Friday, 23 November 2018

ReadItDaddy's YA / Adult Comic of the Week - Week Ending 23rd November 2018: "Beautiful Darkness" by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet (Drawn and Quarterly)

Our YA / Adult Comic of the Week should definitely be kept well away from your little ones, even if they like the look of the cute character coyly peeking out of the front cover...
"Beautiful Darkness" by Fabien Vehlmann and talented husband/wife illustration team Kerascoet really isn't for the faint hearted, whether you're a grown up or a kid.

It's been richly described as 'the anti-fairy tale' and that's a pretty good description, for this is a visceral tale that pulls absolutely no punches.

So I'm assuming by this point that you've ushered your little ones well and truly out of the way, and still want to know more about this phenomenal graphic novel.

It opens with a handsome prince, and a young girl who is wooing him. The Prince is, to be quite frank, a bit of a git though - vain and self-obsessed. Their 'date' does not go well, as their chosen venue literally starts to cave in on them.

It's only when you realise where they're having their date that this book first reveals its truly brutal backdrop.

A young girl, lost in the forest, and quite, quite dead becomes nothing more than a stage for a story that plays out like a cross between "The Borrowers" and "Lord of the Flies" as the miniscule and undoubtedly cute characters struggle to survive in the wilds of the forest.

Dark, visceral, brutal - and yet at first glance it's a dreamlike fairy tale. Definitely definitely NOT for kids though. 

Aurora is the main character, a young and beautiful little sprite-like girl who takes on a motherly role, trying to organise food and supplies, and also trying to keep up morale as all the tiny creatures follow their own agendas.

There are animals in the forest - but far from being cute acorn-cap-wearing "Brambly Hedge" types, the animals are vicious and wild too - even making off with a few of the tiny tribe to feed their young.

Aurora's "Prince" is a complete fop, his head turned by just about every other female in the camp - and eventually he's married off in a woodland ceremony to Aurora's antagonist. But the little girl in the polka-dot dress is not to be messed with, and with the aid of a survivalist who is every bit as brutal and cunning as the animals in the forest, Aurora learns just how sweet the taste of revenge can be.

Hell hath no fury like a young girl wearing a dead mouse's skin
There's as much unsaid as said in this, and the tiny characters weirdly reminded me of the Golgafrinchans in "The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy" - completely obsessed with the most mundane and meaningless aspects of their existence while all around them the poor girl's body continues to decompose.

This new paperback edition of this amazing graphic novel might now be in the common smaller format most UK and US comics appear in (I originally bought the large format hardback when this was first translated). But it loses none of its impact, teasing out a whole gamut of human emotions and relationships as the story comes to a nasty but utterly satisfying close.

As beautiful and as dark as its name suggests, this is one of the most affecting GNs I've read over the last few years, and as the parent of a little girl I still don't think I can quite forgive Vehlmann for the stomach-wrenching but wholly effective way the poor young girl's fate plays out in this tale. But if you want an amazing example of a graphic novel that takes the rule book and shreds it into confetti in a horrifically effective but mesmerising way, this is definitely worth your time.

"Beautiful Darkness" by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoet is out now, published by Drawn and Quarterly (Hardback self purchased, paperback kindly supplied for review).