Charles Burns' has "remixed" his excellent recent book, X'ed Out, into a new story, Johnny 23. Johnny 23 is written in a monoalphabetic cipher of English, i.e. a single "alien" character has been used to replace each letter / number in the traditional English alphabet. Since we are given a crib (in the form of the title), deciphering the text is not too difficult, although there are a large number of "typos" which can slow the process a little.
The text is surreal and filled with non sequiturs. In X'ed Out, the main character Doug performs in a Tintin mask under the name "Johnny 23." His performance involves reading abstract surrealist poetry generated using William S. Burroughs' "cut-up" technique. Visually, Johnny 23 implements this technique with images, and many segments of the text seem to be similarly generated. There are however several moments where distinct pieces of a story connected closely to the visuals emerge.
Some of the apparent "misspellings" and "errors" are surely due to whatever mash up technique was used to generate the text. Many, however, are clearly typos of the form generated by quick typing (e.g. "teh" or "adn"). In the following "translation," I have chosen to correct as many of these as possible, and to add appropriate punctuation where obvious. In some cases, however, where apparent ungrammaticalities due to cut ups allow multiple interesting interpretations of the text, I have omitted punctuation.
Reading the text of Johnny 23 is a strangely disorienting experience. Deciphering as you go along, typos take on interesting new meanings, and it is difficult to tell how much of this was intentional. Take "Dally forth . . . " on p. 32, surely a typo, yet allowing for an interesting double reading given the sexual content of previous pages . . . or p. 24, is "word" in "from a word away" a misspelling of "world," or a pun on the Burroughs theme of the word virus which pervades the book? Anyone interested in the text at that level of detail should simply decipher it themselves.
For those who are impatient, however, here is the full deciphering of Johnny 23. Text is given by page number. Each line denotes a text box or speech balloon. Ordering is the obvious left to right, top to bottom. There were only a couple characters which I was unable to decipher, which I presume to be numerals. These are indicated with a _ when they appear.
Nothing good will come of this.
There will be tears.
Nothing can become of nothing.
All hearts will grow cold and weary.
The residue of a sad dream.
Tan wane her.
One more try at the bing a 23 swollen.
Even in the end, 23.
Let me find the new shivering sac a hard version of this.
The center won't hold, and nothing comes down from on high. Nada.
Blurred muttering and a soft white hiss; early spring with the wind blowing hard.
Don't try white.
Fall into a hard an bent end.
How could you even think about coming up here and shtupping Eliza?
You can't go thinking in hard manner!
Pink blankets keep turning up in this story, don't they now?
Shooting these in normal daylight is the only way this is going to work out.
You can run, but I don't think you will heal.
Find it in the back of another sadness.
23 it's going _ _ 3 1
Always with the photos, it seems to be the vital 23.
I saw my baby get in. Get lost.
Why is it the only 23?
23 or another number.
By now I know them all. They smother me too.
zzzzzzzzz xj 333333333
. . . llers with fift . . . ab follow your . . . the corner of a . . . leaking blood.
looking at ant . . . zipper you have . . . that the only way . . . venerable in t...
. . . f in the only . . . the normal way . . . ual in vintage . . . ournt in a loc
Come on inside and see the usual shit unfold in the most saddening way imaginable. Come see 23!
Jesus fucking Christ, does this really have to be the end of it?
If you read this and are sick of heart, there's nothing I can help you with.
Cause the night is long and I'm still waiting for you. Think 1.
We found ourselves sitting in banks of squeeling monitors hissing head with swollen fingers.
Thanks for checking me out and all.
Try as i may i could not find my way out of the torrent of shit flowing out of me.
Blaring petal . . . hive in a deep . . . gaping wound . . . most hallow . . .
I come up with new petal effects split into three parts . . .
Your lame hippy shit is so don't get [it]. Fucker.
I wouldn't mind him spitting down my throat today.
She looked down at me from . . . sad my raging brain as it really is.
They call this guy Nitnit and I have no idea who he thinks he is.
Keeping it to myself, finding another mark on the back of my hand.
Do [what] you like; your time is up. It's over.
23 as in the word virus in everyone.
[ ......... ]
On the back of angels hot on the heels.
[ ........ ]
Call me 23.
It's not hard.
[ ....... ]
[ ....... ]
Hey you big dumb, move it!
Don't listen to the slug, he don't [know] shit all!
[ ....... ]
Twixt 12 and twenty, you'll see another way to fill your heart.
[ ....... ]
Seems like I'm there.
It all shakes out the same in the end. You just need the guts to know when to quit.
Not that I know too much about that kind of stuff, you savvy?
There he is again!
Found out at last, you little runt!
Yeah, she's a looker and then some.
Forced into the open broken arrows coming out of the flesh.
Trying to bring back a feeling of random sex.
Nearly extinct blunt sex vision.
Coming up from below in a hurry.
Weepy gash torn up with endless tears.
Broken, bent out of shape like a song from in the air. Massive.
The odors rising slick and slippery in the dark space between her thighs.
Her heart swollen. _3_ _ 2
My guess is you're trying to inject meaning into it.
I'm not try[ing] to inject shit, you dumb fuck!
I try to touch the photo cause I just know there is skin stuck in there way down in the core.
Maybe the cat is the main clue, I just can't solve it.
Dirty sweet and falling off of the page in heat.
Again with the random shit from a world away!
