Fashion Beast, Alan Moore’s new graphic novel, was never meant to be a book.
It started life as a screenplay commissioned by the late Malcolm McClaren in the 1980s.
McClaren is remembered as the svengali of British punk and the manager of the Sex Pistols but he was a man of many interests including film making and he set Alan - then a relatively unknown comic book writer - the task of turning the life of Christian Dior into a script by combining it with the Beauty and the Beast story.
The film never got made and not long after Alan completed Watchmen - his multi-award winning epic tale of superheroes with superproblems - and the topic of film scripts slipped into the background for the time being.
That left the screenplay circulating waiting to be rediscovered two decades later.
“It was a completely finished script. What I am surprised about, and this is something I only realised at a signing for Fashion Beast when I was reading some promotional material - which is how I generally remember the events that have happened in my life - I found out that I had written Fashion Beast in 1985 which is before I had completed Watchmen. I think it is a lot more grown up than Watchmen and perhaps a bit more prescient in its way,” said Alan.
“I had completely forgotten all about it and then twenty something years later William Christensen from Avatar had acquired a copy of the script in the way that these scripts to apparently circulate on the net. He came across a copy of it, read it through, he thought it could make a really interesting comic. He phoned me up and asked and suggested that Antony Johnston would do the adaptation. I had worked with Antony before and he is really good at adapting my stuff. He is a good writer in his own right but they are exactly as I would have wanted to do them if I could have been bothered.
“He just gets the screenplay which would have had some basic directions in it which would be telling you what camera angle this shot was from, nowhere near as detailed as my comic scripts usually. Even so I do remember Malcolm, after he had got the screenplay which he was very complimentary about, he was suggesting I leave something for the director to do which was foreign to me because in the world of comic scripts I am the director to a certain degree. I guess the artist is the cinematopgrapher.
“I guess what Anthony would have got is a script with the basic set up of how a scene should be handled, how various shots should be handled and then it would have just been the dialogue and whatever notes existed on what the characters would have looked like which I honestly cannot remember. Reading through it I couldn’t remember having written any of that dialogue because I put it out of my mind once the project was over.”
“It was the first time I had read anything by myself as if it had been written by someone else. I couldn’t remember writing it. I had got a vague sense of I think I remember writing something like this. I think I see where this phrase is going but it was largely a completely new experience and quite rewarding because, considering how long ago it was done when I would have been in my early 30s I think it is a piece of mature work.”
Alan has a habit of hitting on themes and issues ahead of time in his work which is one of the reasons Hollywood has been so keen to get the rights to Alan’s creations years after they were first written.
He said: “A lot of the things that are discussed and talked about since Fashion Beast are things that have featured more prominently in my work since then. 1985 is a good eight years since I had commenced any serious work with magic and yet there are quite lengthy sections in there connecting fashion with Shamanism, there are tarot cards running through it, The sexual politics which my work has gone on to discuss are there in embryo in Fashion Beast. It is an unusual find. It unlocks quite a few perhaps previously impenetrable things about my work, impenetrable to myself and by complete accident it has come out in Fashion Week. I don’t think either me or William are well dressed enough to have known about that.
“If this thing had come out in 1985 then nobody would have had the faintest idea what I was on about. It would have been a completely different world. Nobody would have recognised the gothic vision of the fashion world that I present in Fashion Beast. We have had Gianni Versace and his shooting which highlighted this shadow world of stalkers around the fashion industry, Alexander McQueen and his suicide which points towards the isolation of these men at the centre of the fashion empires, not a million miles away from Christian Dior that Fashion Beast was based upon.
“Most of the elements in Fashion Beast have since become a lot more recognisable apart from the nuclear winter and we are probably working on that. The background of war and environmental collapse is probably a lot more like our world at the moment than 1985.”
Bearing all that in mind it is hard to shake the idea when you pick up Fashion Beast that you are looking at an alternative version of Alan’s career - an insight into how things might have been if this had been his launchpad rather than the success of Watchmen.
The idea amuses Alan but at the end of the day he is most concerned that his readers have got something enjoyable to get stuck into.
Alan laughs: “It might have led to a whole different world in which people would have erroneously assumed that I was obsessed with fashion rather than a world in which they erroneously assumed I was obsessed with superheroes. I was really, really impressed with Fashion Beast. I read it through a couple of times just for the novelty of the experience.”
Fashion Beast is available from good bookshops and Avatar Press