Beautifully Macabre: The Beauty deep within the Macabre

“…only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear – the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with latent instincts or hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness.” -H.P. Lovecraft

I have two very close friends. The macabre and beauty itself. They greet me every day, in my work, in my play, and in my sleep. The closeness we share has created a blissful trifecta. We have become so entangle that no boundaries remain. But often times, I find myself stepping back, observing the creations born out of the bond between macabre and beauty. For a long time, I had a great obsession for these creations, but I did not understand them or my obsession.

I philosophized for years over this matter. What is it about a splatter of blood that interests me? Why do I eat up literature on beheaded queens like it’s candy? Why do I envy ghosts? What is so beautiful about death? All questions I have asked myself for years and had recently given up trying to answer…

My whole life I’ve wished that there was a monster in my closet. I would friend him. Call him Frodile. He’d protect me. He’d read me scary stories and draw me pictures of the ghastly things from his world. Most importantly, he would understand me. Well unfortunately Frodile never came, he won’t exist in this lifetime. But I found his human equivalent. And no one will ever be as lucky as me.

About two years ago, my Frodile stepped out of my closet in the form of artist Rebekah Joy Plett. Rebekah and I became fast friends–I believe on a subconscious level because neither of us knew about our mutual love for the macabre–and today we are partners in the dark arts. I am Rebekah’s literary agent, her art representative, and business partner in the macabre children’s literature and art magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree. Merging our sensibilities (she brings the macabre, I bring the horror) we’ve opened up a labyrinth that continues to amaze me and continues to answer the questions I’ve pondered for years.

Through conversations with Bex, and possibly even more importantly, through viewing her art, I’ve found my answers.

“I think beauty in horror — or horror in beauty — is such a successful match because beauty itself is not enough; it’s great to look at but eventually the brain becomes bored. It’s with the combination of the two that something truly interesting is created. We want to look, but we don’t; we want to enjoy the piece but something is horribly wrong about it. The beauty tells us ‘It’s okay to look at me’, while the horror says, ‘What is wrong with you?’ I think this is why many people are drawn to the Shakespeare character Ophelia, or Waterhouse’s nymphs, or Girl, Interrupted. When you combine beauty and horror, the result becomes unpredictable and irresistibly desirable.” -Rebekah Joy Plett

I remember the first time Bex showed me this image:

Rebekah has always had a penchant for unique, pop-surrealist, ghastly, and creepy art. If not straight horrifying art (Read: Rebekah’s Human Nature art series that is yet to be completely unveiled but involes a lot of blood and death).

Yet when she showed me the above art, I was stricken with an overwhelming sense of belonging. Rebekah’s previous invisible or obscure monsters were now blatant monsters. Real life monsters. This quickly became a series for Rebekah because the monsters and the beautiful girls did exactly what we had both been dreaming of for years. They married the macabre and beauty… equally.

It was at this point that I described Rebekah and her art as being “Innocent yet sexual, macabre yet beautiful, horrifying yet earthy, and completely organic.”

One of Rebekah’s greatest qualities is that she doesn’t fetter her creativity.

Creativity — like monsters — never sleeps. It only waits.” –Rebekah Joy Plett

And when her creativity is done waiting, it just blooms and blooms and blooms until it’s a wild monster’s tongue reaching out from the painting, trussing you up in its sickly slime, yanking you back into the painting with it. Rebekah is the Lewis Carroll of art, she’ll push you down the rabbit hole.

While discussing the marriage of beauty and the macabre with Rebekah, we both agreed that the majority of adults have lost the ability to still see monsters. They’ve grown too old to think that there may be something underneath their bed. The only thing adults think might be lurking under their covers is a spider or two. Horrifying art like that of Stephen Gammell makes the average adult shrug or say Why would anyone want to look at that?

(Well that’s a subject for another time, because I do love me some Gammell.)

But what Rebekah (and other artists like her: Mark Ryden, Nicoletta Ceccoli, Camilla D’Errico, Elizabeth McGrath, Matthew J. Price) has done is made deeply morbid and disturbing art beautiful and more accessible to those who might have lost their ability to dream darkly.

While Rebakah and I strive to open the imaginations of children with our children’s magazine, Rebekah’s art strives to do the same but for those adults who subconsciously want to feel scared, want to be intrigued, want to feel shock and delight simultaneously.

The girls? Lovely. The monsters? Devilish down to the tips of their tongues and claws. Like Rebekah says, Blood is in the details.” 

Death, monsters, blood, insanity… it’s not always about evil. It can often times be about creativity, love, imagination, and yes… still insanity.

a work in progress by RJP

“Something beautiful alone, or something only macabre doesn’t say much, but once you put them together a conversation is started. Why is there a pretty girl laying in the grass? Why is that bird making off with her entrails? A story has begun.” –Rebekah Joy Plett

I want to thank Rebekah for the interview, the images, and the friendship. She’s the monster in my closet, the darkness that takes over when the candle flame dies.

