included in these photos are Le Muscle Carabine #1 (which Burns did a cover for), Close Your Eyes (a collection of early work), Plague Boy (two staple-bound minis of early work), and Permagel (a collection of new and existing work finally printed in a high-quality format).

WHERE TO FIND THESE PIECES: Buenaventura Press is the place to go!


  1. Hi !
    i unfortunately discover this book waaay to late... Could you please tell me more about this book ? Here is my adress so we can chat about it and, if you like, about Mr Burns latest books! pierre

  2. ooops in my e-mail adress pierreguiol is attached... thanks !

  3. Hey Pierre-- thanks for your comment, been meaning to get back in touch with you.

    It might be very tough to track down a copy of Swipe File, as Buenaventura Press isn't doing business online anymore. If I'm not mistaken, the company is no longer publishing new titles and business in general is on hiatus. But, there surely must be copies left from the edition, right?

    Here's my suggestion: contact somebody at Last Gasp in San Francisco and see if they have access to copies. I believe they are in touch with Alvin Buenaventura and would probably be able to tell you if copies are still available and how you can purchase one.

    Hope this helps! Good luck in your search.

  4. Hey !
    Many thanks for the useful informations and taking time to answer :) I'll try that immediately... best regards ! Pierre.

  5. Hi,

    I was wondering if you had any information on how I could acquire the rarities and early works of Charles Burns.

    email me here ( with any info whatsoever.
    Thanks in advance!