Colette, a young artist who has only recently graduated from college, is struggling with both romance and finances when she is contacted about taking a sculpting job. Sculpting jobs, she relates, are the hardest to come by. They cost good money for the materials alone, and if a buyer has that money, then he or she has the money to hire a more established and better known artist. It’s the classic catch-22 of many a new grad: No one will hire you until you have experience, and you can’t get experience until someone hires you.
But she soon finds herself employed. Her benefactor is a mystery, her work unknown, until she arrives at the creepy, sprawling home in which he lives. And when she recovers from the shock of seeing him, she discovers that she too will be living there for a while…until she completes a statue of him made from the finest marble he can find—marble that he has been seeking for ages.
The man who has commissioned this work is a shadowy figure, and you can take that literally. He forms out of the darkness of the corners, first startling Colette and then appealing to her more and more as she begins her work. He calls himself simply Beast, and he doesn’t give Colette much to go on…just a story of the marble itself and his longtime relationship with it. Beyond that, he reveals little, nor does the strange woman, Roz, who owns the house and lives there along with her menagerie of pets.
Weeks go by for Colette as she lives and works in the house, going out only to walk the dog and never much caring to change her newfound solitary existence. She craves the attention of Beast, who comes to visit only at night, and then only infrequently, to check her progress. No longer afraid of Beast, Roz is more intrigued by him and his bizarre stories. But his—and Roz’s—potential to be dangerous never seems far away either.
The gorgeously drawn Beast, Marian Churchland’s surprisingly pleasant and accessible first graphic novel, is based somewhat on Beauty and the Beast, but it stands as a work on its own. It would be wrong to say there’s a sense of dread throughout the book. Even at its most ominous, it’s magic that hangs in the air and sparkles with potential. That Colette is not particularly curious to uncover the truth of her surroundings and her employer feels as right as a man who tells stories about being more than 600 years old.
All of Beast signals Churchland is an impressive talent.
Reviewed by John Hogan on July 12, 2012