Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Alan Moore Obscurities: Fashion Beast (#1-10)

"All ours.  The beast is dead and it's all ours" - Jonni Tare

Fashion Beast is something of an oddity in the oeuvre of Mr. Moore.  It started life as a film script in the 1980's after Moore met ex-Sex Pistol's manager, ex-owner of a boutique called "SEX", ex-husband of Vivienne Westwood and general twat about town Malcolm McLaren and discussed making a film about the world of fashion with him.  The film of course did not get made and the script lay unused until in 2013 when the publishers Avatar decided to adapt it into a comic strip and was rejigged by Anthony Johnston to fit the medium a bit better, the art by Facundo Percio.  The story is a somewhat loose mixture of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, set in a world that appears to be some kind of fascist state at war with another, probably  a modern English speaking country although older period details like carriages (drawn by men not horses though) give a more timeless feel.  It also contains two interesting takes on gender identity, a girl who looks like a boy dressed as a girl - Doll Seguin. And a boy who looks like a girl dressed as a boy - Jonni Tare.  The fact this story started out in a different medium and not adapated by him explains the fact it's not quite as meticulously structured as Alan Moore stories usually are, the issues don't build to any kind of climax they just end and pick up next chapter without a break.  I don't know how committed he was to the project, but the introduction he has written for the collected edition is very interesting and possibly the book is worth it just for that alone (I paid one penny for it on Amazon, it's not one of his more sought after or hard to find projects).  Anyway, onwards with the story.

The story begins with a long haired man, shrouded in darkness reading Tarot cards.  He is John Claude Celestine we later find out and he is up in his solitary room looking down on a stage with two women who'll be playing the part of the ugly sisters in this fairy story, they are Madame S and Madame D.  We then see the outside of the building, rising higher than any other in the city, with a huge neon "Celestine" sign on top of it.

Then we get a lengthy montage of people getting reading to go out, while fragmentary reports on TV's and radios establish the fact a war is on.  The people include the main protagonists, Doll and Jonni.  Doll walks out and has to deal with people thinking she is a man in drag which she brushes off with bitchy remarks.
Doll Seguin
She starts her evening job as the cloakroom attendent in a club called "The Catwalk" and she keeps up a stream of catty comments about people's coats as they hand them over (this is very reminiscent of Boy George and his job as a cloakroom attendent in London's first New Romantic club, which only let people in if they liked how they looked).  Jonni appears and tells Doll she "acts like some big model just 'cause you got this lousy hatcheck job."  Doll tries to ignore him but he keeps insulting her:

Jonni: "You're just like every failed stand up comedian who ever ended up serving in a delicatessan, you're insgnificant, you're insinsecere..."

The club fills up and Doll starts turning people away.  Jonni, having failed to provoke her, stomps off.  Doll remarks "loved the sweatshirt, hated her".  There is a singer on stage in the club and Doll leaves the cloakroom and goes and starts vogueing in the doorway lost in the music.  As she does so Jonni returns to the cloakroom and pulls off all the tickets on the coats and throws them in the air.  When Doll returns and finds the chaos, she is suddenly confronted by the club owner.
Jonni Tare
Doll is fired from the job, but as she walks home, overhears some people talking about Celestine auditioning new "mannequins" (models) so goes to the Celestine building to try her luck.  Standing in the queue, she gets to talking to another wannabe who tells her Celestine has a deformity and that's why he never comes out of his room.  She heard that his head is all lumpy, and has no bones in it and sits on his shoulders like a "squishy melon".

Doll's turn to audition comes and she strides down the catwalk with confidence.  Celestine indicates that she has been chosen and she is sent backstage to be dressed in something more "classic".  She is annoyed to find Jonni working there, and she yells at him "to keep your dyke hands off me!" as she still thinks he is a woman.  He winds her up, still thinking she is a man he says:

Jonni: "It's not like anybody here cares who you are, if you're a boy or a girl, or what.  Who gives a shit?  It's totally irrelevant".
Jonni being a dick to Doll.
Doll gets dressed up in the classic dress, which Jonni says is "overrated, ostentatious shit", it's also priceless.  Jonni leaves Doll to go find her some matching shoes and fury wells up inside her and she leaves the building via the fire escape, giving it the finger as she leaves.

