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Grotesque Gallery

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It's a secret so poorly kept, it's scarcely a secret at all: modern media doesn't like dealing in ugliness. Much of the time, even characters that are supposedly "ugly" are barely distinguishable from their "attractive" counterparts. This is why tropes like the Gonk carry such significance: in a work where nobody can really be called unattractive, a genuinely ugly character stands out so much more, to the point that they feel more like an oddity exhibit than a character.

But what about instances where "genuinely ugly" describes not an isolated character or two, but an entire species or race of creatures? As far as tropes are concerned, these clusters of creatures belong in the Grotesque Gallery.

The Grotesque Gallery trope describes any group, species, or race of creatures that is drawn or designed to be ugly, gross, or off-puttingly weird-looking. It's the concept of the Gonk writ large — instead of one or two isolated characters being hideous for the sake of comedy or a message, an entire group of creatures are designed to be extremely unattractive.

Characters belonging to the Grotesque Gallery can serve a variety of purposes. Some of the more common intentional uses include using the creatures' ugliness as a signifier that they're malicious or untrustworthy, completely subverting that idea by giving the ugly creatures hearts of gold, showcasing the effects of a magical or environmental catastrophe, or simply showing that the creatures are completely outside of what we consider the natural order.

Sister Trope of Gonk. Contrast Ugly Cute, in which a character is considered cute despite its conventionally "ugly" characteristics. See also Uncanny Valley, where a repulsive reaction is the result of a character looking "off" while being rather humanoid, and Nonstandard Character Design, which is a tool that may be used to create denizens of the Grotesque Gallery.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Attack on Titan: Titans are a seriously freaky-looking bunch.
  • Berserk has lots of horrifyingly ugly creatures, and they're frequently shown in large gatherings.
    • Apostles are truly terrifyingly creatures, often consisting huge masses of eyes, teeth, tentacles, faces, and genitalia randomly strewn about their vaguely animalistic bodies. Their humanoid forms aren't much better, bearing anatomical proportions that only emphasize how inhuman they really are.
    • Astral creatures, particularly from the darker recesses of the astral world like the Qliphoth, are very similar, looking very much like various animals mashed together in unconventional ways.
    • In a decidedly more mundane example, Mozgus and his group of torturers. Mozgus is a regular human with unnerving square-shaped features on his face that can turn wrinkly and leathery when he gets furious, and his minions are all people who were born with deformities that make them look all the more monstrous.
  • One Piece is stuffed to the rafters with exaggerated character designs that practically look like their own caricature, and at least a third of the series' dialogue is shouted at the top of someone's lungs with an accompanying Wild Take, which usually makes them look even uglier.

  • A completely straight example: When Ed "Big Daddy" Roth designed the characters in Rat Fink, he was aiming for the ugliest creatures in the world. He succeeded.
    • In Tales Of The Ratfink, Ed Roth (voice by John Goodman) describes Ratfink as the Anti-Mickey Mouse so it's kind of fitting.
  • Some of Hieronymus Bosch's paintings might be considered this, such as his painting of Christ Carrying The Cross.
  • Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Though not as grotesque as Bosch he portrayed peasants as quite crude, not always good looking people. The main difference is that his portrayals are still realistically believable and not fantasies. Thus you actually get to see these people as real peasants as they existed back then and not some romanticized vision.
  • The infamous painting Grotesque Old Woman by Quentin Matsys. She seems more like an orc or troll caricature than a human.
  • Francisco de Goya: In his later work the faces of the people on the paintings and drawings look more sinister and grotesque, almost animalistic. This are his infamous Black Paintings and were produced when he was suffering mental health issues and going deaf.
  • Diane Arbus: A photographer renowned for her pictures of eccentric or otherwise bizarre looking people.
  • The 18th century cartoons by James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson all portray people as grotesquely ugly, with large heads.

    Comic Books 
  • Urbanus: Also a staple in this comic strip where the characters will typically be drawn ugly and vulgar.
  • Haagse Harry: All characters are degrading foul mouthed people from The Hague, Netherlands.
  • Robert Crumb: His creations often show our Crapsack World as a collection of grotesque people. Mr. Snoid is a particular example.
  • The cartoons of Jean-Marc Reiser, Kamagurka, Gotlib, Gummbah... are all typical of this style.
  • Jack Kirby used a fairly standard face for a lot of characters, but those characters where he departed from it could be pretty ugly. Darkseid is actually relatively handsome compared to Desaad or Dan Turpin, both of whom fell into the "kill it, kill it with fire" category.

