Author: Fabien Vehlmann (Translation by Helge Dascher)
Release Date: February 25, 2014
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly Press
Source: Borrowed from a friend
Genre(s): Fantasy, Drama
Review Spoilers: Low
Beautiful Darkness is such a strange comic to unpack.
It’s gorgeous, for sure, but it was one of those that made me unsure if I wanted to call the friend that let me borrow it and shout at him for inflicting this on me or just stare at the ceiling of my room as I contemplated the darkness of life. How French.
Created by French writer and artist Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët, the comic has the appearance of a mix between The Secret World of Arietty and Bee and Puppycat. Don’t let the appearance of the characters fool you though. This isn’t a Miyazaki-esque fairytale.
Let me put it this way: the book’s opening scene of the Borrower-esque characters of this story having their home be ruined by the dead body of a little girl is the least awful thing to happen in this comic.
Beautiful Darkness is mostly focused on Aurora, a character who starts the comic being courted by a prince named Hector. As this tragedy befalls her people, she ends up taking charge as they try to pull their lives back together. However, things keep falling apart and it eventually takes its toll on Aurora in terrible ways.
The thing that makes Beautiful Darkness so unsettling is that so many of the characters don’t seem to care that all these terrible things are happening to them. I don’t mean this in a positive way, but in a “let’s ignore this until it goes away, but it never will” way. Characters die in awful ways, and others around them will be more concerned with their sister copying them or playing at being pregnant like a child. Which, really, if this comic is an exploration of “surviving the human condition,” it certainly hits the nail on the head. What really drives it home is that there’s really no three act structure here. The story starts and walks on through the darkness, only stopping when only one person is left standing at the edge. Again, how French.
The story developed by Vehlmann and Marie Pommepuy would not have been as effective without the art by Kerascoët though (which Pommepuy consists of one half of). The dark and bleak writing comes across even stronger against the lush backgrounds and cute-faced characters. These are not the kind of characters we expect to do such and endure awful things, but perhaps that is also a part of the human condition. Darkness comes from and happens to the people we least expect. Half the time I would stop in awe of the gorgeous art. The other half I would have to put down for a few minutes to process what it just showed me.
Final Thoughts: Beautiful Darkness is not a comic for the faint of heart, even though an initial look at the spectacular art might suggest otherwise. It is absolutely worth the read for the way it tells the story of the kind of horrible behavior humans will inflict on others and stay indifferent to it. Just brace yourself for maybe needing something a little more optimistic when you’re done if you’re anything like me.