Drawn and Quarterly’s “Beautiful Darkness” carries itself with a certain innocent whimsy that makes all of the savagery within its pages a harsh experience that cannot be missed. It’s an experiment in horror. A twist on the concept of bleak survival but offered to the reader in the most storybook of fashions. It will leave you scarred and amused. I guarantee you’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët will change the way you look at fairytales and horror forever.
A book like this doesn’t come around very often. You can read it numerous times, and with each successive read you’ll discover new ways to be repulsed by the human spirit.
The story follows Aurora. She’s the makeshift leader of a cavalcade of little joyous beings. Her group must evacuate their home into the volatile environment of the forest floor. These tiny creatures were actually inside the head of a little girl who now lies dead in the grass. The mini characters don’t see death. They just see a series of challenges and a wild new world to explore.
Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët paint the body of the dead girl in haunting detail. You’ll be baffled as you watch young Aurora and her wee pals pile from the dead body as if nothing has happened. It’s almost charming. Every challenge of survival is met with rosy optimism and naivety. This feeling never goes away. Even when the book begins to deal with incredibly dark concepts, the charm of idealism never fades.
Which is the book’s greatest strength and horror. These fairytale creatures are capable of unspeakable evil. They carry out murders with the help of song or take up residence in the hollowed out skull of the long deceased little girl. It’s all communicated with a casual optimism that makes it all the more chilling.
The art compliments the tone. With beautifully painted watercolor panels that never shy away from even the most ghastly details. There is a haunting beauty that is created which becomes impossible to resist. Everything that your looking at is beautiful, but everything you are experiencing is downright horrendous.
As these joyous creatures spend more time in the outside world they are corrupted into monsters. They turn on each other with smiles, and become jaded at the drop of a hat. Despite all of this Aurora tries to escape it all. She tries to rise above, and does her best to remove herself from the darkness. Yet, the darkness consumes everything.
Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët have achieved something with “Beautiful Darkness” that I’ve never experienced before. They have created a truly melancholic horror book that offers something beautiful. For all intents and purposes this book pleases the eyes and disheartens the soul. It’s an odd reading exercise that you won’t soon forget, and its joyfully dejected tone doesn’t make much sense. Yet, the entire thing works gracefully like a dance with death. I’ve read it twice now, and I fear what a third reading will do to my psyche.
Rating: 4.5/5 Skulls.