Every weekend this summer, we’ll be bringing you a new installment of a 12-part series of reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.
Beautiful Stories For Ugly Children # 1
Writer: Dave Louapre
Artist: Dan Sweetman
In 1989, I was in high school, broadening, like many at that age, my literary appetites. I was reading William Shakespeare and Brett Easton Ellis, Farley Mowat and Phillip K. Dick, Stephen King and Giorgio Vasari – some due to the inherent secondary school curriculum, most due to choice. In the comic book genre, my interests had moved away from Justice League and Batman to more sophisticated titles under DC’s new Vertigo imprint such as Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Sandman.
Now that DC had a forum for mature related titles, editorial decided to start up a new imprint that catered to stories and art from a more independent and alternative point of view. Piranha Press became that vehicle – a place where both writer and artist would retain creative ownership over their projects. New creators such as Kyle Baker, Marc Hempel and Sam Keith found a home at Piranha and they began to make a name for themselves in the comic industry.
One of the first titles published under the imprint was Dave Louapre’s and Dan Sweetman’s monthly Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children.
Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children never had a plot through-line or returning characters, with the exception of those that premiered in the first issue. Generally, each issue was a new tale, written by Dave Louapre as a short story narrative with artist Dan Sweetman illustrating scenes from the text. You would not find word balloons here, in the classic comic book example. Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children, indeed, was an alternative take on the genre, pushing the envelope of what constitutes comic book storytelling and comic book artistry.
Comic book? Graphic novel? Illustrated prose? Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children was all of these things in any given month.
Louapre wrote stories of graying morality, of twisted tenderness and perverse adoration. Indeed, his objective was to showcase, like the title of the series, the beautiful in the ugly and the ugly in the beautiful. With the help of Sweetman’s stunning art comprised of only pencils, they were able to accomplish this regularly in the series.
The first issue, titled A Cotton Candy Autopsy, tells the tale of a group of desperate and more-than-slightly-unhinged circus clowns on a frenzied joyride across a dusty countryside in a dilapidated convertible Dodge. With protagonist names like Bingo, Foo Foo, Joey Punchinello and Addy the Freaklady (a heavy-set carnie who has two heads), the story’s opening sentence, “The circus was burning,” is an immediate warning to all readers: expect anything.
Still, there’s no way to anticipate seeing Bingo and Foo Foo making out with Addy in the backseat during a “private-like moment” or Bingo working a birthday party gig at a home in the suburbs, lit up on days of booze and adrenaline. Of course, the party goes horribly wrong. It had to.
There’s no way to foresee one of the clowns beaten at the hands of a gang of bikers outside a roadside strip club, his death or his burial in a shallow grave by a reservoir.
These are bizarre and disturbing scenes, of course, but there is a softness, a sense of gentleness between these friends too. The eulogy for the dead clown consists of a rhyme and a bright, multi-coloured umbrella as a headstone. For life-long clowns, it seems both touching and perfect.
Dan Sweetman’s art is ideally suited for displaying the varying emotions that Louapre’s text suggests. His realistic pencil drawings emit the passions of the characters wonderfully. The image of their sobbing, group hug, after being called freaks by the “normal,” middle-class public, is as moving as any rendering in any illustrated text. His rendering of Foo Foo, slumped dead against a dumpster amidst deep shadows with a crazed Joey Punchinello, laughing hysterically in a swath of light is simply distressing to witness. Sweetman is able to convey a rainbow of colour out of his black, charcoal lines.
Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children would last over two years, running 30 monthly issues in all plus two trade paperback collections. As a fan favourite, A Cotton Candy Autopsy would see a sequel in issue 13 that would focus on the characters of Bingo and Addy, as well as a third installment, found in the collection of the same name. There was some talk about a new collection of the stories but that has seemingly fallen through. Both Sweetman and Loupre currently work in Hollywood, with Loupre eager to get Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children made into a television series.
Piranha Press ceased operations in 1993 after publishing some ground-breaking titles and, under new editorial staff, became Paradox Press in an effort to both re-brand and become more commercially success than what Piranha was able in its four year history. Paradox published such series as A History of Violence and Road to Perdition – both of which became acclaimed feature films, however, due to generally low sales, Paradox Press stopped publishing in 2000.
In 2005, the popular clowns of A Cotton Candy Autopsy have been put to animation by Louapre and Sweetman in four new chapters. Funny, playful and vile, the series builds on the history of the various characters. The chapter entitled “Memories with Nick” is a personal favourite. It is a perfect example of the beautiful stories that Ugly Children used to tell every month, now missed by fans of the original series.
The animation segments of A Cotton Candy Autopsy can be found at http://www.beautifulstoriesforuglychildren.com/