    Comic Strips 
  • Lena Hyena in Li'l Abner, whose face is so ugly that it drives people mad. Al Capp avoided actually depicting Lena in the strip because it was funnier to leave her features to the imagination. He eventually held a contest to see if anyone could draw someone as ugly as he'd described Lena as being. Basil Wolverton (mentioned below) won it.
  • MAD Magazine:
    • The comics by Basil Wolverton often featured grotesque people, like his iconic parody of Life Magazine.
    • Similarly Tom Bunk and Bill Wray (Monroe)'s work is also a collection of ugly people.
    • The magazine mascot Alfred E. Neuman symbolizes everything that's uncanny and grotesque about the magazine.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Wizard of Oz has the unspeakably creepy flying monkeys.
  • 1985's Return to Oz has the Wheelers and Jack Pumpkinhead, who then calls Dorothy "Mom"!
  • Federico Fellini's later films are mostly this. He would cast people with grotesque faces, deformities, handicaps or unique bodies. His fascination probably stemmed from the fact that he used to be a caricaturist. His Spiritual Successor David Lynch also thrives on this trope.
  • Jim Henson's Labyrinth. Goblins in a childhood bedroom plus kidnapping plus David Bowie's aggressively bubbling sexuality are bad enough, but then there's those horrible red Fiery puppets who juggled and swapped their body parts and sent their grinning, disembodied heads to chase our fleeing heroine while chanting "We just want to take off your head! Let us have your head!" Horrid.
  • Also all of The Dark Crystal by Jim Henson, since the entire world is composed of Muppets and environments that are either deliberately alien or designed off of nature's less cute critters, making the whole thing one dark fairy tale based on look alone.
  • Most of Harmony Korine's films, but especially Julien Donkey-Boy and Trash Humpers.
  • E.T. Particularly his weird, spine-like legs. (And especially if you're only three in 1982, there's merchandise everywhere, and nobody has explained to you that E.T. is a friendly alien.)
    • The better to make that intro scene in the garage pants-wettingly frightening with.
    • As such, a lot of the imitators (like Pod People) that Followed the Leader make their aliens even uglier, like in Mac and Me or the Turkish ones "Badi" and "Homodi", which throw convincing special effects out for sheer horror.
  • Many viewers find the Oompa-Loompas in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory to be rather unsettling. Their freaky orange skin doesn't help matters, at any rate.

  • The picture book Hair in Funny Places is intended to reassure kids about to go through puberty. With pictures of a young girl's insides being taken over by grotesque furry monsters representing hormones.
  • Alice in Wonderland: Half of the people Alice meets in the original book, illustrated by John Tenniel are grotesque. Especially the Queen, the Duchess and her servant.
  • The Nursery Alice, apparently illustrated by a morbid Impressionist having a very bad acid trip. How it came to be in the children's section is beyond comprehension.
  • Tim Burton's The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories has a whole array of weird characters who are kids with strange abilities or deformities, such as Stain Boy (whose only superpower is to leave a nasty stain), the girl who turned into a bed, the pincushion queen and Jimmy the hideous penguin boy. (It's telling that Burton showed Danny DeVito his illustration of Jimmy to give the actor an idea of how they would be approaching the character of The Penguin in Batman Returns.)
  • Gennady Spirin's illustrated edition of The Tale of Gentle Jack and Lord Bumblebee. Spirin's paintings take what the text would seem to indicate is a fairly bland fairy tale involving magical beings who shift between somewhat insect-like humans and somewhat human-like insects from one moment to another, and plunge it straight into an industrial-sized tank with human faces leering in place of compound eyes and mandibles, monstrous bee-knights impaling their enemies on the lance-like stingers springing out of their faces and dying as the ants drag their dismembered bodies down into the eternal darkness under the earth to be fed to the larva...

