▲ Beauté (2011) illustration. PROVIDED BY KERASCOET.
Written by Hubert Boulard and illustrated by Kerascoet, Beaute (2011) is a book of beauty. Along with the elaborate illustrations, the book deals with a classic topic—beauty. In the same vein as French philosophical comics, the book depicts the candid features of violence in human nature. Faced with the irresistible charm of Morue, the protagonist, people become incredibly irrational and destructive. By reading the fairy tale of reality, the readers are to question what we truly want and how we are going to achieve it.
The tale begins with the miserable life of an ugly girl named Morue. Her name means “cod” in French, which is also used as a term of insult. As the name itself might suggest, the ugliest girl in the village is bullied by the entire community. It is the magic of a fairy, Mob, that changes everything. Mob casts a spell on her so that she seems perfectly beautiful to anyone she encounters. Although Morue's appearance has not changed at all, everything changes—not only her life but also the whole country.
Beaute is full of astonishing illustrations by Kerascoet. Their distinctive adorable drawings fit perfectly with the fairytale-like plot. With elaborate details in the backgrounds, the fantasy feels like reality. The book balances the fine arts and the simple characteristics of the comic book so well that the delicate illustrations do not make the book look too crowded at all. Rather, the subtle sensitivity gives the readers a sense that they are watching a movie. For example, in the scene where the king of the North commands an army of ships in the sea, the countless soldiers, dynamic waves and his determined face are so dramatic that it paints the impression of a grim atmosphere all at once.
The book cover showing a naked girl on a red background makes readers expect a sensational drama. However, in-depth insights about the beauty underneath the eye-catching artwork make Beaute more than just a pretty comic book. Underneath fascinating colors, there are lively characters and a convincing storyline that grab the readers’ attention. When seeing Morue treated poorly because of her appearance, the readers empathize with her, realizing that her world reflects the lookism of our society. This kind of realistic touch makes Beaute a fantasy for adults.
Although beauty may be a worn-out topic for either a kid or an adult storybook, Beaute avoids cliché through its unexpected perspective on beauty. The book flows through how Morue's destructively attractive appearance devastates everything around her. Unlike many of the books that end with the character giving away the beauty, saying that there is something more precious than one’s looks, the author does not put all the blame on beauty. In the end, the beauty that was once the cause of all disputes eventually solves every problem. Overall, the main character of the book is not the beauty, but the people around it.
Therefore, the core of the story is to watch how Morue grows over time. In the beginning, she admires beauty because she believes that it will make her life easier. However, the real change occurs when she finally decides to believe in herself, not when Mob casts a spell on her. No Prince Charming is there to save the princess. Rather, a number of men who craved for her beauty were her biggest threats. After all the sufferings, she finally realizes that the one who could save her from those desires is only herself.
Throughout the book, Morue asks for help from others every time she is confronted with an uphill battle. Such a tendency to rely on external help rings true in our lives as well, particularly when we fall short of our goals and ambitions. People often daydream about a Fairy Godmother who can make their dreams come true in the blink of an eye. However, as Morue’s case suggests, it is our very own actions that map our future, not the spell or the curse of a fairy. In that sense, the beauty of Beaute seems to lie in the paradox that a fairytale-like book urges the readers to wake up from their fantasies.