She walks into a crowd and people compliment her and she starts to bask in the attention.  But then some severe looking women protesting about people prioritising fashion over war attack her and rip up the dress, leaving her tearful on the ground.  Jonni comes up to her and seeing her boob says "you're a girl".  When Doll snaps if that's relevant, Jonni scowls and says it's not.

Jonni then chews her out for getting the dress destroyed, and how it probably means the end of his career.  Doll points out he got her fired from her job in a similar way.  They argue some more and Doll realises Jonni is afraid of Celestine.  She says she'll return the dress, Jonni says she'll wind up dead.
Returning the ruined dress.
Doll returns to the Celestine building and walks into the large room overseen by Celestine's room.  She takes the shredded dress off and puts it on the mannequin in the middle of the room.  Celestine laments the state of the dress over the intercom, then asks her name.  When she tells him he says:

Celestine: "My mother gave me dolls.  She liked me to play with them.  I think you shall be my doll.  I think we shall play a game together".

He then hires her to be his principal model, and when he tells her the starting salary is fifty thousand US dollars she faints.  Later she is being dressed by a sulky Jonni and she revels in her new power over him.  He puts a coat on her and she demands to know why the outfit needs a coat.  "Because it's cold" he says.  Doll retorts that unless they are lucky they'll be suffering a frozen nuclear winter for the next ten years.  Meanwhile, Clestine continues to read the Tarot.

Time passes.  Doll gets another outift to model, and she thinks it looks perfect.  Jonni says it isn't and the jewel in the centre of the hat should be offset to the right.  Doll walks off and finds the Madames, when she describes the outfit as "it" they chide her saying it is "immaculate" not just some "it".  Doll then says she thinks it has a flaws and tilts the hat to the right to "offset the oblique line" just as Jonni said.  Outraged at her impudence, they take her up to Celestine's room.
"Meeting" Celestine.
He is in darkness and Doll cannot see him clearly, he pauses then says she is right about the hat.  Doll then goes to have her picture taken while Jonni works on designs of his own. The stockroom girl admires them and points out he draws Doll well, when Jonni realises this he screws the drawing up petulantly.

Later Jonni is dressing Doll in another outfit.  He finally articulates why he hates Celestine's designs so much.  He covers too much of the body in too many layers of fabric.  They don't allow for "sexual access" and the people who wear them?

Jonni: "Their whole sexuality ends up as perverted and claustrophobic as Celestine himself, everybody is afraid of their own bodies the way he is, everybody left gasping and fumbling in the dark."

After the photo session the Madames ask Doll if she has any suggestions for improvements to the new outfit.  She uses another of Jonni's ideas but doesn't give him credit for it.  In the dye room Jonni is in a foul mood.  The stockroom girl tentatively asks him out but he is too angry about Doll to notice, "I mean what is it?  What is it she's got?"  The stockroom girl says Celestine is infatuated with her and what she knows about clothes and tells Jonni about her suggestion for the hat with the jewel.
Jonni and Doll get physical.
This infuriates Jonni and when Doll rudely comes and asks him to attend to her, he throws a pot of red dye over her.  She pushes him backwards into the dye shelves and pots fall and mix on the ground where Jonni and Doll end up grappling.  The Madames appear and Madame S yells "Boy! Upstairs!" at Jonni.  "Boy?" says Doll, who still thought he was a woman up until then.

Jonni stands in the doorway of Celestines room and tells him he doesn't like Doll because "she doesn't give a shit about clothes.  Not the way I do".  Nor how Celestine did once either it seems.  He can't work with her attitude.  Celestine tells him he will have to.  Jonni tells him she stole his idea about the jeweled hat, but Celstine knows that too.
Jonni gets a well deserved punching.
Jonni tells Celestine he's been cooped up on his own in the dark for too long.  Making Doll his top model has made him a laughing stock he thinks.  And at least it was better when he was "gazing at his fucking mother" before he ended up alone.  This angers Celestine who knocks Jonni to the ground with a couple of punches.  Jonni asks why he doesn't just fire him because he knows he hates everything Celestine stands for.

