Hubert & Kerascoët – Beauté (Beauty)

If you recall my reaction to the amazing graphic novel Beautiful Darkness, it will come as no surprise that I ended up with another Kerascoët-illustrated graphic novel. This one is an original fairy tale, no less, so I was sold pretty quickly.

beauteBEAUTÉ
by Hubert & Kerascoët

Published by: Dupuis, 2013
Hardcover: 160 pages
Series: Beauté #1-3
My rating: 7,5/10

First sentence: Morue! Morue! Morue!

When the repulsively ugly Coddie unintentionally saves a fairy from a spell, she does not understand the poisonous nature of the wish granted her by the fairy. The village folk no longer see her as repulsive and stinking of fish—they now perceive her as magnetically beautiful—which does not help her in her village. A young local lord saves her, but it soon becomes apparent that Coddie’s destiny may be far greater than anyone ever imagined. Caustic and flamboyant, this fairy tale offers grownups an engrossing take on the nature of beauty.

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Morue (Coddie in the English version) is quite ugly. She always smells of fish, as her job in the village is scaling fish and cleaning the house. Her ears stick out, her head is weirdly-shaped, her eyes are bulging. The ony person who is kind to her is Pierre, the chubby son of Morue’s employer. When her outsider status becomes too much to bear, Morue flees into the forest to cry and inadvertantly drops a tear on an ugly toad. Which – surprise! – turns out to be Mab, the fairy. She grants Morue one wish – and turns Morue beautiful. Well, sort of. Morue is still ugly, but everybody will perceive her as beautiful.

Beauté is, unsurprisingly, an exploration of beauty and what it means to have it or lack it. Morue goes from being mocked and ridiculed to being the center of everybody’s attention. She is so beautiful, however, that the fairy’s gift is more of a curse. Not only do all men suddenly want Morue, they are quite willing to be violent to get her. Morue falls in love with a lowly Duke, but thanks to Mab, is not satisfied with her life. After all, somebody as beautiful as Morue should at least be a queen!

Morue – who is later called Beauty – is an intriguing character. She starts out as a sympathetic heroine. A girl shunned for her looks, but with a kind heart and values that I could get behind as a reader. As things fall into her lap simply by virtue of being suddenly very beautiful, her character changes. She does make it to queendom and, at first, only wants her people to be happy. She wants to eradicate poverty (and tells her king to pass the appropriate law) but, one second later, runs off to try one of her 100 new dresses. She seems naive and childish at times, all while retaining some of her original character traits. I was glad that she had these flaws – vanity, distractedness, carelessness – because if her sudden change into the most beautiful woman in the land didn’t change her, the entire story would have lacked credibility.

Her story, told in three volumes, reads more like a slow descent into hell. I came to expect a fairy beauty pagetale, and the style and story elements are all there. Princes, dukes, warring kingdoms, a beautiful queen… except things decidedly don’t follow any other fairy tale tropes. The body count is ridiculously high, Morue suffers for her beauty (and I don’t mean plucking her eyebrows or going through a daily beauty regimen), and things generally don’t turn out for the better. This twisted tale turns dark really quickly and reaches its high point in the third volume. People die left and right, Morue reaches the depth of her descent and wants nothing more than to be ugly again…

While the focus is on Morue’s story, there are side characters whose role in the big picture should not be underestimated. They, too, are influenced by beauty (or its absence) in their daily lives. The king’s sister, for example, is considered quite ugly and doesn’t expect to ever be married. But just as Morue has to realise that her beauty is a curse, her sister-in-law Claudine finds out that being unattractive doesn’t keep you from leading a happy life filled with love.

Much like in Jolies ténèbres, it struck me how much the authors let the pictures talk rather than use a lot of words. Most comics and graphic novels I read tend to have quite a bit of dialogue and explanatory text accompanying each panel. Here, the words are sparse, many panels stand alone without any text, so all you have (and all you need) is the artwork and the characters’ expressions to tell the story. This is surely a matter of taste but I was quite happy looking at the pictures and being told a story non-verbally. On a side-note: I noticed while Googling that the comic books are actually in full color, while my collected edition is kept in only black, white, and a golden-ish brown. I really liked the clean triple-color version but it’s interesting to check out some of the fully colored pages as well. Depending on your taste, you may want to buy the three volumes individually.

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The art is simple, almost cartoonish at times, but the contrast between Morue as she is and Morue as she is perceived is striking. I’m not sure a more detailed style would work for this kind of story. Just like in Jolies ténèbres, the strength of the graphic novel is how much style and content differ from each other, how they should clash, but somehow don’t. This exploration of beauty, its power to free someone at the same time as corrupting them, was enjoyable to read, in a macabre sort of way. I adored the ideas, I liked Morue’s character development, I loved how high the stakes actually were. But the pacing was off in certain parts (court life, for instance, was quite boring and drawn out too long) and the story almost too bleak.

