The world of fashion isn’t always one explored in superhero comics, but recently many writers and artists are changing that. Whether it’s designing and sewing superhero (or supervillain!) costumes, or juggling fighting crime and working in fashion, comics are exploring the industry and mechanics of garmentry. We looked at Scarlett Couture from Titan (previously covered by Wendy), Heroine Chic, Seamstress, and Fashion Forward. How do they fare?
How much of these comics actually has to do with garmentry?
Ginnis Tonik: With the exception of Scarlett Couture, they are all actually about garmentry. Scarlett Couture is a spy comic, and Scarlett, the spy and lead, is the daughter of a fashion mogul. Apparently, she takes “out the bad guys…with style” (as in she has the style, not the bad guys who have style), but there’s nothing new there fashion-wise. I get cranky when the word couture is used, and there is nothing couture about it. Couture is not just another word for fashion, people!
Fashion is central to Heroine Chic and Seamstress as they are both about fashion and superheroes. Fashion Forward, while centered on fashion, feels to me like the fashion is secondary to the plot. Reading it, I didn’t feel like the writer knew fashion. Heroine Chic was probably the most fashion-y to me—Tischman knows a thing or two about fashion and fashion history, aaannnnd there was a Mary Quant pun, which delighted this fashion history geek.
Paige Sammartino: Fashion definitely wasn’t the focus of Scarlett Couture. Scarlett doesn’t even get a unique costume! I liked that her role in the fashion industry was as head of security, but I wish there were more focus on her relationships with the professionals she’s protecting in her job and what risks come with the fashion industry. Scarlett is really a spy comic with fashion models in the background.
Ginnis: (mumbles) I only read the first issue of Scarlett Couture…and I barely got through that.
Paige: I also only read the first issue. I don’t think I was the target audience for it.
It felt like Fashion Forward could have taken place in any field and had a story that followed the same trajectory. In fact, considering her education and how she makes her super boots, it would have made just as much if not more sense for Sam to be a mechanical engineer with an interest in fashion. I really like the angle of the beauty and technology industries meeting since they’re so often treated as mutually exclusive fields (the old pretty/smart dichotomy), so I hope the creators play with that.
The preview pages of Seamstress have me hopeful for what’s to come. In the opening scene, we’re already looking at types of fabric and cost, as well as the “customer is always right” stress of working as a seamstress. It incorporates the business behind fashion, not just the glamorous parts everyone romanticizes, which makes it feel authentic. Heroine Chic shows its homework, too, since the characters discuss specific design elements and construction issues that people who work in the garmentry industry would know. The nods throughout to fashion history were a nice touch, too! I found it very clear why both of these comics have to take place in the fashion industry, even though superheroes and villains play an important role.
How do these comics explore positive experiences achieved through “outer beauty” (i.e., increased confidence, creative outlet, etc.)?
Ginnis: Heroine Chic is pretty explicit in the idea of fashion as power because it can make you feel good about yourself, but it also has this streak of faux-feminism where it attempts to be all “girl power and what not,” but ultimately reinforces the same old tired tropes so common to the superhero narrative.
Paige: Heroine Chic has a little bit of that Kara-and-Cat-Grant thing going on with Zoe and Dyna, where we get these on-the-nose girl power remarks in dialogue. It’s charming, but also “I-see-what-you-did-there.” However, even though we’ve only seen a little of Khate’s character so far, I do like how Dyna’s designs delight and empower her character particularly as a superheroine, and how we get a look at Khate’s history of costumes from tween to present.
Fashion Forward addresses fashion as a creative pursuit and an outlet, like when Sam is sewing through her stress with the radio blasting. Sam interacts positively with other women in the industry, which is nice to see. They share camaraderie in the workplace, and her coworkers compliment her designs instead of getting catty (though her most prominent male coworker does get catty, which is a whole other thing).
Ginnis: Which is what bothered me about Fashion Forward—it felt like a caricature of the fashion industry—a complete caricature, and that really bugged me. Contessa Caja is Lady Gaga, Wang Wang is Vera Wang, and Fellipe is the late (and great) Alexander McQueen—it was all just a little too on the nose for me. Further, the tone of Fashion Forward denigrates artistic sensibility as this sort of fussy, absurd thing while science is the sympathetic underdog here (in the form of Sam). As a person in the arts and humanities area of education, I am particularly sympathetic to that misrepresentation—it bugs.
Paige: Agreed. It plays a lot of fashion tropes totally straight, which is why I felt the setting could have been replaced with any other industry and ended up in the same place. There are definitely moments that feel funny and real, but nothing that absolutely has to do with fashion or superheroes. Even the scene I mentioned earlier, where Sam is blasting music and sewing to let off some steam, could have easily been Sam blasting music and painting, cooking, cleaning, etc., and it would have been just as charming, because it’s inherently relatable to blast your song and do something productive when you’re mad.
Sam’s investment in fashion comes second to the narrative’s investment in her abilities in technology. Since she is a seamstress, the narrative would ideally combine art and science to accentuate that; the design element is creative, but the sewing part requires a lot of measuring, construction, and machinery operation. The fashion industry is honestly the ideal setting for a comic to discuss how art and science come together. Playing the industries against one another is less fun for me as a reader because it’s a familiar story.
Fashion and the comic book medium seem like an obvious choice, but fashion is rarely put forward as a plot device or setting to the story. What are your thoughts on that?
Ginnis: Probably a lot of the sexist stuff about fashion being frivolous, but I do think it also has to do with the fact that comic art is already so time-intensive that the time and detail needed for good fashion design is not entirely feasible.
Paige: Some of it probably has to do with sewing no longer being common knowledge, too. A generation or two ago, at least one person in every household would know how to stitch up a hole in a shirt or work a sewing machine, but it’s a bit of a lost art nowadays. If fewer people have experience to draw on, it affects how many people can write about the topic with authority, which in turn affects the quality of the product.
Ginnis: Oh, good point, Paige!
What would you recommend for fashion geeks out there who like comics?
Ginnis: Anything Sophie Campbell touches. She clearly loves fashion—it is so obvious in the detail she gives her art, which comic art already gets short shafted so much that to commit to doing fashion well in a comic is a hell of a lot of work.
Paige: Create a comic of your own! There aren’t enough comics that look into fashion and sewing. It doesn’t have to be a superhero title, either; it would be cool to see a graphic novel about an alterations department or the struggles of cosplay construction. Maybe more comics about garmentry will increase readers’ interest in picking up sewing as well.
Ginnis: There’s such a great plethora of fashion illustration prior to the mainstreaming of fashion photography to draw on, too! Old Vogue covers, Erte makes me swoon still, Cecil Beaton, just so much inspiration out there, you can start with this link.