At the juncture of fiction and memory, of cheap thrills and adolescent terror, lies the dark world of Charles Burns. A graduate of Seattle's Roosevelt High School, Burns began his career in earnest while attending Evergreen University in Olympia, where he befriended fellow cartoonists Matt Groening and Lynda Barry and soon was contributing regularly to the university newspaper. A few years later, a younger Evergreen student named Bruce Pavitt who fondly remembered Burns' work tracked the artist down and asked him to illustrate the covers to a new fanzine he was starting, titled SUB POP. The fanzine evolved into a record label, and Burns was commissioned to do the cover for SUB POP 200, a 1988 compilation featuring the label's then up-and-coming bands, including Nirvana, Beat Happening, Steve Fisk, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Soundgarden, Tad and others. It's now one of the most collectible records in Northwest rock history.
It was in the pages of Art Spiegelman's influential RAW magazine during the early 1980s, however, that Burns first attracted wide national notice. His contributions took comic book clichés - wiseacre kids, sinister scientists, tough-as-nails detectives, Mexican wrestlers, teenage lust, and EC-style camp horror - and rearranged them into disturbing yet comical postmodern patterns. Beneath the interplay of this familiar iconography lurked more universal themes, most notably childhood traumas of loss and alienation.
In 1996, Burns joined forces with Fantagraphics Books - the Seattle-based publisher widely regarded as the world's leading publisher of contemporary underground and alternative cartoon art - to publish his complete works. Oddly enough, Fantagraphics is located just a few blocks away from Roosevelt High School, Burns' alma mater. Meanwhile, Burns' ongoing Black Hole series takes place in Seattle during the 1970s and features familiar locales such as Ravenna Park and Golden Gardens. His cartoon art has won multiple awards and critical acclaim over the last several years, and his aforementioned current project, the horror series Black Hole, made The Comics Journal's "Top 100 English Language Comics of the 20th Century" list.