I did like the nod to other cultures in the epilogue. Morue-as-Beauty is the perfect woman – judging from a very narrow, western beauty standard. The epilogue acknowledges that and ends the book on a funny note. All things considered, I would recommend this novel, but it didn’t impress me as much as Beautiful Darkness.

MY RATING: 7,5/10 – Very good

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Second opinions:

LEO – Bételgeuse (Graphic Novel)

Comic book-wise, I am still recovering from the amazing Saga (and eagerly awaiting the second paperback collection). But then I remembered another awesome science fiction comic series on my TBR pile. Léo keeps up everything he did right in the first cycle and adds cool new aspects. We meet old characters and get to know new ones. It is difficult to find fault with these books – except maybe how unknown they are.

betelgeuse integraleBÉTELGEUSE
by Léo

Published by: Dargaud, 2001
ISBN:
Hardcover: 48 pages each
Series: Bételgeuse #1 – 5
The Worlds of Aldebaran #2

My rating: 7/10

First sentence: Papa! Viens voir! Vite!

Follow the continuing adventures of our Aldebaran heroes. Mark and Kim are sent to Betelgeuse to look for survivors of the spacecraft crash that killed 3,000 people seven years earlier. They do find survivors, among them Tazio Menegaz and Colonel Logan, who tell them the colonisers had been divided over whether the Iums (indigenous creatures) are as intelligent as humans. If they are, the humans would have been forced to abandon their colonising enterprise according to UN laws. Kim decides to investigate for herself.

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Once again, the blurb tells a lie. Kim, our spunky heroine from the first cycle in the Worlds of Aldebaran series, is sent on a mission to Betelgeuse in order to look for survivors of the spacecraft Tsiolkowsky. Other than in the first “season” of the series, we don’t follow one single point of view. Instead, we are introduced to other chraracters right away and there is no narration to keep their perspectives together. Inge and Hector get a lot of time in the first volume and I liked their characters well enough. But they fall rather flat in the subsequent books.

The story – and the art through which it is told – are stunning. Betelgeuse is a planet mostly covered in desert land with one lush canyon full of incredible plant and animal life. Léo puts wide shots of flying cars, people walking across plains, to good use by showing us the characters (drawn small) against a backdrop of strange creatures and plants, often in the middle of catching their prey. These images lend a depth to the new planet that would be difficult to establish in prose without sounding info-dumpy. Léo does his world-building almost exclusively through pictures.

betelgeuse creatuers

Because we lack a single narrator, the plot feels somewhat convoluted in the beginning books. The survivors now living on Betelgeuse have separated into two opposing camps – one group who thinks the Iums (the creatures you see on the cover) are highly intelligent and the colonization must be stopped – and one group who believes they are simply smart animals who don’t use tools or create art. It so happens that the latter group have also set up a pretty dictatorial village. Kim is the feminist voice when she enters this place ruled by men, where women are given domestic tasks and used as birthing machines. One child per woman per year – and the partner is picked by the authorities, in order to guarantee a good mix of genes for the future generation. Kim arrives and – within minutes – questions these rules.

The message here is maybe a little blunt but I was happy to see it nonetheless. Betelgeuse also offers a surprising amount of diversity when it comes to characters. It is set in the future so humanity has probably ingermingled enough that you can’t really call anyone an African-Betegeusian or Asian-Betelgeusian anymore, but it was wonderful to see a cast of characters that are not all white. You get POC characters who were depicted as human beings – some good, some bad, some misled in their beliefs, and others ignorant.

betelgeuse kim iiumsThere were a few things I didn’t enjoy and I was hoping until the very end that a good reason would come up for why everyone falls in love with Kim. She is a cool, confident woman, yes, and she is pretty to look at. But literally (I am using that word correctly) every male character in contact with her falls head over heels in love with her. And they like to declare that love by telling her how hard it is to keep their hands off her or asking her to sleep with them. There is no romance to be found, everybody states their love business in as blunt a fashion as possible. At first, I thought these were the repercussions of that pill she is taking from the mantrisse on Aldebaran. But if that is the explanation, we never officially get it here.

Betelgeuse also features a young girl, Mai Lan, who plays a very important role in the beginning – being the only human who can get close to the Iums, talk to them, and even ride on their backs. Sadly, when she makes an appearance in the fourth and fifth volume, her character is downgraded to an anxious teenager who constantly worries about the size of her boobs – and nothing else.

Speaking of breasts. I enjoyed how normal nudity was in Aldebaran and that it was depicted tasetfully. It is still tasteful here, but there is an excessive amount of women undressing and men commenting how – if they looked – they couldn’t hold themselves back. Not only did this do nothing to further the plot it also wasn’t particularly sexy. It’s a small complaint but happens often enough for me to have noticed it.

