I've recently been reading some of Charles Burns's old "defetctive" detective comics. Each of these vignettes are led by a masked wrestler-turned detective named El Borbah, who investigates everything from punk-rock robot clubs to experimental cryogenics to mysterious wish-bone cults (this from a wonderful story called "Bone Voyage"). They're beautifully weird stories--Burns's artistry is brilliantly eerie and will transport you into a bizarre world where somehow this weirdness makes sense.
In a way, there's a huge element of restraint involved in his work, something that I believe creeps up on you as you experience more of his material. For instance: a female character in his excellent novel Black Hole is revealed to have a tail--she's afflicted with the "Teen Plague" which is mutating high schoolers--and somehow we think to ourselves, "well, at least it's just a tail". Burns paces his work so well with quiet hints of monstrosity that it's hard not to think of all the creatures that are pent up inside of him, that someday it might all come out in a horror of "Dunwich" proportions.
But actually, nearly 20 years ago, Burns was involved in a no-holds-barred project that shows exactly what he is capable of while working without his traditional restrictions. I'm very excited to share with you a book called Pixie Meat, originally published in 1990 by Water Row Books in an edition of only 200 pieces.
This is a hand-assembled letterpress book featuring collaborative art by Burns and Gary Panter, as well as text by author Tom De Haven. I'm not too familiar with De Haven's other work (aside from the recent It's Superman, which featured cover artwork by Chris Ware) but as a fan of both Burns and Panter I've been lusting after this book for ages. It's incredible to see what the two artists can do while working together. Looking through these pages makes Burns' and Panter's solo work feel uncomfortably simple and stable. Panter's wacky monsters throw Burns's familiar grotesquery completely off-kilter, and vice versa; if you thought Burns and Panter were strange, Pixie Meat proves that you've only just seen a fraction of their madness. And really, it's an awe-inspiring feat.
The book is 12" x 15", hand-bound and packaged in a velcro-sealed black folder. every spread has a red cellophane sheet laid in to give the book more of a retro feel. It features an epic fold-out page and is signed by all three contributors on a bookplate in the back.
WHERE TO FIND PIXIE MEAT: Good luck finding one in person, as you can't even find much about Pixie Meat on the internet. It seems Water Row has a few copies left, and they're selling it for what I think is a high but very appropriate price. After months of online searching from my apartment in Brooklyn, I was able to track down a copy (through a Russian auction site or something) that was actually being sold in the small town I grew up in. My copy came from Main Street Records, a store in Western Massachusetts I used to visit in high school searching for old vinyl by The Cure.