It's often the case in the film industry to see a screenplay - even a good one - ending up abandoned in a drawer for many years, only to be rediscovered and turned into a movie a few decades afterwards.
In a way that's what happened to Alan Moore's Fashion Beast, originally commissioned by the late punk impresario Malcolm McLaren.
In 1985 Moore wrote a 200-page script revolving around the world of fashion that was more or less forgotten for roughly 27 years. The project was recently adapted by writer Antony Johnston and artist Facundo Percio and published in comic book format by Avatar Press.
Moore moved from classic tale "Beauty and The Beast" and loosely mixed it with the life of Christian Dior, immersing his characters in a dystopic and futuristic society, in a city that - believe it or not -is dominated by a fashion house led by a mysterious reclusive, obsessive and ugly character called Celestine.
The first episode of this ten-issue comic-book limited series introduces the reader to queer cross-dresser Doll Seguin who works as a coat-check girl at a venue called “The Catwalk” but nurtures bigger ambitions and aspirations that will eventually prompt her to audition for Celestine's next catwalk show.
This issue is set in the world of nightclubs, but it also pays homage to New York’s drag-ball scene and to houses such as La Beija, Extravaganza, Magnifique and St.Laurent.
At a certain point in the comic book, Doll performs her vogueing routine and she repeats in her mind like a mantra the lyrics of Malcolm McLaren's “Deep in Vogue” that were actually based on an article by Chi Chi Valenti that appeared in Details in October 1988 (“Sometimes on a legendary night, Like the closing of the Garage, When the crowd is calling down the spirits, Listen, and you will hear all the houses that walked before...”).
Yet that's not the only reference to drag balls: gender-bending Doll is dressed like Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch and her costume may be hinting at the various categories that proliferated at drag balls in the '80s (Hollywood evening wear; punk versus the future; realness; performance; high fashion and so on – who knows, maybe we will see more references to the drag ball scene in further issues).
Besides, the casting for Celestine's new catwalk show in Fashion Beast #2 looks a bit like the original drag ball events with people catwalking or vogueing in front of the judges.
Some sections of the comic also reveal its origin: the first issue reads extremely quickly as backgrounds, cityscapes and the skyscraper with the red “Celestine” sign dominate the pages.
Readers are also introduced to a series of characters getting ready to go out while the news programme on TV announces a nuclear winter, economic disasters and unemployment rates rising. These well defined and cinematic sequences almost call to mind the sketches in a movie storyboard.
When dialogues start they are pretty sharp, though: Doll may be a victim, but she is ready to fight back when provoked, a skill she may have picked from the drag queen ritual of "throwing shade", that is insulting another queen.
The best parts of the comic (so far) are the ones in which fashion is perceived in all its decadence: one woman auditioning at Celestine's is dressed in a long evening gown inspired by Yves Saint Laurent's Mondrian dress, but her face is perennially fixed in a scary Joker-like grin created by melted plastic; another wannabe model has her arms disfigured by radiation burns that the two hags serving Celestine hope are fake since “real would be a bit too tacky”.
While two issues are just very little to judge a longer series, these bits give the readers hope that in the next episodes there will be more dark satire against fashion, trends, consumerism and society in general (the story of a fashion house dominating the world has great potential...) as Dolls discovers the horror behind the glamour and the glitter and readers discover if she's genuinely into a life of fame, money and designer clothes or if she has more modest ambitions like many drag queens who were involved in the original NY ballroom scene.
Moore's fans may argue that this is not Watchmen or V for Vendetta (even though it is not too difficult to imagine a logic progression from "fascist state" to "fashion state"...) and that there was no need for such a product, since, after all, the real fashion industry is more dystopian than a fictional one.
But the first two issues of Fashion Beast manage to create enough expectations in the readers (the shortness of each issue is extremely disappointing and it wouldn't have been a bad idea to release it all in one volume...).
What kind of dark magic hides inside Celestine's skyscraper, who is this mysterious character and will Fashion Beast walk well or stumble on the runway? Besides, will it ever be turned into a film (apparently, McLaren wanted the movie to have” the depth of Chinatown mixed with the vitality of Flashdance”, as Moore once stated in an interview in the '80s)? We will have to wait and see. For the time being it's definitely worth checking it out especially for the dystopian atmospheres and moods behind it. Indeed, the comic medium may actually reveal as the perfect one to destroy the most sordid and false aspects of the modern fashion industry.
A final note - while Fashion Beast is not for the fainthearted fashionistas, it does have a fashionista side: rather than choosing between Ready-To-Wear, Cruise and Haute Couture collections, readers can pick between four different covers - Regular, Wraparound, Haute Couture and Tarot. You'd better make your choice now, though, as this is a limited edition series.
Fashion Beast #1 and #2 are out now on Avatar Press.
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