X’ed Out is a graphic novel by Charles Burns. It was loaned to me by a friend who lauded it as one of the better things he’s read lately. It follows Doug, a 20-something art school student who’s been having a tough time lately. His relationship with his girlfriend is going bad, his mom is sick, and his dad is descending into pain pill addiction. Worst of all, he’s taking pills (for depression, maybe? It’s not made clear.) that give him bizarre nightmares.
I have to say, the nightmares were my favorite parts. In them, the art turns more cartoony and Doug looks like an adult Tin-Tin. It’s nicely surrealistic and horrifying, while mixing-up the events of his daytime world with dream logic. They take place in a sort of South Asian village, where bizarre creatures curse Doug out when he slows them down on the sidewalk, people eat strange worm-like creatures with human facial features, and biotoxic waste spills openly into the waterways. Yet, like dreams, there is a sort of internal logic to this world and indeed, Doug seems to be on a sort of mission there, something involving a queen imprisoned in a big beehive in the center of town, even if he doesn’t understand fully the mission or why he must carry it out.
Of course, Doug’s waking life is hardly any better. These parts didn’t work as well for me, largely because Doug isn’t very sympathetic. His life is aimless, living at home with his parents, attending art school because he doesn’t know what else to do, passive-aggressively trying to break up with his girlfriend when he meets someone new. Actually, passive-aggressive is a good term for how he lives. It’s no wonder he’s depressed and finds it easier to live meaningfully in his dreams. He rejects anything that might make his waking life worthwhile, but doesn’t seem to have the energy or gumption to create his own way.
Not that his character doesn’t ring true–I’ve met plenty of people like him. Like those people, I kind of want to give Doug a shake. Wake up! Set yourself a goal! It frustrates me to be around people like that, and it frustrates me to read about them.
Of course, maybe the point of the book is that Doug finds his way. I don’t know because the book ends just as Doug is about to enter the Hive, where the queen in his nightmares has been taken. The next volume is due in, let’s see…2012. So I guess it’s probably out already. I might check out, the art was pretty great, and I’d like to see what the Hive looks like. But if I don’t get to it, I won’t miss Doug. See you around dude, hope things work out for you. You want my number, maybe we can hang out sometime? Nah, I’ll see you when I see you.