Megan Kearney’s Beauty and the Beast: Act One Review

Reviewed by Barratt Miller, Crook County Library beautyandbeastcoverI was super excited when I realized that the print version of my favorite webcomic, Megan Kearney’s Beauty and the Beast: Act One, was eligible for a Graphic Rave nomination this year. I’m a huge fan of Beauty and the Beast and did research on the tale in college and grad school. I’ve read and watched dozens of adaptations over the past six years or so and this is definitely one of my favorites. Plus, while there are plenty of YA novelizations of this popular tale, this is the only teen-friendly graphic novel version I’ve come across. In a nod to the tale’s roots, the unspecified setting resembles eighteenth-century France. Kearney’s opening matches that of the original tale as well: Beauty’s father, on his way back from a trip to the city in which they once lived, takes shelter in a castle during a snowstorm. The Beast sentences him to death when he catches him stealing a rose for Beauty. Beauty, of course, takes her father’s place in the Beast’s mysterious, magical castle. The best fairy tale retellings go beyond surface-level characterizations to reveal emotional depth, complex relationships, and detailed back stories that enrich the original story. Kearney’s Beauty and the Beast does just that. Since Act One is told primarily through Beauty’s point of view, the Beast and his motivations remain unclear to the reader–but the little he does say reveals that there is much more to him than meets the eye. Beauty herself is an exceptionally well-rounded character, especially in regard to her ambivalence about the Beast. Kearney’s dialogue is pitch-perfect and her expressive illustrations allow the story’s wordless scenes to shine. BeautyandBestInsideThe characters’ visual design is equally compelling, due largely (I suspect) to Kearney’s animation training–she has an Honours degree in animation from Sheridan College. Kearney’s characters are always in motion, which makes it seem as if they are about to step off of the page. The background illustrations are gorgeous as well, especially scenes of the Beast’s castle. (The rose motif hidden throughout is one of my favorites.) While these elements of the design evoke the Western animation tradition, influences of Japanese manga–especially some of the page layout choices and sound effect style–are present in the art as well. Act One certainly raises more questions than it answers. Who was the Beast before his transformation? How did he become the Beast? And what is the deal with this magic castle, anyway? Not to mention the cliffhanger ending. (I may or may not have shouted “WHAT?! NO!” at my computer screen because the first page of Act Two hadn’t been posted yet.) Readers no longer have to worry about that particular cliffhanger, however. The entire series is being serialized for free online at: Nearly half of Act Two is now available (yay!) and new pages are posted twice a week, on Tuesday and Friday. Fairy tale fans of all stripes are going to love the pants off this book. I can’t imagine any library in which it would not be wildly popular with teens. Needless to say, I enthusiastically recommend it as a first purchase for every collection.