Welcome to hipsterville. If there is something that is both scary and fascinating to observe (like a train wreck) it is the activity of a hipster. Charles Burns completes his ode to the lives of hipsters gone terribly wrong in the final part of his Nitnit trilogy, “Sugar Skull.” Outside of a Stephen King novel, this new book by Burns offers up plenty to be creeped out over. Think of it as “Carrie” for the Gen X set.
Resuming from the second part to this trilogy, our hero, Doug, continues to go through hell over losing the love of his life, Sarah. As aspiring artists, and aspiring adults, we saw how they had reached a crossroads between art and life. Just what would it take to shake their sense of entitlement? What would wake them up from being caricatures of themselves? It seems that Doug has always been more prone to losing himself in delusions of grandeur but Sarah is not too far behind. In her case, it takes a stalker to start to make her more self-aware.
For our pal, Dougie, well, he’s the poster boy of Gen X wallowing in self-pity. He sees everyone around him as a fake, a poser. While that is actually pretty true, Doug gives them far more credit than they deserve since he so pathetically seeks their approval. In the end, they smell his fear, and turn on him like a pack of hyenas. On an alternate world, there is another version of Doug, a Tintin-like comic-book character, “Nitnit,” who lives a life of ordered chaos since it’s pure artifice. Nitnit must overcome struggles and sorrow too but it’s all just one big artful nightmare. Too bad for Doug, life can’t be so neatly tied up.
In this final installment, we find Doug relatively content with a pleasant day job and Sally, a stable and grounded girlfriend. Sally is so stable and grounded that she tolerates Doug’s trip to see Sarah one last time and try to find resolution. Of course, their relationship was built on instability to begin with and its conflicts are meant to remain in suspended animation.
Doug’s biggest obstacle is himself. While he endlessly elevates his father to the status of a mysterious enigma and lets the past eat him alive, he fails to see the true artist he has been all along. It’s those fabulous nightmares he has with him as Nitnit slaving away in some crazy hive run by lizard drones that is truly his masterpiece. If only he could fully wake up from his stupor, fueled by fear and regret, to be able to see it! Well, that’s what we have Charles Burns for.
Being an art school smartass is no longer hip, nor funny, nor relevant, if it ever was. Poor Doug had to learn that the hard way. Burns dwells in the little shop of horrors created by so many misguided young hipsters of a certain vintage. However, beware, since this tale certainly applies to the latest batch of hipsters pacing about in ironic beards and mustaches.
Sugar Skull is published by Pantheon Books, a division of Random House. You can visit Pantheon Books right here.