Charles Burns’ X’ed Out is not something to curl up in your back pocket for a quick read on the subway. Each panel weaves abstract concepts into the story of an aspiring teen poet/artist whose growing pill dependency can’t numb certain uninvited images of alien-eating slugs, fetal pigs, and large incubating eggs. Reminiscent of a David Cronenberg film in its lurid dreamscapes that simultaneously confuse and enhance, this book demands time for well-paced consumption.
Unlike Burns’ Black Hole, which was put out as a series of traditional comics before complete publication by Pantheon Press, X’ed Out is the first installment of what will fittingly be a longer series of three. Sure, this method of serialized storytelling is most often associated with its 19th century heyday, but, as the following eight stories illustrate, the format has had its share of enticingly bizarre ups and downs since the days of Dickens.
Between 1918 and 1920, James Joyce’s then-unfinished masterpiece Ulysses was serialized in the pages of The Little Review. Although the US Postal Service initially burned entire press runs of it and the magazine’s editors were tried and fined for obscenity, Random House eventually managed to publish Ulysses in full in 1933. Decades later, under starkly different circumstances, Gardner Botsford decided, out of either sheer boredom or pure whimsy, to publish the first chapter of the novel in one sentence increments under The New Yorker‘s Broadway play listings — because, really, The Fantasticks, a musical about two fathers deceiving their children into falling in love, could only be described as “Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John.”