The graphic novel, Beast, by Marian Churchland, was laying precariously on the adult comic shelf at my local library. Someone had obviously picked it up, flipped through it, then discarded it lazily atop a collection of Superman books. I stumbled upon it while I searched for a handful of titles I hadn’t yet read.
Lucky for me someone decided it wasn’t the book for them.
Beast is one of the most beautifully drawn books I have ever read. From the initial image of Colette, the protagonist, sitting contemplatively on a wooden chair I was irrevocably invested in the story. I almost felt like I was looking at myself on the cover of a novel: tattered jeans, dull tank top, messy up-do, bare feet, and deep penetrating and pensive eyes. Before the story began I was engaged.
Beast is a Canadian interpretation of the fairy tale Beauty and the Best. But it is not a fairy tale at all, not in the contemporary understanding of the genre anyway. Colette is an artist commissioned to carve the likeness of a shadowy figure (both metaphorical and literal) out of a block of marble. The density of the alabaster and the unease of willing captivity are in direct contrast to the genteel and ethereal, Beast, who captivates an inquisitive Colette with an ancient and mysterious tale.
Beast does not end with a prince saving the day, nor is Colette a princess in any way. Instead, Beast is a tale that inspires commitment and perseverance of finding one’s place in the world, while inciting the notion of unconventional love.
Churchland’s art is delicate and real. from tiny details such as the tag sticking out of the back of Colette’s shirt, to capturing the chaos and intrinsic essence of Beast with undetermined form and a sensible disorder of wisps and blackness. Unlike many graphic novels, where characters are indistinguishable, each of Churchland’s cast are unique and deeply considered. So too is the setting: a once grand neighbourhood and house collapsing and decaying with time and neglect; much like the shadowy figure who dwells within.
In the auspicious decision of a stranger to cast-off this novel for another, I found a retelling of a favourite tale, and was introduced to an artist for whom I have great esteem. Much like Beast himself, cast aside and forgotten, this novel was waiting for a true believer to pick it up. How will I ever return it?
By Leigha Chiasson-Locke