It's nothing new to see classic fairy tales revisited with a modern twist, and Beast is one of them - a dark and raw piece of work by Marian Churchland. Published in 2009, this spin on the classic Beauty and the Beast is her first graphic novel, though Churchland has worked on a few other comics before (e.g. Elephantmen and Northlanders).
I stumbled across this purely by chance; a family friend offered to give me any book I found interesting from a box that he had (he works as a publishing distributor). Beast immediately caught my eye, the only graphic novel in a sea of hardcover books and magazines. It's a very simple cover, but something about the rough, sketchy quality of the artwork intrigued me. I'm glad I picked it up.
The story centres on Colette, a sculptor struggling to find meaningful work while she does the occasional odd commission with referrals from her father. He calls her up one day to say that he's got a job for her: to work a portrait of an unknown benefactor out of a block of marble. The house she ends up in is shabby to say the very least, and the occupants include an unkempt old woman by the name of Roz, a dog, a cat and a mysterious shadowy figure known only as Beast, who is the seemingly wealthy benefactor.
She's terrified of the strange and eerie Beast, though she can't bring herself to leave - the money that hangs in the balance could pay off the entirety of her rent for another year, and she's just scraping by as it is. Slowly, Colette learns more about the history of the marble block she is carving into, and when the time comes for her to leave the house, job completed, she can't help but feel like going back.
There's a lot of subtle emotion in this story, and it's all conveyed through the visuals though Colette offers quite a bit of insight within her first person narrative. She's a relatable character, the kind to put up a tough front while she wrestles with her own inner demons. By the end of the story, not everything is revealed - instead, I'm left with even more questions than what I had when I started. Even so, I can't quite imagine it ending any other way. It's one of those tales where the journey means more than the destination, and in this case Colette's decisions and actions are the main focus of the story.
Visual-wise, the artwork is in simple black and white, though Churchland plays with certain shades of sepia and blue in the lines to set the mood. This is clear in the images I've included above. The lineart is sketchy, rough and raw, something I really love to see. Sometimes I feel like my fingers could smudge the obvious pencil lines on the page. The way she draws hands and feet is gorgeous, and I especially enjoyed the life she etched into her drawings of the cat and dog within the story. It's not detailed work, but it feels honest somehow.
I finished the entire graphic novel in under an hour. It was a reasonably good read, and it was nice to flip back through the pages picking up details that I missed during the first read-through. The last few pages was especially suspenseful, making me turn the pages hastily, eager to see what's coming next. If you're looking for a new artist to pick up, Churchland does a fine job with Beast.