Comic Book Review: Fashion Beast

Fashion Beast #1–10
Story by Malcolm McLaren and Alan Moore
Script by Alan Moore
Sequential adaptation by Antony Johnston
Art by Facundo Percio
Colours by Hernan Cabrera
Letters by Jaymes Reed
Published by Avatar Press

Dark Horse are publishing a comic book adaptation of George Lucas’ original screenplay for The Star Wars, an early version of Star Wars. Dynamite published a comic book adaptation of Kevin Smith’s unused screenplay for Green Hornet and a film script for The Six Million Dollar Man called The Bionic Man. Boom! published a comic book adaptation of Frank Miller’s unused screenplay for a Robocop film. Vertigo produced a comic book adaptation of the original screenplay of Django Unchained, including parts that were cut from the final film. Therefore, this is not an unusual practice in the comic book industry, even if it sounds a little unusual. This collection is different because of one man: Alan Moore.

Apart from his recent foray into writing the screenplay for the short film Jimmy’s End, Moore has not delved into the world of cinema, so this is quite a curio. Written in 1985, while he was writing what would become arguably the greatest superhero comic book of all time, Watchmen, this was a collaboration with Malcolm McLaren, fashion and music impresario, perhaps most famous for being the manager of The Sex Pistols and kickstarting the move of punk into the mainstream. McLaren came to Moore with the idea for a film: an updating of the story of Beauty and the Beast in the fashion industry. Moore went away and wrote the script, mainly because he wanted to try something new but also to work with McLaren. And then, as is quite common in the movie industry, the film was never made. Now we have a chance to get a glimpse of what might have been, with Antony Johnston adapting the screenplay into comic-book form, keeping the dialogue intact – Johnston has form here, having adapted various Moore works into comic books for Avatar Press (The Courtyard, Another Suburban Romance, Hypothetical Lizard).

The story: the main characters are Doll Seguin, ‘a girl who looks like a boy who looks like a girl’, and Johnny Tare, ‘a boy who looks like a girl who looks like a boy’. Doll works as the cloakroom girl at The Catwalk, a hip nightclub that only allows 100 people in. One night, Johnny comes in but gets angry at Doll and starts to verbally attack Doll; Doll retaliates by ensuring that Johnny doesn’t get in the club; Johnny retaliates by removing the tickets from the coats, which leads to Doll getting fired. She overhears that Jean-Claude Celestine, the notorious reclusive fashion designer, is auditioning for mannequins that night at his famous factory, so she goes along on the whim. Unexpectedly, Celestine selects Doll (despite the disinterest of Madame S and Madame D, the two old woman who run the factory floor), and he sends her off to the fitting room to put on a design, where she finds that the wardrobe supervisor is none other than Johnny Tare, leading to another argument. However, this leads to her Celestine seeing her and choosing her to be his new muse. Doll constantly argues with Johnny, even though she uses his fashion suggestions as her own, which are taken on board by Celestine. Doll also gets to meet Celestine in person and discovers the secret behind the reason why he stays locked in his room designing clothes and reading Tarot cards …

The important thing to note is that this is not an Alan Moore comic book. It is a comic book that tells an Alan Moore story, with dialogue that is clean and funny and occasionally profound (such as issue six, where Celestine talks about the nature of fashion). Despite its attempt to be in an indeterminate time, it wears its 1980s influences proudly, with the obsession with a nuclear winter and the idea of conscription for an imminent war and the feeling of poverty that pervades the lives of ordinary people. It doesn’t have the specific Moore feel, the detailed nature that resonates in his comic books – it feels much broader, as befits an update of a fairy tale, with fewer characters (as in more common in a film) and a more direct storyline focusing on the main figures in the storyline. It’s interesting to see Moore working in a simpler story world, instead of the complex visions he has created in his own comic book work, playing around with a fairy tale idea in the fashion industry, something he admits in the introduction to this collection that he knew nothing about and had no interest in.

This is an interesting adaptation because it has turned a screenplay into a comic book, attempting to replicate some of the tricks of one medium to another (the section at the beginning of the book that cuts between six different scenes of people getting ready to go out while different music plays over the top of each scene is one such successful technique). Percio’s art creates a suitably atmospheric mise en scène for the story. His art is looser than his work on Warren Ellis’ Anna Mercury, but it suits the tone of the fairy tale and the combination of beautiful things in a less than beautiful world, and occasional hints at strangeness, such as the way a mannequin’s head seems to move in a store cupboard. The faces are also beautifully expressive, important to tell the story via the actors’ expressions in scenes both with and without dialogue. The colours by Cabrera match the artwork, from the sombre muted tones to the splashes of vibrant colour that dazzle in the world of fashion, giving the book a consistent look throughout. The only strange occurrence in the art is the lettering: between issues five and six, the lettering and accompanying word balloons increase in size noticeably, which is odd and distracting because it makes it seem like people are shouting (the smaller word balloons fit better in the art and seem like dialogue in a conversation) and overpowers the artwork in the panels.

This book is an interesting slice of Alan Moore history, but it’s not on a par with his great works of that time or his more recent output. Part of that is to do with the nature of the product – it is a comic book adapted from a screenplay written 30 years ago – and the fact that it’s someone else’s story that Moore then wrote up. Fashion Beast is a valuable part of the Alan Moore library, a fascinating glimpse of what might have been.

Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.

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