Review: The Beauty Theorem by Beatrix Urkowitz

the beauty theorem beatrix urkowitz

One of my favorite comics from 2015 was Annie Mok and Sophia Foster-Dimino’s Swim Thru Fire, which was published on Hazlitt Magazine’s website. Under the guiding eye of Anshuman Iddamsetty, Hazlitt has cultivated an impressive portal for alternative comics art, one of the latest of these is Beatrix Urkowitz ’s new comic The Beauty Theorem. You can read the comic in its entirety here.

I’m fascinated by Urkowitz’s color palette and lines in The Beauty Theorem. Because of the strong contrasts, the color selections (coral and two blue/purple slate tones), seem bright and alive. Because of the closeness of the two blue tones, Urkowitz often uses coral and white as separating tones. There’s smoothness to both Urkowitz’s characters and to the way that the comic is composed; Urkowitz’s line is blobby and viscous, full of thick swirls and irregular shapes.

The premise of the comic is that a young person goes to school in order to learn an illustrious and profitable field of science, only
to find out that once they have completed their doctorate, the field has been completely debunked. The death of the scientist’s field in the greater public means retreating to private spaces in order to continue the work they so desperately wish to hold onto.

The Beauty Theorem is certainly more accessible than Urkowitz’s previous work, which has a tense sexuality to it. Big Busty Psychic Celeb Votes Satan, a fluorescent pink 16 pager published by Rigged Books, was a highlight of my 2015 TCAF even though it was originally published in 2013. Some of the consistent visual metaphors of Urkowitz’s previous work are noticeably absent; whether that represents an evolution of thinking or a consideration based on the publishing platform is hard to say, and needlessly speculative.

It seems like there’s an easy parallel to be made between the academy of false science in The Beauty Theorem and formal arts training, where students spend thousands of dollars on a degree program and where many artists pursuing art as a career live in poverty. There’s a pushing, a “everything is going to be so wonderful when you’re at the end of your education!” and dutifully the young scientist/artist learns the craft, incorporates it viscerally and completely, only to be left, doctorate in hand, to the wolves of a capitalist society.

That easy parallel starts to evolve in some ways and disintegrate in others as the comic progresses. The theorem is never abandoned, even if its practitioners never receive the illustrious careers and lives they were promised. These people fight and hurt one another, love and care for one another. But now, they do these things in their own spaces, and that has some parallels to our own world. The idea of beauty is correlated to truth is a hopelessly romantic notion, but in its way, The Beauty Theorem is a hopelessly romantic comic. Urkowitz’s final statement, a gorgeous panel worth poring over, says “I clear my throat to say that if my research can be trusted, many things are possible.” That notion acts as a baseline and the punctuation to The Beauty Theorem. What a tremendous statement.

Beatrix Urkowitz is a cartoonist based in Providence. You can get a digital copy of Big Busty Psychic Celeb Votes Satan here.

Hazlitt is an online magazine published by Penguin Random House Canada. Their published cartoonists include Jillian Tamaki, Kris Mukai, K.L. Ricks, Ryan Cecil Smith, and Michael DeForge. They do not publish book reviews.

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