Celestine: "I tolerate you because you despise my work and because yours is not the misery most in need of an ending".

Jonni leaves and Doll comes in complaining that as top model she should be able to get someone fired.  What's the point if she can't?  Celestine tells her to be silent and sit and he shall tell her the point.

He then goes on and gives a long speech about evolution.  He tells her about the various animals and insects that use patterns to decorate themselves.  "for in the image there is power!".  He tells her about cavemen wearing antlers and beads, and Nazi's in their stylish uniforms and mods and rockers battling on the beaches over their differing styles.

Celestine: "They knew it!  They knew the meaning of glamour; it's older, original mean.  Glamour means 'magic'.  Glamour is magic!"

He says clothes are "bigger than we are, are beyond the petty lusts and difficulties of the creatures that inhabit them".  He says he dreams of a world where clothes could exist without needing people to inhabit them.

Celestine: "To be a mannequin is to be the empty page on which that future is  scrawled, the doll through which its voodoo is worked that is the point of being a model."
Ah, fashion.
Doll is freaked out by all this, saying he's "nuts" and that she's not sure she can get that deep about fashion and maybe she should quit.  But Celestine then quietly admits "I..I am alone.  I need your company." When Doll says she thought he liked being alone Celestine says it's because his mother though it best he not "inflict his disfigurement upon others." His mother was the perfect woman who taught him all he knows about style.

Doll asks if his disfigurement really is that bad, it is he says.  He only has one mirror, a small hand mirror his mother gave him.  Only the Madames know what he looks like.  Doll looks in the mirror and realises it's a distorting one.  She says it makes everything look horrible.  Celestine says his ugliness has scarred the glass.  He tells Doll she is important to him, and she says can she see his face?  He reluctantly agrees and walks into the light.
And he's a perfectly normal, attractive man.  He asks Doll if he is very ugly?  And she says "yes" and quickly leaves as a tear trickles down his cheek.  Doll goes and confronts the Madames and says it's terrible, he's had the idea he's a freak beaten into him by his mother.  She was a monster.  Madame D says indeed she was a monster.

Madame D: "She shaped her son into the greatest artist of his kind that ever lived, and she did it entirely without weakness, without sentiment.  You see his genius comes only from his pain, without his suffering he would be nothing."

To tell him the truth now would destroy him, and Doll knows this which is why she didn't tell him either.  And Doll weeps silently for that which she has become complicit in.
The downside of fame.
More time passes.  Doll becomes a superstar model who gets mobbed by fans at events.  She returns to Celestine after one such incident, she complains that when she goes out she feels like she carries the Salon on her back.  Celestine says the place only requires one "hostage" and she doesn't have to remain "cloistered" there too.

He begins to dress her in his latest creation, an all black number.  When she comments on him being a hostage, he says "every cage has its way out... and when it's time to leave I'll know."  Doll asks him if his mother had a good body.  He said she had no body from the neck down.  No one found out what it was like, "she made sure of it."

He fits the pieces of the outfit to her keeping up a running, and somewhat seductive commentary about how the clothes compliment her body.  She becomes somewhat flustered and asks to leave for now, as she does so Celestine says she looks very beautiful.  She goes out on the balcony to look at the night sky.  Jonni appears and asks her how it feels to be a star?  He sneers that she has finally got what she wants.

Jonni: "You fit in perfectly here, with all this empty glamour, this whole morbid, claustrophobic denial of sex.  You fit like a glove."

