What would happen if we had to start over? To rebuild and live simply, off the land, as they say? Well, according to Fabien Vehlmann and the artist collaboration known as Kerascoet, nothing good. Their new book, Beautiful Darkness, put out by Drawn and Quarterly, is a fairy tale gone demented, in which adorable and sinister prove to be inseparable.
In the wake of a horrific but nonspecific event, Aurora, our heroine, and her cohort take no time to lament. Impressively – and frightfully – resilient, they quickly adapt to their new circumstances and busy themselves with both survivalist and frivolous ventures. A la Lord of the Flies, the tendency to impose order and hierarchy ensues, and inevitably, so does evil.
And that’s what this story really explores. The banality and contagion of evil and the inevitable death of innocence. Reckoning with nature, in the sense of the natural world and in the sense of its inhabitants‘ behavior, even the good ones are driven to terrible deeds. The narrator forfeits the right to omniscience, and we are left to fill in some of the blanks. But it is undeniably clear that some of these little cuties are at the very brinks of sanity and decency, and even the purest and most benevolent are not far behind.
Kerascoet is the shared nom de plume of the collaboration between Marie Pommepuy and Sebastian Cosset. They are widely known and respected in France for their illustration and design work. Beautiful Darkness, however, was Pommepuy’s foray into script writing. They initially decided to bring aboard their friend Vehlmann, a highly revered comics writer, as “writing doctor” and eventually co-writer. Great move. This story, by this team, is a realization of the comics form at its highest potential. The incongruity of the light, wispy watercolor imagery perfectly contrasts the dark matters considered here, only enhancing the unsettling atmosphere. It looks like a childrens‘ book, but it is a tale from which even the most cynical of grownups will need a moment to recover.