REVIEW: Beast by Marian Churchland

Recently while at my local comic shop I saw a few copies of Elephantmen from Image Comics lying about.  I don't read Elephantmen on a regular basis, but I do have a few collections and have enjoyed it — it's a fine comic book.  When I think of Elephantmen, I have a defined image in my head (mainly provided by the immenely talented Ladronn and Moritat), but on this occasion this issue of Elephantmen caught my eye because it didn't look like the art I was used to.  I had to know who the artist was — immediately — and was told it was Marian Churchland.

I had never heard of Marian Churchland, but as I flipped through these issues of Elephantmen I fell head over heels or her art. I can't tell you what it was specifically or why, but something about her lines and the entire visual look and feel grabbed me.  So when I heard that she was publishing a graphic novel of her own, I made a mental note to track it down when it was released.

As soon as Beast came out, I got a copy and read it the first chance I got.  It was one of those quiet moments life rarely affords, where I was able to pour a glass of iced tea and sit out on the fire escape of my building while the sun shined down on me and just get lost in the world created by Churchland in Beast. I've wanted to write this review for months now, but have not had the time to give it the level of detail and attention that it so deserved.  Today I hope to recitfy that.

There's a reason why I enjoy talking about comics and am not an aspiring creator myself.  I lack the natural ability that so many creators seem to be blessed with.  I can't write a narrative to save my life, and when it comes to art…well let's just say that as an artist, I'm a fantastic writer.  Because of my inability to partake in the creation of art, I have an immense amount of respect for those who can.  In addition to that respect, I also wonder what it must be like to be a creator.  I just can't imagine the thoughts and world view that surround being an artist.

In the pages of Beast, Marian Churchland gives me a glimpse into the creative mind with her tale of Colette, an artist who takes on a mysterious commission from a stranger who asks her to take a legendary piece of marble and sculpt a statue of his likeness.  This sounds like a very simple story, and it is.  The greatness of Beast does not lie in complexity or deep layers of meaning, rather in the subtlety and emotions that are involved with creating art. 

Churchland, who wrote and illustrated all of Beast, creates a believable world where Colette struggles for work and has tenuous relationships with her father and ex-boyfriend — all real life dramas that we can relate to.  Colette is able to mix these elements in with the creative process involved in making art as well as a mysterious tale of marble, 16th century Italy and a mysterious "Beast" at the heart of it all.  I found myself completely lost in the tale of sculpture and Colette's role in it, turning each page to discover how she handles the challenge ahead of her.  It's amazing, even as I write this,  that I don't have the answers to what exactly happened and how or why, and that doesn't matter at all.  No, what matters is the path that Colette takes and the experience of creating something as a part of something greater.

My adoration of Churchland's art was further cemented with this graphic novel.  I just can't compliment her work with enough deserving words.  Her figures are accessible but convey an emotion in their facial expressions and movements that has a casual elegance that could be taken for granted.  Throughout the book she mixes up the color palette between a beige-ish hue and a blue-ish hue that keeps the book visually engaging.  Her lines are clean and I could easily see a comparison to European comic artists.  But at the time same time, her style is completely her own and not something I would compare to anything for fear of wrongly pigeonholing it. 

Simply put, I think Marian Churchland's Beast is an amazing accomplishment — a graphic novel that celebrates and peeks into the life of an artist.  If you've ever been curious about the magic of creating art or want to experience one of my favorite artist discoveries of 2009, then I strong advise picking up Beast.

Beast by Marian Churchland was published by Image Comics and is available at Amazon and Instock Trades.


  1. I enjoyed her work on Elephantmen.  Perhaps I’ll consider picking this up with some Christmas money.

  2. I saw this at my LCS.  I think this might be a perfect gateway for my girlfriend to understand why I love comics.  She is curious about the medium.  As an artist herself I think this is a perfect X-mas present for her.  (I’ll have to get it on Amazon via the iFanboy store)

  3. Looks interesting.

    I’ll give it a try if my LCS or work has it.