Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children, Volume 5 (October, 1989)
“The Crypt of the Magi”
Writer – Dave Louapre
Artist – Dan Sweetman
Clip Art – Dover Publications & Rick Keene
Group Editor – Mark Nevelow
Cover Price: $2.00
For the twelfth day of Christmas on Infinite Earths, I figure we might wanna try something a little bit different. Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children was Piranha Press’ ongoing title. If you don’t know what Piranha Press is… and would like to, Reggie and I covered it on Weird Comics History… I’ll drop a link here:
If you don’t have the time to listen, I’ll give you the quick ‘n dirty. Piranha Press was a DC Comics imprint launched by Mark Nevelow that started in the late 1980’s. It was a strange and stylistically different line with almost an underground flair to it.
Now, I wanna warn you… this is a pretty big departure from what we usually discuss here. There ain’t gonna be any heroes, super or otherwise here… hell, there ain’t even gonna be any sequential art! Gotta say, I struggled with this one for awhile before deciding to throw caution to the wind and just cover it… hopefully it will be enjoyable… or at the very least, expose folks to a series and imprint they’d never seen (or heard of) before.
Well, it’s Christmas Eve… and we’re about to meet a troubled young woman named Sylvia. She is married to a man named Claude and would like nothing more than to buy him the perfect Christmas gift. Problem is, she’s only got thirty-seven cents. She comes across an piece in the newspaper advertising for paid-volunteers for some medical experimenting. Methinks she’s not going to sell her hair here…
She looks out her window and across the alley. In a neighboring apartment she sees a piano. She remembers how much her husband loved playing the piano… so much so that he used to play nightly at a local tavern… until the clientele pummeled him. He would never fight back for fear that he would damage his gifted fingers.
We don’t know much about Sylvia… it seems as though she is chemically unbalanced, though the writing isn’t terribly clear… and I don’t think it’s meant to be. She also has something of a weak stomach. She mentions having high medical bills, but the cause of them is left ambiguous. She peers into the mirror and laments the fact that her eyes had jaundiced… no longer the beautiful “emerald green” they once were, they are now yellow.
We follow Sylvia to the State University School of Medical Sciences where she is to take part in the study. We learn that she will be paid the lofty sum of $35 for whatever she is about to do.
Next, we meet Claude. Just as poor as Sylvia… and just as motivated to buy his spouse the perfect Christmas gift, Claude has been staying late at the machine shop to pull together extra scratch. With what he has earned, he believes he has bought Sylvia the perfect gift… but that will have to wait. Claude agreed to work one more hour to cover for a friend.
Later, Claude arrives home where he is met by Sylvia. Now, this is where it gets weird… Sylvia excitedly tells Claude that in order to buy him the perfect gift… she sold her… eyes… to the medical school.
The pair lead each other over to the couch. Claude is understandably a bit taken aback… which is noticed pretty quick by Sylvia. She asks if he no longer loves her… which he denies. His problem is that the Christmas gift he’d worked so hard to buy her were… green contact lenses.
Sylvia would cry… if she still could. She gives Claude his gift of…
a new piano brass knuckles so that he could defend himself at the tavern when he played. Well, here’s the kicker… turns out during that last hour of work, Claude lost all of his fingers in a machine accident.
The twosome embrace, and head off to the kitchen for their Christmas Feast of peanut butter and Doritos… and no, I’m not making that up.
Well… that was, um… different. Kind of a sour note to end things on…
It happens very seldom… like, I can count it on one of our friend Claude’s hands… that I get to the end of an issue and think to myself… nah, I really shouldn’t write about this one. This is most definitely the case here. There’s something ominous about this issue… something just not quite right.
I think had I read this when it came out, I would’ve thought it was pretty decent. Reading it today… ehh… well, I can’t say that I enjoyed it all that much. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if I were a teenager, I’d probably think this was somewhat deep… if only for the fact that it bastardized a classic story. As an adult, however, I can see that it’s… kind of “tryhard”, very depressing, and overall just plain unpleasant. Not something I’d be rushing to read a second time.
The art, disturbing as it was, was very well done. Dan Sweetman obviously has a ton of talent… but here, I was too off-put to fully appreciate it. The writing was, perhaps a bit too purple… but then again, that might have been the point. I do not have much of a frame of reference for Dave Louapre’s writing… not sure if it’s always this flowery, or if he was just trying to give this one an O. Henry flair.
Speaking of O. Henry… this is quite the gruesome take on The Gift of the Magi, ain’t it? The extremes to which it goes kind of takes the initial message out of it, in my opinion. Let’s start with Sylvia… she’s going to sell her… eyes, to buy Claude some knux. Now in selling her eyes, she will forever be something of a burden for her husband. There will be much that she will be depending on him for. At the end of the day… what kind of gift is this? While we’re at it… where the hell can one sell their eyes? Okay, I’m officially thinking about this too hard. I think it’s made fairly clear that Sylvia is at the very least somewhat mad.
Let’s take a look at Claude. Sure, he worked long hours to buy Sylvia her contact lenses… but he didn’t “give up” his fingers… he lost them in an accident. He didn’t make any tangible sacrifice… not willingly, anyway. Like he didn’t “sell his fingers” by buy the lenses. Again, I’m just thinking too hard. I just feel like the message of the original story got lost somewhere in the gore and unsettling concepts here.
As much as I didn’t really dig this, I cannot help but appreciate it. I’m the kind of guy who would watch Public Access television, just because of how “raw” and “real” it was. Much of Piranha Press’ offerings had a similar feel. These are stories that you feel like you shouldn’t be reading… like you’re doing something wrong every time you turn the page. It’s sort of excitement… it’s a little bit danger… it’s just strange. I doubt I’m describing this the way I’m wanting to, or even making any sense at all. Suffice it to say, there is an air of “you should not be reading this” in this book… at least to me.
Overall… should you hunt down Beautiful Stories...? That’s not something I can rightly answer… it all depends on what kind of stuff you wouldn’t mind taking up space in your collection. I guess it also depends on what your definition of a “comic book” is… because if we’re being honest, I’m not sure this is technically is one… it’s kind of a “Picture Novella”. I guess I can safely say, if you find this in the quarter bin, it’s worth snagging just for the novelty… otherwise, you could probably give it a pass.
Tomorrow is… um, Christmas Day… and, due to the fact that I cannot read a calendar correctly, I guess it’s going to be the thirteenth day of Christmas on Infinite Earths, featuring a story I’ve been saving for the big day to share.