One of the things that I want to do with Tales From the Shelf is to spotlight both mainstream publishers and smaller publishers books to show the diversity of books that are out there. Today I look at Drawn & Quarterly’s release of the French Graphic Novel Beautiful Darkness (originally published in French as Jolies Ténèbres) The description of the book from Drawn & Quarterly is, Aurora’s having a tea party with Hector, the prince she’s been dreaming about, when a sudden deluge forces them to take shelter elsewhere. They emerge from the skull of a dead girl into the woods at night, and find themselves amongst a crowd of tiny people, all of whom are milling about. Aurora quickly takes charge of the situation, and at first things seem to be going well for most of her friends. Despite a few injuries and deaths and a lot of hunger, they forage successfully, and befriend a mouse that lives in the neighborhood. But as time goes by, more and more of the little people begin to lose hope, turning against one another in brutal ways. Beautiful Darkness is a harrowing look at the human psyche and the darkness that hides behind the routine politeness and meaningless kindness of civilized society. The sweet faces and bright leaves of Kerascoet’s joyful watercolors only serve to highlight the evil which dwells beneath, as characters allow their pettiness, greed, and jealousy to take over. Beautiful Darkness presents a bleak allegory on the human condition; Kerascoet and Fabien Vehlman’s work is a searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil writ tiny.
The book is a more realistic approach to what might happen if a fairy tale took place in the real world. This is a really dark take on the classic fairy tale story but that is what makes it so fascinating. I liked the way that Vehlman’s story is really a number of short stories that ultimately weaves it into a much larger one. The characters initially have a wide-eyed childlike view of their world but eventually fall into the same trappings that most of humanity usually falls into. There are a few of the characters that are down right evil and take advantage of the situation for their own needs. The journey is told through Aurora’s eyes and shows how even the most innocent have to adapt to survive what has happened to them. While some might say that it’s a more exaggerated reality, I actually found the constant tug of war between light and dark to be much closer to life than you want it to be.
Kerascoet’s artwork is what pulls the whole book together. They are actually two artist Pommeput Marie and Sébastien Cosset and the name of this pair of authors from the village of Kerascoët in Brittany where Marie grew Pommepuy. They capture the classic fairy tale look that the book needs but are able to capture the dark side so perfectly at the same time. They used watercolor for the book and it’s just gets the simple details associated with fairy tales yet capture the complex emotions of the story that makes it a real marvel to look at. You will want to take your time when reading this story because you might miss some of the detail that you might overlook. The artwork has such great layering to it. The color work add so much depth to the art and helps balance both the light and the dark of the world. Drawn & Quarterly has done a fantastic job of translating this great book. The book is a very nice hardcover with great quality and care put into it.
This is one of those books that really sticks with you after you finish reading it. I found it to be a fascinating look at how we choose to see the world and how we can react to it. While it is a very dark story, I found that there was a glimmer of hope at the end. And while Aurora is not the same as she was at the beginning of the story it’s up to you as to where her state of mind is at the end of the story. It’s rare for a story like this to be told and even harder to get published. This book is proof of how the graphic novel medium can do what it does so well. It’s a perfect marriage of both story and art. Now this book is not going to be for everyone and I don’t think that you need to be a person who likes dark subject matter to enjoy the book. It really is a more adult view of what if fairy tale characters had to deal with reality, and on those same lines how we ultimately view the world. If you are looking for something with that is a lot deeper than your average graphic novel and are willing to read a different take on fairy tales than this book is well worth checking out.
I Highly Recommend this book.
If you are interested in purchasing this book I recommend heading over to CHEAP GRAPHIC NOVELS that has the book for 25% off the list price that makes it only $17.24 right now.