Fashion Beast by Alan Moore
Fashion Beast follows Doll Seguin, a sassy coat-checker who escapes into the carefree lifestyle of fashion, music and decadence while the world outside fears an oncoming nuclear war. It’s a re-telling of the classic fable Beauty and the Beast that immerses readers in the rich, living characters of its dystopian future setting.
I’d never heard of Fashion Beast up until very recently. Not a massive surprise really, I was eleven years old when it was originally published. At first glance it doesn’t sound like my sort of thing – a re-imagining of Beauty and the Beast set in the fashion industry, with direct input from pop svengali, Malcolm McLaren. That feels like a pretty weird mix to me. I’ll happily admit that initially, I was a little dubious there would be anything that I’d enjoy. One look at me would have you asking the question “What does this feckless jabroni know about intricacies of haute couture?“* I persevered however, and as I suspected, Fashion Beast is about much more than the vagaries of the fashion industry.
I’ve long been a fan of Alan Moore’s work. If you asked me, I’d probably rate V for Vendetta as one of my all-time favourite graphic novels. I remember the first time I read it. I was an angry young man back then, and even now years later, I still recall it left a distinct impression. That’s the real genius of Moore’s writing. Don’t believe me? Try this little test. Read anything that he’s written, doesn’t matter what. When you begin everything appears relatively straightforward, but by story’s end, you find yourself with more questions than answers. I suspect that this is always his intent. Moore wants his audience to question everything. He wants them to continually explore the ideas and theories he infuses his work with long after the final page has been read. Fashion Beast, like all his other masterworks, falls squarely into this category
Doll Seguin’s journey from cloakroom attendant to internationally recognised style icon, is a direct counterpoint to the journey of the reclusive designer who “discovers” her. Jean Claude Celestine spends his existence hidden away in his exclusive salon. In many respects, he is the beast in this particular tale. All his time is spent designing beautiful clothing in an effort to escape the flaws and hideous ugliness he sees within himself. As Doll’s star is in the ascendancy, Jean Claude’s begins to wane, the fickle finger of public opinion working it’s magic. The scenes featuring these two are probably the story’s strongest. Doll and Jean Claude spark off of one another, and their often-opposing viewpoints lead to intense debate.
The artwork, by Facundo Percio, acts as a perfect partner to Moore’s narrative. It’s not uncommon in graphic novels for there to be panels, and in some cases whole pages, where there is no dialogue at all. The artwork has to be strong enough to compensate for this, the visuals have to be able to move the plot forward themselves. Percio’s skillful illustrations manage this effortlessly. There is hardly a page goes by where the reader is not presented with an image that could be, at worst, described is visually striking. There are key scenes in the plot that have artwork that I would happily frame and hang on a wall just so I could look at them. When a story is all about the nature of image the artwork has to be perfect, and in this case it most definitely is.
There is a good chance that this graphic novel is not going to be for everyone. There are some very subtle fantastical elements, the pre-apocalyptic backdrop for example, but for the most part this storytelling doesn’t rely on anything more overt than that. To be honest, I don’t really think anything else is needed, it’s the strong characterisation that drives this piece. Personally, I’m glad that I took the opportunity to read this. I’m thirty-nine years old and over the last couple of days, specifically down to this graphic novel, I find myself pondering the nature of my own self-image. It’s been a hell of a long time since I’ve had a conversation like that with myself. I’m a firm believer that the best writing has a timeless quality, twenty-eight years after its initial release, Alan Moore’s work can still provoke a reaction.
Moore has created a wonderful story that explores the superficiality of style and how we project it. Just how much importance does society place on how we look, and how much does that define what we do? Insightful, thought provoking, and as relevant now as it was when it was originally written. If you fancy trying something a little different, that is going to make you think, I suggest giving this a go.
Fashion Beast is published by Avatar Press and is available now.
*I can confirm what you may have already guessed. The answer to that question is precisely nothing.