Charles Burns's Black Hole Heads to the Big Screen

Movies that started life as comic books are huge business, from superhero fantasies to animated memoirs like Persepolis. Paramount recently announced that one of the very best is set to walk the trampled path to the multiplex.

Cartoonist Charles Burns, who started with Art Spiegelman's RAW and went on to draw covers for classic Sub-Pop records and magazines like TIME and Esquire, took eleven years to publish the twelve issues of Black Hole. His stark, high-contrast black-and-white drawings, almost like woodcuts, tell a story about teenagers in the seventies, and something gone seriously wrong.

"The bug," a sexual disease that only affects teenagers, is sweeping through town. Victims grow extra body parts -- a third eye, or an extra mouth at the base of the neck -- and the worst, the ones who can't cover up with makeup or clothes, have fled into the woods to start a new civilization.

Girls with tails, hallucinatory dreams, and a borderline pornographic motif of ragged holes torn in flesh: Burns's style might just not translate. (The live-action version of his Dog Boy character appeared briefly on MTV's Liquid Television, and I think everyone wishes it had stayed on the page.)

There's always danger when a smart, unusual original story gets into the hands of Hollywood players, who tend to care more about accessibility and marketing than whatever made the source material interesting (see: Wanted). If the core of Burns's story of misfits and disease makes it to the screen, viewers will be in for a treat. But it doesn't look good.

One bad sign is that Burns isn't involved at all. He recently told Shock Till You Drop (h/t Superhero Hype), "I made the decision when I signed the option that I didn't try to negotiate and gain any control ... I just want to kind of move onto something else."

Another bad sign is that the initial screenplay, adapted by comic legend Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary (who co-wrote Beowulf together), was dumped when David Fincher (of Zodiac and this year's Oscar contender The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) was brought on to direct.

Black Hole is just the latest in the long list of comics that prove the medium has become capable of real art. Will the movie live up to its source? I hate to say it, but I don't see how.