Nothing will be safe for you ever again.
Mace yourself at home, because I'm heading out to the void.
So when I look at you my breath gets sucked away, my eyes roll up in my head, and I know my time is almost up.
You'll never realize the lengths I had to go, the endless spilling of my guts and rending of my garments, you dig?
You can try to capture my image.
When the long day is done thats not what I'm really interested in, alright? Get it?
Did you read that in some sort of a comic book? I guess it sounds like something.
Looking for the end but nothing present itself.
The word virus replicates and shifts into another vessel 23.
23 slides into into another 23.
Last prayers, last look.
My heart opens wider to . . .
. . . find the missing puzzle.
Come on baby, you can light my fire, okay?
Fuck that noise! In this world we have to grab for all the gusto we can, and you're a little slack!
Furthermore, you need to work out your whole look a little better, you know what I mean?
I'm afraid the sad big-eyed look can't cut it anymore.
Run that by [me again]. I don't get it.
Who the hell am I to tell you what to do with your sad little life? The last time I saw you, you were in way over your head.
Keep you sour mouth shut for just one second!
A typical patter like objects left in a hotel drawer, bits of a puzzle to try to fit into an impossible form.
Here's where it all falls apart. Nothing holds.
We're doomed. The fat is in the fire now.
He faded in cigar smoke. There was a knock inside.
The penis rose out of the jock and dissolved in pink light back wearing a clitoris in white hot.
Hanging gimmick death in orgasm gills no nerves left no impressions of secondhand daylight _ _ _.
Dead young flesh in stale underwear. I have the impression of vending iron repetition. Ass and genitals broken.
Orgasm addicts stacked in the attic like muttering burlap woke up other flesh hooded dead gibber thrown off.
Sally forth into a bold new world as it all flips.
And I repeat: Fuck that and the wagon you rode in on alright? Lit form within holding out.
You see it in the prize.
Distant muttering; a world in white heat.
Entry gimmick of the spawning death dwarfs seething in lust.
Distant star in another galaxy spins in another pattern.
All alone. I say unto thee, hide it deep inside. Dig the hole and slide it in up to the hilt.
The sign reads: Last stop, last chance for falling hanging gimmick inside.
Part of the problem and the solution is linked to the safety of orgone.
Another abortive attempt.
Eyes rolled up into the dark of my head.
Looking for the worthy vessel.
Radium pain an iron box covered in human skin.
"Smile and shake it off," that's what he told me.
You think it's going to last for ever, but you're so wrong. I mean it.
Don't bring your sad shit around here.
I mean the end comes sooner or later, but you're never ready. unn.
If you think you're going to get out alive, good luck.
We got enough of our own to to hold us for a while.
why doe he have to show up? All I want is some time to myself.
Every word out of his mouth is empty.
Chill the fuck out dude! Just let it go.
Does it really mean all . . .
I'll never find my way.
Remember the kingdom of heaven is within you! Right 23?
What's to become of you now that you see what's on the end of your spoon, your dull dirty naked lunch?
A green river filled with refuse. The dark. A river running to the sea; a clogged vein; a tributary of silt. . .
I guess you don't give two fucks!
Why would you? This has no end.
Truth is stranger than all the lies I've told.
Save that bullshit for the marks who no longer know their ass from their elbow!
Why do you have to make this so hard? Give it up!
It's coming again . . . I can feel it!
Why does it always have to be this way?
It's open again, but I can't let you go.
Always crashing in the same car.
Come back, Piggy!
Down the hole.
Slipping in and out of sodden sloppy skin.
Check it out, dude!
She's built like a brick shitter and does it all!
Does what all?
Slipping into the last set of shoes . . .
Hey, don't try messing with my head, okay? Don't try.
Fevers and high hard red.
It's time to turn a blind eye to the realities of the day. Dig it?
Evaporate and leave a ring on the counter. Find your true heart in the void.
Another lifeless head attached to a feeble body waiting for the end, it seems.
But can the heart grow out of it?
Not too much chance of that.
Not never, but pretty fucking close! Eat your egg and turn an eye inward, 23.
Finally we get to the abortion story, 23.
You can keep your crappy plate of eggs.
Tough guy, huh? So don't look too closely, and you'll find yourself in Gods gray earth.
The abortion . . . I was told this was supposed to be funny.
There are times when you need to relax. Slip into the muddy water. You get it?
Eat it all up, come on!
All too soon the world will grow dark; the day will be done. Do eat up now!
Eat up indeed . . . read 'em and weep.
Aw shit! Aw shit!
In the shadow luster of shiny stumps. Why should I stay? What's keeping me? Daybreak. The face of a lousy kid and a cold white flesh home.
Three ampoules of morphine. Blue eyes in the dark.
Wait for me at the river filigree of trade winds.
Photos weather worn boys by the polluted water.
City night fences dead fingers erect boys.
Girdling the pepper trees, the film is finished at last.
Ice skates on a wall.
Luster of stumps washes his lavender sleep.
The dogs are quiet.
Someone vague faded in a mirror.
If i could hold off for just a little longer and stay with my dose, I'll be . . .
Christ! What's inside of screams?
The doctor's shabby sky rose tornado lost boy.
Smudge and whine of lost polluted water under the bridge, shadow of doubt.
I was the smudge and face shabby table black hair.
Silver paper moving in the street lavender boy.