Mar 30, 2015

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 34: Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children volume 1, 1989

"It was me, Bingo, Foo Foo, and Joey Punchinello from the start. Foo Foo stole the keys to the Dart while Bingo grabbed Addy the Freaklady and some of our best pups. I got the booze out the ringmaster's trailer when he was watching the big-top burn..."

So begins "A Cotton Candy Autopsy," a brutal cross-country road trip about four clowns and a two-headed lady.

Really, I could just leave it at that, and that would be enough. But I won't, because Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children is the comic you should be going out and tracking down right now. Written by Dave Louapre and illustrated by Dan Sweetman, each month features a bizarre short story from the far edge of madness. In fact, if I'm to be perfectly honest, this story is probably the most normal of the ones I recollect. Next issue features the Deadjohnsons, a normal, everyday family who just happen to be dead. And volume 6 (I think) is the story "Happy Birthday to Hell," in which the fall and the story of Hell are retold by Wally, who really hates that name Lucifer that everyone has saddled him with.

These are wonderful, disturbing, angry, beautiful stories about strange people in strange situations that somehow tell us something about being human. And in this, they resemble the best of contemporary fiction, of the sort you might find in McSweeney's, or a fourth year university English class. Louapre teases out some amazing images, and uses words like a blind man might paint, which is a good thing. Sweetman's art morphs and changes from issue to issue, but always retains some quality that renders it recognizable as being by the same person. It might be madness.

BSFUC (because the full title is a mouthful) also pushes us to consider the boundaries of what we can consider a comic. The stories are not told panel by panel in a sequential way, but more resemble picture books, words accompanied by illustrations. A cursory examination might make one think that the series is a comic solely by virtue of its format. That is, until one realizes that it's only in the last few pages that there are any linguistic markers of Addy having two heads ("...Addy sort of holds him close and rocks back and forth real slow, whispering in both his ears."), but we've known all along because of Sweetman's illustrations. The words and the pictures, though somewhat more separate than in a traditional comic (whatever that may be), still function in tandem, still require the presence of one another for the story to maintain coherence.

Since it's set up more like a story than a comic, I tried reading this one to Tara. We enjoy reading aloud to one another (more me to her than vice versa, admittedly), and this seemed a choice opportunity. Until we got to the bit about the bikers beating up Foo Foo, and Tara asked me if this was a happy story, and I reminded her that the series title was Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children, and they were, in no uncertain terms, not nice stories. I think I'll be reading them silently to myself for the next few weeks.

See you tomorrow. I'll talk a bit about Pirhana Press, DC's proto-Vertigo experiment.

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