If you are interested in seeing comics taken to their outer limits, the world of Charles Burns is the place for you. “The Hive” is the current installment in Mr. Burn’s work. He’s an artist, at the top of his game, not to be taken for granted. If there was a Mount Rushmore dedicated to comics, there he’d be, alongside Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes and Art Spiegelman, who all happen to be published by Pantheon. Once you put the awe aside, the story and art of “The Hive” sweep you away. This is a story within a story, life imitating art and vice versa, the innocuous mixed in with the surreal. In some respects, it is an even more enigmatic work than the previous, “X’ed Out.”
There is one key additional layer added since “X’ed Out.” We now see that Doug is looking back at his youth. So, we have yet another version of Doug, this time, in early middle-age. He hasn’t taken care of himself and looks tired and pudgy. He treats the woman he’s now involved with to endless analysis of what went wrong with Sarah, the love of his life. Those days of youthful angst are over and have been replaced with a deeper anxiety only possible once you’ve lived long enough to have your dreams crushed. There’s no more Sarah. She’s not coming back. Try to deal with that, Doug.
As in “X’ed Out,” we have Doug, the cocky provocateur performance artist compared to his doppelganger in a world stranger and more surreal than anything his art could imply. In “The Hive,” we add to that same young Doug, his older despondent self full of regret, full of his own well-earned horrific nightmares. Doug, you once surly youth, searching for pain, you have arrived.
Meanwhile, we follow Doug’s cartoon version as he toils away at a menial job in The Hive, a place run by lizards that appears to be breeding humans. Ultimately, Doug’s own personal misery pales in comparison to whatever is going on in that evil alternate world. The conclusion to this trilogy is entitled, “Sugar Skull,” and will surely be something to look forward to. Given that “X’ed Out” was published in 2010 and “The Hive” was published in 2012, we can expect “Sugar Skull” to come out in 2014.
“The Hive” is published by Pantheon. Visit them to find where to get your copy and learn more about this leading publisher of graphic novels.