It’s been quite a while since my last comic, so I fancied something that was a little bit out of left field. In this case, that meant Fashion Beast, mainly because the artwork looked absolutely gorgeous, but also because I have a pretty good record with Alan Moore’s work so far and I was interested to see how one of his lesser known works held up against the hard-hitters that I’d read, like Watchmen or V for Vendetta.
Fashion Beast follows Doll Seguin, an androgynous coat checker barely scraping by at a popular club, decides to take a chance auditioning as a “mannequin” for a world-famous, reclusive fashion designer after losing her job. Making an unexpected impression on the mysterious patron of the House of Celestine, she is initially delighted by the world of glamour that she now inhabits, miles away from anything she could have imagined in the nuclear winter outside. But she soon finds that all is not well, and that the secrets that inspire its head designer to create beautiful clothing could be the very things that tear the fashion House to the ground.
My first reaction to Fashion Beast upon finishing it was a deep breath, because it’s quite a lot to digest over a lunch break. Having thought it over a bit, I find myself puzzling over it. In some ways, I like it and my initial reaction still applies as it tackles a lot of big ideas, like beauty and celebrity culture, the corruption of the creative process, gender identity, the class divide, and mental illness. It mentions on the blurb that Fashion Beast came out of an unproduced film script for a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which would explain how it ends up feeling almost mythic in proportions, despite the comparatively small scale of the plot.
But then you look at some of the individual components and it starts to fall apart a bit. The characters, while vivid, are not for the most part written with much in the way of depth. This can make some of the emotional highs and lows come across a bit flat, as there hasn’t been enough character build-up to warrant the change. The same could be said about the setting, which has an intriguing premise that isn’t built on enough. Throughout the comic, you get glimpses of the outside world through radio segments warning about an impending nuclear winter, but it never seems to actually feel all that imminent. In the sections where the action is cooped up within the fashion house that makes sense, but even in the sections out in the poorest areas of the surrounding city it doesn’t feel any more immediate. If anything, all the talk about a nuclear winter does it make it really obvious that Fashion Beast‘s story was written in the 1980s with the cold war still firmly in place.
The artwork is pretty much perfect though. It manages to combine the glamour of high fashion with the griminess of the surrounding post-nuclear world and somehow manages to make it all look weird and utterly gorgeous. I might have to look out for more of Percio’s work if this is anything to go by.
Fashion Beast is a bit of a strange one. If you read it as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, then it does work with that kind of fairy tale/mythic tone. If you look at it with more of a critical eye for depth of character and setting, then it may well disappoint you. Probably not Alan Moore’s best, but the potential is definitely there, and I would love to see an expanded version of this if that’s ever considered. 3.5/5
Next review: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain