It's been a splendid year for horror comics, but two works towered above the rest in terms of high-profile discussion: Emily Carroll's Through the Woods and this English translation of a 2009 album from cartoonist/animators Kerascoët and veteran scenarist Fabien Vehlmann, who's carved himself a comfortable niche in the French-language industry scripting one of the venerable children's bande dessinée series, Spirou et Fantasio. There's quite a few youth comics licks in Beautiful Darkness too – characters are drawn so as to caricature their personalities, archetypes run rampant, and the story proceeds with a sense of inevitability, as if the reader is meant less to be absorbed than to jump on the couch and shout along with the action.
But the inevitability here is not that of commercial devices clicking into place, or even a folkloric moral calculus; instead, the book's unforgettable six opening pages flatly state that all social comforts and humane graces will be undermined in favor of decay. Fleeing their home inside the liquefying corpse of a young girl left dead and forgotten in the forest, a community of tiny people struggle to maintain decorum and pursue their desires out in the wild – each of them seems to represent an aspect of the dead girl's personality or subconscious, or maybe the stories she has heard and taken to heart. Perhaps they are her soul, fragmented at the moment of death like a cut diamond and made horribly autonomous. These little elves do not get along, and poor Aurora -- a quintessential Disney princess, preoccupied with prettiness and romance and the ineffable promise of a prince becoming her forever love -- suffers a rash of Sadian affronts at the hands of her more controlling (or easily led) peers, the woods standing high above as a biological machine for the stripping of naiveté.
All is rendered by Kerascoët as ravishing cartoon illustration, like production art from a Studio Ghibli movie playing exclusively in Hell. It's all quite arch, even reductive, yet totally compelling - especially once the reader understands that removing the blind trust from an idealist like Aurora doesn't destroy the idealism, it makes it dangerous. There WILL be a happy ending... at least for her!