There are no glittering castles, no Prince Charmings, and no happy endings when you peer into Beautiful Darkness
by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët
Drawn & Quarterly
2014, 96 pages, 8.125 x 11 inches
$14 Buy a copy on Amazon
Beautiful Darkness begins at a lovely tea party with a Princess-like Aurora entertaining her would-be paramour, the dashing, princely Hector. She serves cakes and hot chocolate, aided by her friend and wannabe handmaiden, Plim. Everything is going swimmingly as the cooing couple lean in for their first kiss. Suddenly, the sky starts falling. Weeping, stinky pink goo begins to rain down all around and over them, into their cocoa, onto their heads. Soon they are struggling against drowning as the putrefaction fills the room. But as Aurora, now panicked and separated from the others, finally finds her opening to freedom, we realize that the thwarted tea party was inside the decaying corpse of a little girl in the woods. As the Lilliputian Aurora crawls from her nostril into the rainy darkness, a “wide shot” image shows dozens of other tiny people fleeing from every orifice of the decaying child.
And then the story becomes seriously sick, twisted, and sad.
Beautiful Darkness, by French comics writer Fabien Vehlmann and husband and wife artist team Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset (known together as Kerascoët), perfectly embodies its title. It is an “anti-fairy tale,” beautifully rendered and breathtakingly dark. It takes all of the innocence and moral deliverables of whitewashed Grimm and other classic fairy tales and turns them on their head (and cavorts within their decaying innards).
Aurora invites the forest animals to a lovely woodland gathering and they… well, they act like animals, eating everything; trashing the place. The sweet, frightened one-eyed girl (who’s also a new mother) is not accepted by the others, she’s brutalized by them. The giant-eyed dolly-like girl feeds on the maggots of the corpse from within a stockade of colored pencils taken from the dead girl’s book-bag. No one seems to have a working moral compass as the feral tribe of tiny people, led by the ever-chipper Aurora, goes into marooned survivor mode, forced to adjust to life outside of their previous corpse home.
But I’ve already given away too much. The point is to accept the worst, because that’s what you’re going to get. The book is beautifully drawn and water-colored, well-paced, and the characters have real depth to them impressively developed over its short 96 pages. But it can be tough going. It’s so unrelentingly grim, it’s hard to imagine what the ultimate point is, other than to act as a bracing anecdote to every cookie-cutter happily-ever-after you’ve ever rolled your eyes at. – Gareth Branwyn
September 3, 2014