Mar 25, 2014

[Comics] Fashion Beast

My partner, Tobie, as a taste for the somewhat obscure and unusual. At times I have no idea where he gets his content or how he hears about this movie or that comic book. He just seems to actively collect strange and quirky stories that explore the fringes of storytelling potential.

Case in point - I was surprised that Tobie would pick up a title like Fashion Beast, but apparently he had already read it given the interesting things that people discuss in their own reviews of the book. And naturally he strongly recommended that I read the book - I just had no idea what to expect given the unusual title. Plus it's an Alan Moore book, and we know that can go in any number of directions and tangents.

After reading it, well, I didn't quite know what to say off hand. It was certainly a striking piece that had a pretty distinct message to deliver in a most memorable way. And then again, some parts of it felt like so much random craziness seemingly done for shock value. Or maybe I was just missing the point behind the tone of the book or something. And the fact that I have so many questions about my response to the book says a lot about it's inherent value as a creative work that actually makes you think.

Synopsis: Fashion Beast is 10-issue comic book mini-series written by Alan Moore, Malcol McLaren, and Anthony Johnston based on a 1980's film scrip that Moore had created to be in the tone of Beauty of the Beast.

We first meet Doll, a woman with rather lofty ambitions despite her current job as a coat checker. Times are hard in this alternate future of sorts and landing any job seems to be a small miracle in itself. Plus she is often mistaken to be a man in drag when she is in fact a woman. She eventually gets fired after one of the customers makes a mess of the coatroom and takes off all the claim tags.

This leads her to audition at the clothing factory of Celestine, a famous yet reclusive designer. She initially aims to just become one of his mannequins but she somehow catches his attention and she is hired has his newest model. But she also discovers that Jonni, the same girl who vandalized the coatroom this causing Doll to lose her prior job. But now the two need to learn to work together for their mysterious patron as Doll discovers just what it means to be a fashion model in these dark times.

The irony is not lost even on Alan Moore himself that this is a comic book based on a movie treatment that never game to be. In  his foreword for the collected edition of this series, he went on to write about how it was interesting to note that despite his views against how many comics cannot become movies, here we was making a comic out of an almost movie. But it was the only feasible way to get this story out there, and so they sort of ran with the idea.

At first it was a little hard to dive right into the story. The setting for the whole piece is some strange dystopia with people desperate for work and yet this independent fashion house somehow exists. Who buys the clothes that they create? How can there be a fashion scene when folks are struggling with overwhelming poverty? Why do they have so many mannequins at the factory and yet no storefront of any kind? So many unanswered questions.

But once you get past the initial disorganization of thought and just follow Doll's story, things really start coming together. At first it seems like she's just some bimbo getting incredibly lucky or something. But then the story starts to reveal new aspects about the various characters and the points of interest increase. Why does Jonni become so obsessed with Doll? What mad vision does Celestine have for the world? Will all this really leave Doll content?

And then there's the tale of Celetine himself and how he became this strange reclusive fashion designer. The fact that Jonni's can challenge some of his designs with her own ideas says a lot about how he's not perfect. And yet there is an entire support structure in place just aiming to build him up and continue to shower him in praises. And thus he works on in his design room alone - the room where he can see his fashion runway as he remains hidden in the shadows.

Fashion Beast is not the typical kind of comic that I would pick up on my own, so I'm thankful that Tobie was able to expand my horizons with this piece. It's most striking and yet also strange and disturbing and not at all funny, which is a common treatment used when fashion is tackled in comics. As a whole, it gets 3.5 protests staged against Celestine and the fashion industry as a whole out of a possible 5.

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