Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 191

Beautiful Darkness

by Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët
Genre notes: death, savagery, faery tale
96 pages
ISBN: 1770461299 (Amazon)

On the surface, it seems pretty straightforward. A young girl dies in the forest and a host of tiny, often grotesque people emerge from her corpse and struggle to survive in the woods. But it really isn’t that simple. There is more there, sometimes under the surface and sometimes squirming on top. I found the publisher’s descriptive text unhelpful and probably actually wrongheaded.

"Kerascoët’s and Fabien Vehlmann’s unsettling and gorgeous anti-fairy tale is a searing condemnation of our vast capacity for evil writ tiny. Join princess Aurora and her friends as they journey to civilization’s heart of darkness in a bleak allegory about surviving the human experience. The sweet faces and bright leaves of Kerascoët’s delicate watercolors serve to highlight the evil that dwells beneath Vehlmann’s story as pettiness, greed, and jealousy take over. Beautiful Darkness is a harrowing look behind the routine politeness and meaningless kindness of civilized society."

None of this reads like someone who actually grokked the work. At least not closely. I may not understand Beautiful Darkness completely, but I do understand that the above reading is incompatible with the text as revealed. Aurora is not a princess. The idea that this is an allegory for human survival against the instinct for societal self-immolation fails to fit the available information. Other reviews invoke Lord of the Flies (which is fine, I guess) but leave it there with William Golding’s critique of the natural human spirit as being essentially depraved (which is not fine, and actually lessens Beautiful Darkness as a mere derivation of a common observation).

I don’t wish to be too contrarian because it’s likely that these readers didn’t understand the book any better than I did. Making too much of something, going for the facile interpretation—it’s an easy trap to fall into when one feels as though they have to say something wise, intelligent, or insightful about a book. I feel that pressure a lot. And I’ve fudged things before as well. So it’s not like I’m blameless. I think I just wished for better criticism because I love this book and want to understand it.

I love this book for what it appears to be. I love this book for the promise of what it might be. I love this book in the same way a sixth-grader might have a world-shattering crush on the girl two rows back in World Cultures. She is seen and heard but ultimately only known tangentially. But still, she is a fixation—and adored. That is Beautiful Darkness to me. It’s lovely and amazing and probably the most perfect thing ever created. Just like that girl in sixth grade you never spoke to and whose real identity remains a mystery to this day. Unattainable and foreign: the perfect crush.

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Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

3 Stars = Good
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