Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thoughts on Beautiful Darkness - Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët


I'm a huge fan of Fabien Vehlmann's work: Marquis d'Anaon, La nuit de l'inca, Green Manor, Last Days of an Immortal, Isle of 100,000 Graves & Suel (which is getting an English release as The Vanishing later this year and well worth your time). So when I heard Drawn & Quarterly was releasing Jolies ténèbres (Beautiful Darkness), I was insanely excited. I was a bit sad when the release date got pushed back, but the wait was definitely worth it. 

I LOVE this comic! Vehlmann and Kerascoët have created a comic in the vein of The Borrows superposed with a Lynchian landscape while mixing the senseless violence of McCarthy--I don't mean this as an insult, the senseless violence has meaning within McCarthy's work and within this comic as well--with the dark fairy tales of days past; that's a lot of adjectives and ideas to describe Beautiful Darkness but I think these successfully describes what to expect from when reading the comic.

Beautiful Darkness starts of with our main character, Aurora, having a tea date with someone she has feelings for, a prince pixie; yes, our characters are pixies. Out of nowhere their ceiling starts to melt... The melting ceiling ruins their tea party and threatens to drown them. They have to escape their current environment to survive and from there the comic takes a spin that just utterly jolts you, and in which I consider one of the great introductions for a comic:
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What a way to introduce: what type of characters you're going read about, their environment, what to expect from the story, the brutal existentialist themes we're going to be facing, and a way to just grab you by the throat and push your face into the page. Vehlmann & Kerascoët do this within eight pages. EIGHT PAGES! I've read a lot of comics in my time but most of them take their time to build up their tone, themes, atmosphere and what to expect. Beautiful Darkness does all this in eight pages and they do it perfectly. It reminds me a bit of Roberto Bolaño's work and his amazing ability to change the tone and the overall picture into something new and alien that the reader would never expect within a sentence or a paragraph. Vehlmann & Kerascoët do that exact thing and they drastically alter your reading and throw whatever expectations you had, out the window. 

I'm really glad that Vehlmann & Kerascoët created this story through a fairytale filter. Fairy tales have been told as cautionary tales mixed with bits of morality and wisdom for people take, digest and use in their daily lives. Through this, Vehlmann & Kerascoët is able to tell a nihilistic cautionary story of civilization and when put in place or put in extreme situations, it can easily fall apart and just evolved people can be so unrelentingly shitty to each other. And that in the end, it doesn't matter because such actions will eventually be overtaken and forgotten by time and nature. Not only is that but there's a slew of blackish slapstick humor and gags that run throughout the comic that mesh so well with the message it's trying to say.
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The lighted and childish look of the characters are masterfully are juxtaposed with the beautifully realized landscape surrounding them. Our cast of characters look so out of place, you can't help but think of them as anomalies. It reminds me of Shigeru Mizuki's Onward Towards Our Noble Death. Where Japanese are brutally fighting against the United States but are surrounded by nature that is so beautiful, that them being there doing such a senseless act looks so out of place. Both these comics show their characters as being so disconnected, so goofy looking from nature, you can't believe they came from it.

Even the violence is juxtaposed with nature. At least when nature strikes at these pixies there's a sense of it being right. That there's an order to it, that it's just nature being nature and that's what these animals or insects have to do to survive. But when you see these characters do violence, they do it and don't look back at it; it's senseless most of the time. Most of the pixies are killed for no reason at the hands of other pixies and the pixies that do the deed don't blink. They don't care and run off in a childish glee to do more damage to other pixies. The pixies will do a depraved action: from cannibalism to burying people alive to brutally lashing out against animals and insects for no reason. This is how violence works within their society and I would say in our real life too. There's no rhythm or reason to violence, it just happens, and god helps you if you're on the receiving end of it. Watching this type of violence against the backdrop of nature gives you such a disconnect between the pixies and nature you can't help to think of them as abnormalities that nature is just waiting for their eventual doom through their own hands.

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Beautiful Darkness was my first exposure to Kerascoët's artwork and it just shines throughout this comic. Kerascoët does a beautiful job water-coloring and breathing into life the world of the pixies and the pixies themselves. The world of the pixies is rendered in an impressionistic fashion while the pixies are drawn more in a looser and cartoony fashion. I was just taken away by how varied and different each pixie look. Kerascoët has painstakingly rendered each pixie as it's own unique being with a different look. I was also taken aback by how express the pixies were. Kerascoët is able to draw very dramatically to nuanced, textured expressions.
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While I was researching Kerascoët I found out that it's a moniker for two people: Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset. This makes a lot of sense because when I came across the title page Beautiful Darkness it said, "Based on an original idea by Marie Pommepuy. Story by Marie Pommepuy & Fabien Vehlmann." I wondered who Marie Pommepuy was and now I know.

Beautiful Darkness is one of those rare comics that grasp for higher concepts and themes in comic and succeed wholly heartily. It's a comic that will leave a mark and keep you awake for nights on end.

I also recommend checking out Sandcastle by Pierre Oscar Lévy & Frederik Peeters. Another one of those rare comics that aims to deal with hefty themes and concepts and succeeds.

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