Charles Burns - Fear(s) of the Dark
Cult writer, cartoonist and illustrator Charles Burns talks to Miles Fielder about his work on a new French animated horror anthology
The wildly imaginative and scary animated French portmanteau horror movie Fear(s) of the Dark was made by six European and American cartoonists working with professional animators. The most notable of those cartoonists is Charles Burns, who is a legend in the world of comics. Born in Washington DC in the mid-1950s (the decade that informs his work), Burns got his start in comics in 1981 on Art Spiegelman’s groundbreaking alternative ‘comix’ anthology, RAW. Over the next decade Burns refined the high-contrast black and white artwork. His creepy horror, hardboiled crime and teenage melodrama-themed storylines were distilled in his opus, Black Hole which was published in twelve chapters between 1994 and 2005. The Harvey Award-winning graphic novel has since been issued in hardback and is to be made into a movie by David Fincher. Meanwhile, Burns himself has taken a shot at filmmaking with Fear(s) of the Dark.
‘It was an unusual proposal,’ Burns explains, ‘I got involved through a small French production company, which had started out representing illustrators and so knew my work. The premise for their film was a duotone animation, a group of artists they liked, and the themes of Fear(s) of the Dark. They wanted each artist to be involved in every part of the process, where usually in the commercial animation world everything is devolved to specialists. To me, it was ideal to have that much creative control. The things I’m comfortable with – creating a story and characters – were the easiest part. The part that was most difficult was translating that into moving pictures. There are what seem like obvious similarities between comics and animation, but the storytelling is very different because you have movement and sound and the whole language of cinema, which comes out in the editing process. At first,’ Burns laughs, ‘I was like a kid with his first Super 8 camera.’
Burns’ contribution, a queasy tale about a woman who becomes host to an intelligent insect, is based on a story he did when he was 21 called Ill Bred. ‘I cringe when I look at it now,’ Burns says, ‘but there are elements that are fun, so I went back and played around with them. Personally, I like Richard McGuire’s piece the most.’ In it, a man explores an old dark house with nothing but a box of matches for illumination. ‘I translated a comic into film,’ says Burns, ‘he approached his section in a much more inventive way. You’ve got radically different styles from each artist, but the subject matter and the mood and the monotone give the movie unity.’
Will Burns make more? Is he involved with the Black Hole film? ‘I’m not really involved,’ he says, ‘but I’m very happy Fincher is directing it. I’d rather move ahead with my own work. My skills lie in combining pictures and words. I’m currently working on my first colour comic, which is based on my life in San Francisco in the late 1970s and has a lot of William Burroughs and Tintin in it.’ The mind boggles.
Fear(s) of the Dark, Cameo, Edinburgh (matinees only) and selected release from Fri 24 Oct.