And he walks off leaving her silent.  Doll returns to Celestine and tells and tells him she wants to get out of the Salon for a bit and check out the places she used to hang out at.  She asks if she can go tommorrow, "as short a time as that before you go?" he says.  She says she won't go if he doesn't want her too, but he responds that it's fine he has some tasks he's been putting off until he's alone to attend to.
Celestine's final design.
Doll is pulled through the streets and observes an odd scene where soldiers are forcing people to take all their clothes off and burning them on a massive bonfire.  She returns to her old flat and is startled by Jonni who lives in the same building she once did before moving into the Salon.  When he starts taking the piss out of her, she gets angry saying "I don't live and fucking die for your approval, okay?"

He apologises to her then says he wants to show her something.  He takes her to a street teaming with people, he sings the praises of the styles he sees there, people "wearing their clothing like flags" and "out here people's clothes mean something".  He says this is the real show, the real autumn collection.  He criticises Celestine's fashions again for being so anti-sex but this infuriates Doll who begins to walk away. 
Boy George predicted the War On Terror, it all fits now!
Jonni asks why she wants to miss the streetlife, "the energy that comes from real working people?"  Doll snaps that he is a middle-class suburban kid slumming it.  She actually grew up amongst these people.

Doll: "I heard 'em teaching their kids to say 'nigger'.  I saw 'em grabbing their dicks and grunting when any girl over thirteen walked past, had 'em shouting 'fucking queer' and 'fucking lesbian' everytime I changed my haircut.  I know all about the energy that comes from real working people and if you can transform it into anything worth a shit then you must be some kind of magician."

She leaves him and goes to the Catwalk Club, though it is only half full and only women and people with STD's now thanks to conscription.  She starts to dance in the doorway but isn't feeling it and returns to the Salon.  She goes up to Celestine's rooms and tells him she feels like the world out there is a faded echo of the Salon.  He speaks to her from inside the bathroom, saying he has enjoyed the time they have spent together.  She goes in and turns the light on and is horrified to find him in a bathful of bloody water, his wrists slashed and dying from the wounds.  He tells her why he did it.

Celestine: "I did it to be free of this dark life that is all I am permitted.  I have served at the altar of style for long enough and I am so very tired..."
Poor Celestine.
He says he couldn't have just left, it would have damaged the work which must continue and he is leaving the Salon to Jonni Tare, because he will destroy everything "he is the fire to my phoenix".  As he slips away Celestine says he would like to hear music for once which his mother never allowed.  Doll reluctantly sings to him and her voice rings out over the intercom.  The Madames come up to see what's going on and find them, Celestine is dead.

They demand to know what he said about the Salon and are enraged when they hear he's left it to Jonni.  Madame D says they must take steps to prevent this, if Doll agrees to get rid of him they have enough discarded Celestine designs to keep them going for years.  Doll says to them just to get him a job elsewhere.
Jonni is taken away.
At Celestine's funeral Doll wears the black outfit which was Celestine's final creation.  Then she sees Jonni being taken away by soldiers, the Madames have had him forcibly conscripted in the army.  A month later it is gnawing away at Doll and finally she calls the Army Headquarters and says that Jonni is a homosexual and thus unfit to serve under current military rules.

A couple of weeks later while trying on a new design under the gaze of the Madames, Doll sees someone up in Celestine's rooms.  It's Jonni, returned to claim his inheritance.  He tells them they shall be using his designs for the autumn collection, when the Madames protest he kicks them out.  He speaks with Doll about how the last two weeks in the army he was ridiculed for being gay, she says he's out now and he can fire her if he wants. 
Jonni returns.
She says Celestine's clothes are still being made, she half believes he isn't really dead the place is so haunted by him.  Jonni says when the public see his designs they'll know "the beast is dead."  He shows them to Doll who comments that they are "full of sex and dancing and stuff".  He shows her the final, crowning piece, a gorgeous unfancy wedding dress.  He wants her to wear it for the climax of the autumn show.

