It’s not hard to build consensus around the fact that Angela Carter is the strongest and most influential voice in how we examine western fairytales, but while she is most warmly remembered for slicing them open and holding up their darkest and most patriarchal impulses up to the harsh light of day, it frequently gets lost that she was no less subject to their charms than the most naive reader. Beauty and the Beast fascinated her especially, with both grim and sugary sweet reworkings of it appearing in The Bloody Chamber, and so there’s a special resonance to Marguerite Bennett, who is swiftly establishing herself as the queen of the gothic romance in comics, partnering with Trungles to offer the delicately layered Beauties as a companion to the similarly themed Angela: Queen of Hel.
What distinguishes Bennett from her peers is a bardic, lyrical quality to her writing that has, so far, paired best with artists with loose and flowing lines packed with intricate details and Trungles exemplifies those elements just as beautifully as Marguerite Sauvage or Stephanie Hans, spinning out an art deco influence whose beauty belies the cruelty central to the story. What makes Bennett’s conception so compelling is that she reworks the typical power dynamics of the story that have Beauty placing herself under Beast’s control to free her father. Under her sway, Beast is enslaved by Beauty’s father, weaving a fable of all the ways that love can be careless, cruel, and controlling out of how the Prince and his three daughters interact with Beast. “To Prince and his first daughters, love was a conquering or a yielding thing,” or as Chuck Palahniuk put it in Fight Club, “This isn’t about love as in caring. This is about property as in ownership,” but Bennett’s narrator makes a careful choice in framing it more lyrically. This is a story about the seductiveness of loving selfishly and the difficulty of loving truly.
Which is why Trungles is so fundamental to the execution. The things we code as feminine, dainty, and frivolous can seduce us into becoming blind to cruelty and injustice, but the tenderness of the artwork is also central to building up Beauty and Beast as they learn to love and find intimacy together, negotiating the power she has over him and his physical dominance. The most telling moment in the art however is the shading that rounds out their faces and builds them up into three dimensions beyond the flats that mark the rest of the story, to show that they not only achieve a synthesis of their physical attributes, but a fullness of life and character beyond anyone or anything else in the world they inhabit.
When considered against the rest of Marguerite Bennett’s work, especially Angela: Queen of Hel and Insexts, Beauties emerges as a clean point of entry into the dominant themes of her body of work and how she approaches monstrousness and othering in the context of a gothic romance. There are easily perceptible elements of the dynamic between Angela and Sera at work in Beauties that serve to enrich how we see those characters, and it isn’t particularly difficult to imagine Sera narrating the story to Angela in the same way that she’s spun their history together into fables, most notably in 1602: Witch Hunter Angela.
It’s a thematic intertextuality that is also apparent between Kate Leth and Arielle Jovellanos’ School Spirit and the former’s debut of Patsy Walker AKA Hellcat with Brittney Williams. What appears to be emerging in Rosy Press’ output is a keen editorial eye from publisher Janelle Asselin who has not only successively captured two of the industry’s most exciting breakout talents, but nurtured a space that captured their creative voices at a point where they began to develop coherent theses that track cleanly across their work. If Rosy Press has proven anything so far, it’s that romance as a genre can provide a space that offers more freedom than restriction when put in the right hands, which is also, incidentally, the idea at the heart of Beauties.
Written by Marguerite Bennett
Drawn by Trungles
Letters by Rachel Deering
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Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.