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The Beauty is a terrifying comic book that imagines beauty as a disease

The Beauty.
The Beauty.
Image comics
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

Sometimes the most terrifying things come in beautiful packages.

That's the premise of The Beauty, a gorgeous, shivery comic book from creators Jeremy Haun and Jason A. Hurley. Haun and Hurley drop readers into a disease outbreak that's already in motion, where the contagion that's spreading isn't a zombie virus or an unkillable superbug but an STD that turns its host beautiful. It burns their fat, chisels their jaws, and clears their skin. And because people are strange creatures, half the country is infected, with many people having contracted the disease on purpose.

The only problem is we're beginning to find out that this disease does kill, and pretty ruthlessly, too. Plus, there's a mean little government thriller tucked into this gorgeous sci-fi world, via the notion that the disease, dubbed "the Beauty" (and where the comic gets its name), might be part of a sinister government plot.

The first six issues of The Beauty will be released as a trade paperback on Wednesday, March 16. I caught up with Haun and Hurley to talk about everything from the comic's concept to its possible television deals and where they're going to take its story next.

Alex Abad-Santos: For newbies/new readers, can you explain the concept of The Beauty?

The Beauty. (Image Comics)

Jeremy Haun: The quick version: The Beauty is about an STD that makes you beautiful.

Jason Hurley: Yep, that’s pretty much it. This first story arc takes place almost two years after the Beauty hits the mainstream, and people are just starting to see the horrific downsides of the disease. We follow a couple of detectives who get embroiled in the conspiracy surrounding the Beauty, those that have it, those that want a cure, and those that don’t.

Alex Abad-Santos: The Beauty, to me, feels like it's half horror and half mythology/world building with a little twist on the idea of addiction and temptation. What were your biggest inspirations?

Jeremy Haun: Yeah. That’s pretty spot-on. At its heart, The Beauty is a morality play. We’re examining the lengths we, as a society, go to in order to look good. And let’s be honest, as a society we’re a mess.

After we came up with the concept, we kept saying that this feels like a modern Twilight Zone episode … which was pretty perfect.

Jason Hurley: We definitely talked about old Twilight Zone episodes a lot, and also things like the Cthulhu Mythos and other shared universes. We wanted to build a world that could support any kind of story we wanted to tell.

Alex Abad-Santos: There are actual economic studies about how beauty gives you real-life advantages, like better job opportunities. Did any of that factor in when creating your book?

The Beauty. (Image Comics)

Jeremy Haun: Oh, of course. And it’s disgusting. The idea that job opportunities outside of the fashion and film industries having anything to do with how someone looks is just gross.

On one hand, societally we’re telling people to love themselves and respect their bodies … on the other, we’re telling everyone, from an incredibly young age, that they’re not good enough and pretty much never will be. We wanted to shine a light on that a bit.

Alex Abad-Santos: Let's talk about the story. The story in the first arc is a government thriller as much as it is a cultural examination. What did you want to explore there? Were there other options you wanted to try?

Jason Hurley: The first story arc starts out looking like a procedural crime story and then morphs into a thriller/conspiracy. We wanted to look at the roles of government and big business within the world we were building, and set up a huge, almost-impossible-to-overcome group of antagonists.

Jeremy Haun: We’re looking at the other options we wanted to try in the upcoming arcs. The real fun of this series is being able to bounce around and take a look at different characters during different points in the spread of the Beauty.

Alex Abad-Santos: What's the difference in telling a story about an outbreak that's already happened, versus one that's set right as it's happening?

Jason Hurley: Setting this arc a couple of years into the disease’s life cycle allowed us to set the desperation level a lot higher. Having a wide swath of the population already infected when we started really allowed us to hit the ground running.

Jeremy Haun: We talked about setting this up as a slow burn. We needed to kick things off with a bang, though. Kind of literally. It certainly gave us a ticking clock to deal with, but that’s part of the fun.

Alex Abad-Santos: You're doing something cool with the book's art, signaling to readers that when someone has the Beauty they glow. Yet people in the book are still contracting the disease unwittingly. Is the Beauty something only readers can see?