The last instalment of Betelgeuse finally offers some revelations (which, in turn, create more questions) and paves the road for the sequels. Unfortunately, the most interesting background information on the mantrisse is delivered in a massive info-dump. Pages upon pages of two characters’ faces in conversation. Why Léo didn’t do his signature move and show them in a wonderful environment, I don’t know.

I enjoyed Betelgeuse, but it lacked the character depth and development of Aldebaran – we will see how the third cycle, Antares, will hold up. Because no matter the Kim-insta-love, I will continue reading these comic books. That is, if I can get my hands on the French editions sometime soon.

THE GOOD: A great setting shown through wonderful, if old-timey-looking drawings. Kim is as strong a character as ever.
THE BAD: Too much falling in love, especially with Kim. The relationships take a soap opera spin in every instalment.
THE VERDICT: Recommended. If you’ve read Aldebaran, you will want to learn more about the mantrisse and you definitely do in this cycle. It was nowhere near as good as its predecessor but still offered some fun hours looking at terrifying creatures and beautiful scenery.

RATING: 7/10 – Very good

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There are four cycles in Leo’s comic book series, Aldebaran is only the first one. aldebaran logos

The Worlds of Aldebaran:

  1. Aldebaran (5 volumes)
  2. Bételgeuse (5 volumes)
  3. Antares (4 volumes)
  4. Survivants (2 volumes so far)

Bételgeuse:

  1. The planet
  2. The Survivors
  3. The Expedition
  4. The Caverns
  5. The Other

Régis Loisel – Peter Pan (Comics)

When I lived in France I spent a lot of time at our local médiathèque – library, video store and study hall all wrapped in one – and decided to expand my horizons a bit. The French have a wonderful tradition when it comes to comic books. Not only do they write a lot of comics that aren’t only about superheroes but deal with very adult and partly grim topics. They are also proud of that and every bookstore I’ve been to in France had a comic book section that was as big as the English sections here in Austria are. Long story short, this is the best thing I’ve read during my stay in the country of baguettes and delicious cheese.

PETER PAN (6 volumes)
by Régis Loisel

published: Vents d’Ouest, 1990-2004
ISBN: 2749302676
pages: 472
copy: 6 hardcovers
series: Peter Pan #1-6

my rating: 9,5/10

This version story of the boy who would not grow up is written for adults. Peter starts out as an almost-orphan in the streets of London and is taken away to Neverland by a fallen star that turns out to be the fairy Tinkerbell. There, he meets with pirates, mermaids, Indians, and a group of creatures living in the forest. He also meets their leader. The satyr Pan.

It becomes clear very early that this isn’t your cute Disney version of Peter Pan. In the very first scenes, Peter has to bring a bottle of alcohol to his abusive mother – without any money, he is forced to indulge the pedophiles in the bar and let his pants down to “earn” his mother’s bottle of wine. The story starts out grim and Peter’s journey to Neverland offers little relief. Because Neverland is populated by its own cast of mythical creatures and plagued by its own problems. Be it Peter’s trip to the island of Opikanoba, which holds uncounted terrors, or the constant war against Hook and his crew, there is always trouble brewing.

There are many things that fascinated me about this adaptation of the popular children’s story. First, it’s not your happy paradise full of pretty fairies and adventures that always end well. It’s dark, it’s full of evil, there is frequent nudity (fairies wear next to nothing and mermaids and centaurs are naturally topless), there is murder and grime and a lot of blood. This is not a children’s story! Peter’s innocence and forgetfulnes bring wonderful contrast to how ugly the world is – whether it’s Neverland or our world.

The characters come alive in Loisel’s drawings and they seemed a lot more believable to me. A bunch of boys wouldn’t just accept Peter as the leader, they’d question him or want to take over his job. Tinkerbell, a fairy we know to be jealous, goes to extremes to get rid of potential competition for Peter’s attention. And Hook is a troubled man who is not only there for comic relief.

I love Régis Loisel’s style. Both his writing and his art are breathtaking. His squiggly lines gave Neverland a character and I particularly enjoyed how versatile his characters’ looks and expressions are. Female characters are usually voluptuously round, sometimes even chubby, and we get to see boobs in all shapes and sizes. Like I said, it’s not a book for kids but any grown-up will be delighted at the range of body shapes and creatures that roam this magical island. Tiger Lily and her Indian tribe use their own language and there are hints at sexuality all over – which also help to show just how much Peter wants to stay a child forever.