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July Issue of Underneath The Juniper Tree!

Happy July! The July Issue of Underneath The Juniper Tree online magazine has dropped and it is gruesome!

Go here to download it. Read it. Love it. Share it. And be inspired by it.

Sneak Peek:

 

Brass Tacks: Supernatural vs Paranormal; Vampire vs Zombie

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Two things happened to me recently that turned my world a little on its side: 1) writers at a writer’s conference asked me what I was looking for in YA and I said ‘no more paranormal.’ But then they asked me if I liked zombies and I said I LOVED zombies. They all laughed at me ironically. 2) I had a conversation with someone in which I made the statement: I do not like paranormal, but I love supernatural. I pretty much stopped myself short, realizing mid-word (and remembering the writer’s conference) that I actually had no idea what the difference is between the two words.

We both immediately whipped out our iPhones:

So yea… thanks for nothing, dictionary.

Friends and readers, lovers and haters: We have a mission to complete. What IS what?!

Let’s start with prefixes.

Para: beyond …beyond normal.

Super: above; over; beyond above natural; over natural; beyond natural

So again, thanks for nothing, prefixes. BUT WAAIT! Prefix be damned! It’s the stem that matters in this case. Am I totally right, or what?!

Normal: usual; typical; standard

Natural: existing in, or caused by nature

We have had it wrong this WHOLE time. Twilight is not paranormal YA romance. Twilight is supernatural YA romance. Vampires, as far as we know at this moment, do not exist in nature. They are supernatural.

Zombies however do exist in nature. Zombies in Voodoo, Haitian zombies…those zombie ants I read about the other day! They exist, maybe not George R. style, but zombies are much more eligible to exist in nature and are therefore beyond typical: paranormal.

Brass tacks: Vampires are beyond existing in nature (supernatural) and zombies are beyond typical (paranormal).

If you are still reading, I have four words for you: You’re a Champ, Matt.

READERS: WEIGH IN!!!

Next up: We figure out where ghosts fit in this whole crazy semantic mess. Then robots.

I’m drooling. I can’t hardly wait…

Rot & Ruin

Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing

October 5, 2010

“George Romero meets The Catcher in the Rye in this poignant and moving coming of age novel set during zombie times. I welled up at the end, then smiled through my tears when I realized there was going to be a sequel. Bravo, Jonathan Maberry. Can’t wait to read more.” –Nancy Holder, New York Times bestselling author of Wicked and Possessions

Le Petit Prince: Graphic Novel Adaptation

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books

October 18, 2010

“This life-long artist has chosen a simple layout to focus on the adventures of these two characters who share the dreams of millions of kids. Sfar keeps our childish dreams intact.” Ca Se Passe Comme Ca

School of Fear: Class Is Not Dismissed!

(No cover art yet…so here is the cover from book one)

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

September 14, 2010

“In this hilarious follow-up to School of Fear, eccentric headmaster Mrs. Wellington demands requests the presence of Madeleine, Theo, Lulu, and Garrison for a mandatory summer of retraining after discovering that each of her former students has secretly regressed. Facing their fears was terrifying enough, but when the foursome learns they’ll be joined by a fifth student, things start to get even scarier.”

The Replacement

Razorbill

September 21, 2010

“Edward Scissorhands meets The Catcher in the Rye in this wildly imaginative and frighteningly beautiful horror novel about an unusual boy and his search for a place to belong.”

Cuba: My Revolution

Vertigo

September 14, 2010

“Seventeen-year-old Sonia, a medical student with dreams of becoming a modernist painter, is caught up in Fidel Castro’s revolution from the moment it captures Havana on New Year’s Eve 1958. Sonia joins the militia and volunteers as a medic at the Bay of Pigs. Scarred, yet clinging to her revolutionary ideals, she seeks fulfillment in an artists’ collective, only to be further disillusioned by increasing repression under Castro.”

KaPOW!

Okay I swear: tomorrow, trade secrets… But to hold you over.


My geeky self was on high alert today as I sat down with one of my absolute favorite editors at Vertigo (VERTIGO!!!!) and talked graphic novels. It was not only extremely enlightening and wicked amazing, but it was pretty much like meeting my own superhero. Plus…come on…I was in the DC Comics building. I geeked out big time.

And while we are on the subject:

ATTN. WRITERS AND GRAPHIC NOVELISTS: If I haven’t made it clear enough, as a human being and as an agent, I am a graphic novel enthusiast to the extreme. I am especially into: dark, memoir, nonfiction and/or historical fiction graphic novels. So please send your queries my way.