Beautiful Darkness is one of the most horrific comics I’ve read in recent memory. Fabien Vehlmann and Kerascoët (the pen-name of collaborators Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset) have crafted a beautiful ‘anti-fairy tale’ that both captivates and simultaneously repulses the reader.
The story opens as most fairy tales end, with the princess and the prince sitting down for tea together. Unfortunately, their date is interrupted as the ceiling begins to collapse. As the inhabitants race out of the home, it soon becomes evident this isn’t a castle or village. The people in the story were living inside a girl’s body – a body that is now decaying after her death. What follows is an examination and subsequent subversion of many classic fairy tale tropes, including friendly woodland creatures and a royal wedding.
Structurally, the book’s plot is loose and flows freely from one event to another. The book isn’t a tight thriller or hyper-focused horror story, but a meandering journey through the darkness. That might come across as a negative trait, but it was one of my favorite parts of the book. It sets the book apart from similar stories and gives readers the impression of stumbling onto the horrific scenes organically. Vehlmann confidently carries the story to its conclusion, introducing the underlying themes of human greed and jealousy into the narrative and evoking a powerful message by the end of the 96-page book.
Beautiful Darkness lives up to its name. Kerascoët’s gorgeous water colors are a brilliant juxtaposition to the material in the book, depicting images of a rotting corpse as beautifully as those of the royal procession. The characters look genuinely happy as they jump in a sea of maggots on the girl’s corpse, making the story all the more off putting. There are horrible things happening in this book, but the real horror lies in how normal it all seems. I want to give a special mention to the publisher of this book, Drawn & Quarterly, as the book is very well put together and deserves a spot on any collector’s shelf.
Beautiful Darkness is a marriage of beauty and disgust, one that has to be experienced firsthand to truly understand. I’d recommend any fan of comics or fairy tales pick up a copy. Just be warned that the story is not a happy one and even a ‘happy ending’ is subject for deconstruction at the hands of Vehlmann and Kerascoët.