I don’t read as many graphic novels as I used to, and I’ve become alarmingly narrow in my repertoire. As I get older I find my patience for experiment has faded. Thus, I buy everything new by my three favourite comic book writers: Alan Moore, Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis. I can’t really ascribe a ?’British sensibility’ to them given that Ennis is from Northern Ireland and Ellis and Moore would be culturally offended by such a thing, but there’s definitely something warmly cynical and defiantly subversive in all their work which must have been incubated in a mongrel mix of Celtic, Saxon and Viking blood. No puritans here.
Fashion Beast is the latest from Alan Moore. Well, sort of. It was actually written as a feature film in collaboration with Malcolm McLaren (I say collaboration, and Moore enthusiastically credits McLaren in that way, but like all McLaren collaborations it seemed to involve a mad idea, a drink and quite a lot of drugs before the disciplined creative work got done in McLaren’s absence). The comic version was adapted from the film script, with Moore’s cooperation, by Antony Johnston. As others have pointed out this is a nice inversion of what normally happens with Moore’s work – that it’s adapted for film and recklessly ruined in the process.
Moore wrote the film script in 1985 (or thereabouts – he seems somewhat confused by the dates, can’t think why) and while the final comic works really well (there, my review, in summary) it does occasionally wobble away from Moore’s always-elegant pacing and impeccable timing. But only occasionally, and not by much. Johnston has done an amazing job, and this reads very much like an Alan Moore Joint. The artwork, by Facundo Piero, is stunning.
And the story? There isn’t a great deal of one, and I won’t summarise too much. It’s a dystopian winter. There’s been a nuclear war and now there’s a nuclear winter. There are unspecified wars in unspecified irradiated zones. It’s defiantly Orwellian. The only light in a dark world is provided by fashion – specifically, the fashion of Jean-Claude Celestine. Doll Seguin is a girl who looks like a boy who looks like a girl (this is a phrase attributed by Moore to McLaren) who is chosen to model Celestine’s clothes, while a boy who looks like a girl who looks like a boy, Jonni Tare, is a wardrobe assistant and wannabe designer who admires, hates and desires Doll in almost equal measures.
What this canvas affords Moore is room for satire of a particularly capacious kind. He satirises the shallow pretensions of fashion, but he also satirises the killjoys who hate it. He satirises the inequality of this brutal society, but he also satirises the prejudices of the poor. The only escape from this dreary reality is creativity and beauty; the only people worth admiring are those who find something to savour in life; the worst people are the unthinkingly complicit and obedient. I think you can see why Moore agreed to collaborate with McLaren.
I finished Fashion Beast with one thought: nostalgia. It made me miss the early 1980s, before fashion turned into the cold industrial machine it is today, when Vivienne Westwood ruled the world, and where mad creativity and deliberate ugliness were celebrated over hard bodies, hard faces and submissive conformity. Thank God we still have Alan Moore. Boo sucks that we lost Malcolm McLaren, the mad cynical beautiful bastard.