Jeremy Haun: Yeah. It’s just a representational thing that we did. Drawing pretty people is hard. Really, really hard. I had to figure out a way to represent Beauties and people without the disease. The trick is that you can’t draw everyone without the Beauty looking really, really rough. We needed some kind of easy visual indicator. I talked it over with our brilliant color artist, John Rauch, and we came up with the idea of dulling down the rest of the world and then really playing up the saturated color on the Beauties. I’m really happy with the way it came out.

Alex Abad-Santos: How does the Beauty change the way sex works in this world? At the risk of sounding inelegant, sex in the real world is driven by looks. What happens when you realize that what used to be rare and desirable has become common?

Jason Hurley: That’s something we discussed quite a bit as we were building the story, and we touched on it a little with the sex club they visit in the first issue. I’d like to expand on it more, and I hate to be that guy, but I can’t say too much, since a future story addresses this topic very directly.

Jeremy Haun: "Hush Hush" Hurley, we call him. As he said, we’re going to be examining a lot of this over future arcs. There are a lot of things we want to look at — people that want to catch it, safe sex in the age of the Beauty, fetishizing the unattractive in a world where "perfect" is common, and more. We have so much to play with here.

Alex Abad-Santos: The main characters in this first arc are Vaughn and Foster, partners working on Beauty cases. But they have a relationship that extends beyond work. Are we going to find out more about Vaughn and Foster's relationship — this bond?

Jason Hurley: The dynamic between the two of them was something that was always at the front of our minds. We wanted them to be friends first, partners second, and romantic not at all. The third arc is all about Foster and Vaughn’s first assignment and how they became best friends.

Jeremy Haun: From moment one, we had no interest in a romantic relationship between Foster and Vaughn. They’re partners — family — and that’s it. People tend to expect that you’re going to go to a romantic place when you have people of the opposite sex working together. We chose to go the opposite way.

Jason Hurley: We will definitely see more about Vaughn. She’s kind of our favorite.

Jeremy Haun: Definitely. We didn’t want to show too much in the first arc. We’re going to learn a lot more about Vaughn, Foster, and how the Beauty Task Force started in the third arc.

Alex Abad-Santos: The first arc of The Beauty is focused tightly on Vaughn and Foster. Are we going to zoom out in the next arc? What can we expect?

The Beauty. (Image Comics)

Jeremy Haun: Zoom out? Not necessarily. Think of it more like zooming out, moving over a bit, and then zooming back in.

Jason Hurley: Our next story arc will deal with a different set of characters at an earlier time in the life of the disease. With the third arc, we’ll get back to Vaughn and Foster, but, again, at a time earlier than the first arc is set. We want to create a series of small, local stories that build into a bigger shared world.

Jeremy Haun: Exactly. And stories are all going to interconnect. We’re going to see more of Foster, Vaughn, [and the other main characters] throughout the series. I can’t wait to hit the third and fourth arcs and have readers see some of the payoffs for things that we’ve set up in the first arc.

Alex Abad-Santos: Is there a patient zero?

Jeremy Haun: Sure. There is a patient zero. We know where all of this started. Are we going to necessarily show that? Probably not. We definitely have a story that we want to tell that gives us a bit more of the origin of the disease, but that’s down the road a bit. I’m not sure that the origin of these things is really the interesting part anyway. We’re more interested in looking at how people are affected by the Beauty. Where it came from doesn’t really matter all that much.

Jason Hurley: The easiest thing to compare it to is The Walking Dead and the way [creator Robert] Kirkman handles the zombies there. The story is more about the people dealing with the situation they’re in rather than about how the situation came to be.

Alex Abad-Santos: I can't stop envisioning this as a television show. Have you gotten any attention? Who would be your Foster and Vaughn?

Jeremy Haun: Maaaaaaybe. Is that coy enough for you?

Jason Hurley: Oh, yeah. You’re the coyest.

Jeremy Haun: That’s me. I will say that we’d love to have a television show. As for casting — I’d love to see Deborah Ann Woll as Vaughn and Timothy Olyphant as Foster.

Jason Hurley: Those are really good choices.

Jeremy Haun: I know, right?

Jason Hurley: Yeah, I’m just gonna agree with Jeremy on that one.

The Beauty is available online and in comic book stores.