Can you imagine a future where people actually want a STD? That’s what co-creators Jason A. Hurley and Jeremy Haun do in their speculative body horror series, The Beauty. In this world, a new infection makes its victims uniformly beautiful– shedding excess fat, raising cheekbones, and building musculature– creating a world full of models. However, when people start dying from the disease, people finally realize that they may have made a Faustian deal.
When The Beauty launched last year, it was critically acclaimed for its poignant premise, laying bare the ugly underbelly of society’s obsession with looks. The first arc of the series ended with a bang, and today, the series returns with issue #7. This installment kicks off a new arc in the series that promises to be as revelatory, thrilling, and visceral as the last. In celebration of this new chapter, The Comics Beat sat down with Hurley and Haun to discuss the lessons they learned while making the first arc of The Beauty, where they hope to take the series, and their relationship to the often toxic modern day media culture.
THE BEAUTY #7
Think that a criminal wouldn’t be all that affected by The Beauty outbreak? Well, you haven’t met Timo yet. He’ll prove you dead wrong.
Lu: Welcome back, guys! Where we last left off in the world of The Beauty, the fabric of society was about to change forever thanks to the efforts of Detective Kara Vaughn and her partner, Drew Foster. In relation to that big cliffhanger, where does The Beauty‘s new arc kick off?
Jason A. Hurley: This new arc picks up quite a while before the first one, and focuses on a new set of characters. With all of the upcoming arcs, we’ll be covering the two years that lead up to the world we see in the first arc.
Jeremy Haun: We’re going to see a lot of the characters from the first arc popping up throughout those upcoming arcs, while we also introduce all new plot lines and characters. As we go, those plot lines are going to weave together to reveal more about The Beauty and how we ended up in such a crazy, dark place.
Lu: It’s great to hear that our old friends will be coming back at some point. It’s a bold decision to focus each arc on a different set of characters though. It almost reminds a bit of how the drug trade was treated on The Wire. What made you decide that this was the narrative approach you wanted to take for The Beauty, eschewing the traditional “hero’s journey” narrative?
Haun: A lot of it is just our fascination with the disease itself. From the moment we came up with the idea, we kept saying “What about this?”— throwing out all kinds of crazy scenarios with different characters.
Hurley: As much as we love Foster, Vaughn, and the other characters from the first arc, we really wanted to be able to address other aspects of society that would be impacted by The Beauty. How would it alter the professional sports scene? How could someone in the criminal underworld use it to their advantage? What if you were just really good looking, but everyone assumed you were diseased? What was it like for the first people that caught it, before it became mainstream? We really wanted to be able to examine those two years between The Beauty first cropping up and the revelation of its final stages.
Haun: That also allows us to jump back in and revisit Foster and Vaughn, telling stories from earlier in their career together on The Beauty task force. One of those stories is coming right up in the third arc.
Lu: I think it’s a great choice, as the concept of The Beauty really does lend itself to an infinite array of possibilities. So, issue 7– this seems like our criminal underworld story. Is that fair to say?
Haun: Yeah. That’s the start of it. It’s the story of Timo— a pretty bad guy in a bad place.
Hurley: The next few issues after that also deal with the criminal underworld, but come at it from a different angle.
Lu: Timo is mostly left to us as an enigma in issue seven. Can you tell us anything about where he’s coming from? He seems to have a lover, or at least someone that he cares about despite the hardened life he leads.
Haun: Everybody has people that are important to them. Even guys as hard as Timo. There’s a lot behind the relationship with the person on the other end of that phone. We’re definitely going to learn more about that, and Timo himself, over time.
Hurley: This is definitely not the last time we’ll be seeing Timo.
Lu: I hope so! Not to spoil the issue for anyone, but Timo goes through a pretty intense transformation this issue. The way he’s affected by The Beauty made me wonder how standardized the effects of the disease are. Does everyone who contracts The Beauty end up with a “Hollywood Pretty” look?
Haun: We had to decide what the disease did. Since, in a lot of ways, it’s us shining a light on our weird societal obsession with outward appearance, we went the “Hollywood Hot” direction. With that, The Beauty kind of pulls people to the middle.
Hurley: While we say that The Beauty makes people beautiful, it’s really more that it burns fat, raises cheekbones, smoothes skin, and tones muscles. It really does pretty much the same thing to everyone, it’s just that that thing happens to line up with Hollywood beauty ideals.
Lu: We are constantly bombarded with images of what’s accepted as beautiful, conditioned to aspire to this idealized form of beauty that even many celebrities themselves can’t reach. Did or do either of you ever feel like you’re affected by these messages in your daily lives?
Hurley: I think everyone feels that pressure to some extent. As much as we’re all pelted with it constantly from almost every form of media. That was a big influence on us, and on the book. Accepting who and what you are, and realizing that you can be a beautiful person without going to extreme, potentially dangerous, lengths is far better than striving for someone else’s ideals.
Haun: Exactly. It’s easy to look at the world around us and feel like we’re supposed to be like this and look like that. There’s a lot of pressure out there for everyone. I’m raising two little kids and I’m constantly having to try and show them what’s actually important amidst all of the bombardment.
Lu: Do you have an tips on how we can consciously minimize our exposure to these ads, or perhaps even change our mindset towards them?
Haun: Hell, I have no idea. I think we’d all love to figure that out. We talk a lot about this over-saturation we experience every single day. We’re blasted by television, magazines, and most destructively— social media. I’m not sure how to turn it all off. I’m not even sure we know how to anymore.
Hurley: I think it’s about self discovery. Finding what it is that makes you happy, and what your priorities are. You just have to develop a strong enough sense of self to let that stuff slide. Mind you, I don’t think I’ve even remotely perfected that myself.
Lu: Do you think social media tools are inextricably linked to our social relationships in the real world? Could we, in practice, delete them to no detriment to our social life?
Haun: Oh, sure. There are plenty of times each day that I’d love to pull away from all of that— just shut it all down. I think that’s something that a lot of people are really considering. Unfortunately, it’s a little harder for creatives. So much of what we do is tied to being out there and talking about and showing our work. It gets to be a little tough sometimes. I envy people that can completely unplug and walk away. Who knows…it may be something that I do someday. One can hope. …mostly.
Hurley: While I can definitely see merit in that argument, I really enjoy a lot of the connectivity that social media brings. It allows you to stay connected with friends and family, and get a small window to what’s going on in their lives even though they may be far away. It can be full of petty ridiculous stuff as well, but that’s what the block and unfollow buttons are for.
Lu: To close out, what’s one thing you’ve learned from working on the first arc of The Beauty? What’s the element of the second arc that has you most excited right now?
Haun: I feel like I learned that we can tell our stories our way and that there is an audience out there for them. Creator owned comics is a scary thing. You’re really putting yourself out there. It’s nice to see that there are so many readers out there looking for something new and different.
With the second arc, we know what we’re doing. We’ve figured a lot of this out. There’s a lot of freedom to being able to just focus on telling crazy fun stories that make us happy. We’re going to keep doing this as long as we can. I can’t wait to show everyone what we’ve got coming up.
Hurley: It’s been exceptionally cool for me to go to in store events and conventions, and have people tell me that they enjoy what we’re doing. Being able to tell the story we want, the way we want, and having people I’ve never met react so positively to that has been amazing.
I’m really psyched for this next arc. I feel like we’ve really pushed ourselves as writers, and broadened the world of The Beauty in a really meaningful way.
The Beauty #7 is in stores today!