    Live-Action TV 
  • From Sesame Street.
    • Pictured above are the Martians. They have creeped out quite some toddlers over the decades, because their mouths move in a weird fashion, they are accompanied by weird music, appear out of nowwhere and just say "yip yip" all the time while staring at otherwise normal objects.
    • See also Frazzle, with his largely immobile big-fanged mouth, heavy dark eyebrows, and devil horns. In his case it's harder to believe the effect isn't intentional.
    • The same designer (Jim Henson) also created the "Land of Gorch" for Saturday Night Live. One of the characters (Fazh) was at best Ugly Cute and it went downhill from there.
  • Those (un)lucky enough to grow up in Chicagoland (and various syndication markets) in the late '70s may have been "treated" to Gigglesnort Hotel, which featured a number of rather grotesquely modelled puppet characters; most notable was Blob, a literal blob of (apparently living) clay "statuary" who would regularly have his facial features remolded by the human host as he moaned and bellowed in a rather ghastly wordless voice.
  • Most of the characters on The League of Gentlemen are played by the same three actors, so they need to use various prosthetics to differentiate between roles. Some of them (Tubbs and Edward, in particular) are quite hideous.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • Terry Gilliam's cut-and-paste animation is full of weird collages of old photographs and paintings, with body parts moving in odd ways and sometimes even falling off.
    • The sketch "The Visitors" has some of the rudest, unlikeable and weirdest ugly people paying an unwanted visit to Graham Chapman and his wife.
    • Ken Shabby, the filthy man played by Michael Palin, is also grotesquely ugly, insane and lewd.
  • Spitting Image: This satirical puppets series made caricatures of celebrities into puppets. Many of them look absolutely grotesque to downright ugly. Just look at the image we put on the nightmare fuel page.
  • Australian children in the early 90s were treated to the program Mulligrubs, as seen here. The main character/presenter was a garishly made-up, disembodied human face on a gray background, which spoke directly to the viewer in Baby Talk despite obviously being an adult woman's voice creepily distorted by Auto-Tune.

    Music Videos 
  • Basement Jaxx's "Where's Your Head At" is an upbeat-sounding dance song, but the video has monkeys with human faces who, after playing guitars a bit, chase a man through a science lab, tearing through safety nets, before the man is captured in a Mad Scientist's experiment, where people have their heads switched with animals.
  • Music videos by Aphex Twin often feature characters with Richard D. James' warped, grinning face; others, like Rubber Johnny, feature far worse things.

    Puppet Shows 

    Theme Parks 
  • There are more than a few examples of terror to be found in good old Disney Theme Parks. Simply put, there is a darn good reason why The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World has a whole chapter heading about "Disney, Kids, and Scary Stuff".

  • Nutcrackers are not festive symbols of holiday cheer. They are terrible, grimacing figures of rage with toothy, lipless mouths that open into their chests. That they are generally dressed in military garb and carry weapons does not help. And since they're made to, you know, crack nuts, it's easy for a child's mind to seize onto the idea of them crushing other things, such as the bones in one's fingers. Overexposure may numb the terror, but won't remove the underlying wrongness of the malevolent, garish things. How something so ghastly became a symbol of yuletide festivities is absolutely baffling.

    Video Games 
  • Any character from Psychonauts is quirky at least (the camp kids are odd but still relatively cute) and often bizarre (characters like Loboto, Crispin, and most of the mental realms' inhabitants).

    Western Animation 
  • Rankin-Bass' animated version of The Hobbit is a notorious case of going for characters that are so ugly they're cute and... failing. Badly.
    • The wood elves.
      • Most of the hobbits (with the exceptions of Frodo, Bilbo, Merry, and Pippin) especially Samwise from Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings are hideously deformed creatures with bulging eyeballs and jagged teeth.
  • Lots of stuff in The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, like the plague victims in the episode where Flapjack gets a pet rat, and the sea monster things from "How the West Was Fun"!
  • A few in Invader Zim were especially ugly. Bloaty comes to mind. There were also a lot of grotesque background characters who ranged from unpleasantly greasy to clearly disfigured.
  • Anything in John Kricfalusi's oeuvre — he's particularly fond of bulging eyes and horribly contorted faces.
  • South Park: Plays with this trope whenever scenarios take place with handicapped or mentally challenged people. Though it also subverts this by making people like Timmy and Jimmy recurring characters so that we, as viewers, get used to their bizarre looks.
  • The Simpsons: Some citizens, like Homer Simpson, Barney Gumble, Moe, Mr. Burns, Patty and Selma, Lunchlady Doris, and Krusty the Clown fit this trope exactly.
  • Almost all of Klasky-Csupo's character designs can be this for a good number of viewers. As Told by Ginger, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Duckman, and early episodes of The Simpsons are good examples.
  • Some viewers may feel this way about the character designs of Ed, Edd n Eddy due to Danny Antonucci's odd artstyle, something that he demonstrates well in his other cartoon: the infamous The Brothers Grunt.
  • Creator of Cow and Chicken and I Am Weasel, David Feiss' is recognizable by the rather gross-looking designs of his human characters. His animal designs also carry some of this.