Today I will be sharing with you a discovery I made on my trip to Switzerland this summer. Kerascoet & Hubert were completely unknown to me before I stumbled upon their latest, brilliant work in the comic book store I make a point of visiting whenever I go to Yverdon-Les-Bains.
Beaute (“Beauty” in French) is the story of Morue, a young outcast with unfortunate looks. She has bulging eyes, ears that stick out, limp hair, and smells strongly of fish. Her life as an indentured servant is bleak. She dreams of finding love and acceptance, but is the butt of joke after joke in her little village.
When her tears release Mab, the faerie queen, from her enchantment, the sarcastic Mab grants her the illusion of beauty—-and not just any beauty, but Beauty as only the faeries can bestow, the beauty for which men lose all self-control. Worse still, every attempt Morue makes to reject their advances is seen as seductive; her anger, fear, and despair is relentlessly sexualized.
This also means that Morue becomes hated by the women in her village, who are unable to mar the faerie’s gift in order to win their husbands back:
This is more than Morue bargains for, and matters are further complicated when, with Mab’s ever present urging, Morue finds herself married to the king.
Over the course of three books, Morue must face the consequences of her naivetee and immaturity, which because of her great beauty become weapons of mass destruction as armies go to war for her and the jealousies of her lovers become homicidal. Her beauty quickly becomes a curse, and she must discover the secret to Mab’s power.
Beaute is honestly the best fairytale I have read in a long time. It succeeds where so many have failed here in America. From a story-telling perspective, the characters are beautifully flawed and it is hard to put the book down. I found myself alternately laughing hysterically and fighting back tears. One thing I especially love about Kerascoet’s characters is their expressions—-and this can be said about many french comics——he is not afraid to distort and charicaturize his female characters’ faces as they move through a full range of expressions.
I was under the impression that after Morue received the faerie glamour we would only see her as her “beautiful” self, but Kerascoet reserves that side of her mostly for when we are gazing at her from a male perspective. In these panels, Morue says little and is usually a passive object—-the rest of the time, Morue is active and chatty, and obviously has an inner life. Her immaturity is wonderfully contrasted by her sister in law, a big-nosed spinster who manages her brother’s kingdom and ends up finding love on the battlefield as a lady-knight:
I wish I’d had these comics as a young girl. So little fantasy, and so few comics, portray women as complicated characters with story-lines independent of the men in their life. There is so much for girls to relate to in Morue—-I don’t know any women who haven’t felt ashamed of their bodies and looks at least at some point in their lives, who haven’t felt the desire to fit in and fit an impossible standard of beauty that society tells us is the only measure of our worth. What girl hasn’t come to the realization that "beauty" and all that comes with it is fucking complicated and scary? What teenage girl doesn’t come to the realization that her beauty and sexuality can be used against her? What girl hasn’t heard some form of victim blaming, when men and boys believe their desires are not their own responsibility? The men in Beaute may seem like they are under a spell, but I think Kerascoet & Hubert make it clear that they are just entitled and telling themselves what they want to hear—-the same way rapists do in real life.
It’s a highly stylized, exaggerated, mythical and fairy-tale version of the male-dominated, sexually hostile world girls wake up to, and I think watching Morue navigate it at great peril to herself and her loved ones is cathartic for the reader to follow. Modern parents may want to wait before buying these books for their children; there are some seriously dark, upsetting themes (rape, murder, suicide, torture) but Kerascoet raises questions about desire that certainly teenagers must grapple with, and I think encouraging a child to read these comics critically, with an eye for what’s there between the lines, could be a very empowering experience.
These are glorious hard-bound full color Bande Dessinee. They’re big and beautiful like all BD should be, but Kerascoet’s art is breath-taking cover to cover. After reading Beaute I have a new standard for how color should look in comics. Every page leaves me in awe.
I HOPE an English translation comes out soon. Maybe some of my comics friends can talk to their publishers about this, but they are worth buying for the art alone, and if you have any interest in learning french, reading french comics are an excellent way to do so.
The best option I have found so far for buying BDs is BDnet, and here is the link to buying all three Beaute books. If anyone needs advice on navigating their french-language checkout process, you are more than welcome to ask me. If anyone has a better resource I’d love to hear from you.
UPDATE: My friend Sophia Foster-Dimino has graciously shared her text translation of all three books, which you can view here and read alongside the comics once you have bought them. Hopefully this doesn’t step on the publishers toes, and I will certainly remove the fan-translation if and when an official english translation comes out. Happy reading!