I thought I’d casually kick off this blog with today’s impulse purchase of Kerascoët and Fabien Vehlmann’s Beautiful Darkness!
I don’t really buy physical comics as much as I’d like, as I’ve lately just been reading webcomics and borrowing comics from the library, which is how I originally encountered the huge hardcover version of Beautiful Darkness along with Kerascoët’s other lovely graphic novel, Beauty. I like fancy big comics but they tend to take up a lot of space, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a smaller softcover version to flip through easier. It’s one of my favorite graphic novels I’ve read this year, and I’m happy to finally have my own copy! For those interested, it’s also available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
The story in Beautiful Darkness centers around a group of tiny, cartoonish characters trying to survive in the woods after being forced to evacuate their home. Aurora, our protagonist, takes the lead in trying to help everyone come together as a community. She organizes food and living arrangements, tries to befriend the neighboring animals, all while shyly hoping to win the attention of her crush, Hector.
However, as winter approaches, and as general cruelty and selfishness among the populace escalate, Aurora’s kindness continues to be ignored and taken advantage of, and she soon has to find ways to ensure her own survival.
Beautiful Darkness is pretty much everything I want out of a graphic novel–gorgeous watercolor artwork with unique and cute character designs in a story about SURVIVAL and REVENGE. There is definitely a decent amount of media, especially cartoons and comics, that specialize in the “cute woodsy pastoral aesthetic but with a DISTURBING twist,” so Beautiful Darkness isn’t necessarily unique in that aspect. What I do enjoy about it is that for all the casual death that occurs, it’s less about the shock of witnessing initial violence itself, and more focused on the disintegrating, chaotic consequences that result from it. The story devolves quickly but gradually through time, just as the corpse that forms the background of the story gradually decomposes.
As much as I love stories about the endurance of kindness and human goodness in the face of adversity, there’s also something satisfying in a story that focuses instead on callousness, of seeing characters pushed to their limits. And I’m not sure if I would necessarily say that Beautiful Darkness is completely cynical about “goodness”–I see Aurora as a character who maybe would like to be kind, who enjoys friendship and sharing what little she has. But not everyone is like Aurora, and in order for sweet, soft, selfless Aurora to continue with the will to exist, she cannot be a martyr, like another kindhearted character in the story who literally lays herself in the ground to be buried alive by the others as they torment her. She instead has to harden herself and become different than she was before, even if that means some horrifying decisions.
The blurbs on the back describe the comic as an “Anti Fairy Tale” and while I feel like that isn’t necessarily inaccurate, I always personally feel kind of weird when stories, especially “edgy” stories, are described by what they are not, or by what tropes they are subverting, rather than what they are. It’s true that Aurora does not remain innocent and “pure” the entire story, and she never does win the affection of her “Prince.” But overall the general structure of Beautiful Darkness can be seen as a fairy tale played straight–Aurora works hard, suffers deeply and undeservedly at the hands of some flatly evil and vain characters, but in the end she finds a warm and happy home while her wrongdoers’ greed and entitlement lead them to their downfall.
On a tangentially related note, I kind of wish that Beautiful Darkness had come out a few decades earlier, because it would have made an absolutely gorgeous vintage animation, one that would be picked up by unsuspecting parents in video rental stores to accidentally traumatize a generation of kids, just like Watership Down. But then maybe it’s for the better…
I saw this really neat sketch animation of Aurora illustrating the pivot moment where she changes, and this video is also a great review and analysis of the themes in the story as well (although with much more specific spoilers, obviously.)
Also, I also know very little about theater, but I feel like with some adaptions, this would also be a story that would make a good play as well–the characters are all very distinct and strong, and the story is simple enough to build upon while also having a very unique mood to it. I guess it just feels like the kind of work that is begging to have some sort of musical accompaniment, like a score or sweetly ominous opening and ending, like in Over the Garden Wall. Anyway, those are just my dreams and thoughts….
(Bonus: Some Fan Art I did earlier last month!)