We then jump forward to said show, and his sparing, sexy designs are causing a sensation.  The Madames glower because people are scandalised and enjoying it at the same time.  Madame D sends Madame S to find Doll.  But when Madame S finds Doll getting ready to go out in Jonni's design she brands her a "traitor!" and comes at her with a pair of scissors, slashing Doll's stomach and staining the dress with blood.
The ultimate statement on um. something?
Doll escapes her and strides out onto the catwalk to the shock of everyone.  "That's pornography!" screams the show's commentator.  Jonni is shocked, then when Doll turns to him and smiles, he smiles back pleased at the outcome. It's possible that Jonni is meant to represent McLaren, but punk in its original art school phase, unlike disco or northern soul around at the same time was aggresively crude about sex, violent when it came to dancing, and very anti-sensual in it's use of sexual imagery which it used to disgust and horrify people.  From what little we see of Jonni's designs they seem to be light casual clubbing wear you'd see from the nineties onwards. Anyway, a riot ensues and the Madames are swept away by the crowd who are all running out to spread the word.  Jonni carries Doll up to Celestine's rooms, now Jonni's.

Doll: "You did it.  You turned street trash into sapphires and you blew the whole thing apart...The old ways are dead.  Celestines whole vision.  It means nothing now.  Now it's yours.  Your Salon.  Your vision.  All yours."

They kiss and get undressed ready to make love and Jonni picks up a mirror to check his hair and his eyes widen in horror at the distorted reflection he sees in it.  And so it ends.
Haha serves you right Jonni.
I am disappointed. I have to admit with fashion I am well, WELL out of my comfort zone, I found a look in 1992 and have stuck with it ever since. But on general terms, this whole story has a weirdly static feel to it, which I believe makes it obvious it's an adapted film script as it comes across as nothing more than a fancy storyboard.  A fairy tale set in the world of fashion should be constantly in motion, it demands the type of layouts seen in Promethea capturing the whirl and colour the story seems to demand.  Chaotic one moment and serene and quiet the next, the plodding pace of this story doesn't differentiate between the various moods depicted, especially towards the end where Jonni's new fashions should had been shown in much more detail to contrast with what had gone before. If the dull layouts and pacing should have been a deliberate choice to emphasize the stultifying nature of Celestine's designs, there still at least should have been a big contrast in content and layout when Jonni is talking about and then demonstrating his inspirations and designs.
For three panels Jonni and Doll are actually likeable.
I don't know how much of this lack of attention to the layouts can be blamed on Moore (who to be fair was writing for a different medium), the adapter, or the artist who was given the task of depicting a script that is very, very wordy and somewhat redundant in places, it could easily have lost a couple of issues rather than repeating its "sex is good, repression is bad" themes so heavy-handedly.  The art isn't awful, it's just bland and kills the otherworldly mood the story is trying to evoke.  There is, I admit some nice character work going on with Celestine himself, you do genuinely feel sorry for the guy and I like how the ills of a dystopian setting is subtlely alluded to with the implication that fashion is an escape for a society caught up in an endless war and this would have been especially revelant back in the 1980's when the script was first written, where playful, genderbending New Romantic fashions that were stylish and sexy for example had recently really perculated into the mainstream in a grim Thatcherite UK where Cold War panic was still strong.  But in the end it's hard to recommend this book to anyone other than the Alan Moore completist.  It's nice that the script finally saw the light of day, I just wish a better job had been done on it is all.


  1. ten issues?! seems like a lot to say not much really. although i quite like the art from what you have scanned here at least. i don't know anything about fashion either though lol!

  2. Yers, as you know I like decompression when it's used effectively like in Cerebus or Old Boy, but this felt unbearably stretched in places. It would have made for a much better and tighter six issue series I think, although the layouts would still have let it down.

  3. "General twat about town" — love it :-D

    Alan Moore does like his fantasy fascist states, doesn't he? It's a subject which has fascinated SF writers ever since Nazi Germany.

    I think it's better for men to draw carriages rather than horses, because that avoids cruelty to animals and it means that horses aren't taking jobs away from humans.

    Doll has a very determined chin.

    A club that judges people on how they look sounds absolutely horrible.

    I now like fashion even less than I did before I read this review.

  4. That was a genuine real life club back in the early eighties, if you didn't look fabulous enough, you didn't get in. That would have ruled me out!

    The fashion world is messed up, I want no part of it, hence my shabby hobo looks :D