Saturday, 21 March 2015

Beautiful Darkness Review (Fabien Vehlmann, Kerascoet)


From The Brothers Grimm to Disney, fairy tales have been sanitised to appeal to all ages - family-friendly entertainment! - except, as most people know, they had very dark origins. Stories like Beauty and the Beast and Rapunzel featured “grown up” themes even though fairy tales, until the 19th century, were consumed mainly by adults. 

Beautiful Darkness is writer Fabien Vehlmann and artist Kerascoet’s subversive take on the well-defined genre as little people living inside a young girl escape when she dies and try to survive in the woods. But life in an increasingly harsh environment overwhelms any fairy tale niceties and the unpleasant side of human nature - prejudice, lies, and taking advantage of innocence - takes over their charming society. 

Kerascoet’s watercolours and childish/cartoony art style is perfect for Vehlmann’s increasingly dark tale. It starts off making you think this is some fluffy kid’s book and then before the title page we see the corpse of a little girl - and THAT’S where our characters have been living?! There’s also something sinister about seeing the many horrible things the characters go through via the prism of this cutesy art. 

A character, hungry, sneaks into a bird’s nest thinking the mother bird will believe she’s one of hers. The bird does and sticks her beak way down into the character’s throat but it’s too big and the character’s insides are punctured, blood welling in her throat until she dies. Later another character is carried off by some ants and gets buried alive. A deformed character, who’s also a transvestite, is killed for being different. One character is eaten by a larger one. And all the while the art looks perfectly sweet and suitable for kids - but the story isn’t! 

Kerascoet’s art really is gorgeous. The sunset landscape page is stunning and when he draws humans, it looks almost photographic it’s so real. The colours too are very vivid and the comic as a whole looks very impressive. 

While this book’s not badly written, I did wonder what the point of it was. A Tom Thumb/Borrowers-style story but messed up - ok, and? It also gets predictable once you notice the characters’ world falling apart and pretty one-note too. By the end, I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to take away from it - people can be dicks to one another, fairy tales can be edgy? I’m not sure. If it was just to entertain, it only half accomplished that. 

Beautiful Darkness is an ok comic but definitely not the best work from either creator. Vehlmann’s best remains the brilliant and underrated Green Manor series, and his 7 Psychopaths book with Sean Phillips (of Criminal/Fatale/Incognito/Sleeper fame) is worth checking out too. Kerascoet’s best remains the Miss Don’t Touch Me books. 

Beautiful Darkness is a pretty book with some interesting scenes but the post-modern fairy tale has been done to death at this point and this comic doesn’t have anything new to add.

Beautiful Darkness

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