“The clowns do what they want, when they want.”
Deep down, you probably suspected that. A grizzled malevolent clown calling himself The Duke hisses that late in Pirouette, a graphic novel by M.L. Miller and Carlos Granda, and by the time he does, the book has provided ample proof. While you might go into the book’s opening pages thinking this would supernatural horror, it turns out that part’s just a dream. With colorist Champe Ramirez and letterer Jim Campbell, Miller and Granda spin a tale of horror that depends simply on people being horrible — even though they wear painted grins.
At times the book crosses past believability, but you’re already drawn in to the story of a young clown girl who yearns to escape the cirucs. For the rubes, life under the big top pops with glamour and fun. But after the pockets have been picked, a criminal hierarchy comes into view. Despite not being the circus strongmen, they rule the tents after dark, led by the venomous Duke.
Pirouette knows she’s destined for something else. Though she’s a natural at juggling with one hand and stealing wallets with another, the criminal life is not for her. Underneath the gags and make-up, she just wants to be a normal girl. The Duke insists that the make-up never comes off — when you’re a clown, you’re a clown all the way. At the end of Chapter One, however, Pirouette discovers that despite what the family says, she might not have been born in the circus, but kidnapped as a baby. Which once you’ve met the family, seems pretty on brand.
Miller deconstructs classic clown bits, giving them a malevolent edge while Granda keeps their appearance from tipping too far into the grotesque. There are other acts in the circus, of course, some of whom seem kinder and if not oblivious to the crime going on, at least not actively complicit. Pirouette knows them all, dancing across many skills, longing to fly high on the trapeze but kept on the ground by her family.
The story spins into darker and darker territory, and just when you think it can’t go any further, it does. There’s a rough justice in Pirouette’s universe, and if it’s not exactly uplifting, it has a righteous Tales from the Crypt feeling while looking and reading modern. You may still find this trade paperback at your local comics shop, and it’s worth picking up for a chilling Christmas Eve read.
Thanks in this case to Earth-2 Comics in Sherman Oaks, where I found this after having read the first issue years ago and wondering what happened next. Now I know.
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