I devoured the first five volumes in one go at the library but the final volume wasn’t available. And before I could find a copy at a bookshop, I left France for home. Since then, I’ve been pining to find out what happens to Peter, Clochette (Tinkerbell), Hook, and Merilin. Finally, I got my hands on an affordable copy of the last book Destins and I was equally swept away and taken to that magical land that, as dark as it is, was wonderful to dive into.

The ending is surprisingly dark, even compared to the first books, and the last volume had a few moments that made me catch my breath. Barrie himself wrote a very appropriate last sentence to Peter Pan.

[…] and thus it will be going on, so long as children are gay and innocent and heartless.

While these comic books can be read as a sort of prequel to the original story, they end on a similar note. The reader can be hopeful for Peter, the eternal child, yet there are some truly dark themes and Loisel made them more obvious than Barrie. Reading these left me uncomfortably touched. On the one hand, I’m enthralled and enchanted by the mythology Loisel has added to J.M. Barrie’s Neverland, on the other hand, he plunged me into the deepest, most vile places within the human heart and left me with an emptiness inside.

In conclusion, this is an emotionally wrecking work of art. There are moments of joy and moments of fun but the dominant note is a sinister one. And it will not let you go…

THE GOOD: Amazing new take on a well-known tale, grim, dark and gorey. Beautiful art that transports you to a different world.
THE BAD: Definitely not for children. At some points, people may be put off by how gruesome it gets.
THE VERDICT: Recommended to people who like Peter Pan, comic books, and stories that take unexpected turns.

RATING: 9,5/10  Close to perfection

Peter Pan:

  1. Londres
  2. Opikanoba
  3. Tempête
  4. Mains rouges
  5. Crochet
  6. Destins

Related Posts:

Amélie Nothomb – Tuer le père

Amélie Nothomb conquered my reader’s heart with her wonderful novel Stupeur et Tremblements (Fear and Trembling) and has – with a couple of exceptions – been very dear to me as a writer. Her unique voice (and the fact that I can work up enough gumption to read a French book when it comes to her) has never let me down and while she’s taken one huge misstep with Sulphuric Acid, it was easily forgiven. As all of Nothomb’s novels, this one is really short, more novella than novel. Usually, she uses the lack of pages to show her strengths in story-telling but lately, I feel she’s been slacking and her stories get boring and unmemorable.

TUER LE PÈRE
by Amélie Nothomb

published: 2011
by: Albin Michel
pages: 162

my rating: 3/10

first sentence: Le 6 octobre 2010, L’Illégal fêtait ses dix ans.


Joe is 14 years old when his mother politely throws him out. He goes to live in Reno, learning card tricks. Soon he’s picked up by Norman Torance and his girlfriend Christina who take him into their home and treat him like a son. Growing up with them, he develops a severe crush on his surrogate mother and learns all there is to know about magic tricks and sleight of hand from Norman.

Mademoiselle Nothomb, I am not impressed. Joe, unlike most of the author’s protagonists, does not feel real so his journey was doomed for me from the get-go.  The things that happen to him feel equally as unbelievable as they are boring. Norman becomes a father-figure to Joe but instead of showing that fragile relationship through one of the many conversations, Nothomb just hammers it into her readers by bluntly stating facts. Even when finally some conflict appears – namely Joe’s crush on Christina – the author manages to play it down so much that I didn’t really care if Joe managed to secude her or destroy her relationship with Norman.

The theme of this book is magic, artistics, players and sleight of hand – while these are all things that I find highly interesting to read about and that offer many possibilities for great writing, Amélie Nothomb chose not to take that opportunity. There is no magic in this book, the writing is just there, it doesn’t leave any kind of impression. Then again, she throws in passages that instantly strike a chord with me and make me reminisce of “good old Amélie” and the wonderful books she’s written.

Les fire dancers n’ont pas créé leur art pour le plaisir un peu vulgaire de faire du trop difficile. Il y a une logique profonde à associer ces deux dieux, la danse et le feu. Regarder de grands danseurs provoque le même émoi que regarder une bûche enflammée : le feu danse, le danseur brûle.

That’s what I expect from a Nothomb book. Concise writing and a story that combines plot with the author’s thoughts on certain themes. Unfortunately, that is the only quote worth mentioning in this story.

Now, it wasn’t all bad. The ending does hold a little plot twist and while it may come as a surprise to some, the lack of interest in the characters left me strangely unemotional about it. This has been a trend in Nothomb’s last few books and I certainly hope she’ll get back on her writer’s feet. Otherwise I’m just going to have to re-read her older works and ignore whatever comes out next.

THE GOOD: Quick read, I improved my French.
THE BAD: If you don’t care for the characters, might as well not read the book. Lame story, not very well-told.
THE VERDICT: No need to read this. If you want Nothomb, pick up one of her older books. You won’t regret it.

RATING: 2,5/10