Editor’s Note [AL]: Earlier in the day, we ran this interview without knowledge that prior to the article’s release, the Couture Kickstarter had been cancelled. We regret any confusion this may have caused. Please see below for a statement from Dani Colman made available as an update to backers.
Hello Couture supporters,
With 17 days left in the campaign, we’re making the very difficult and unpleasant choice to cancel funding for Couture. This isn’t because we don’t believe in the project, appreciate your support or want to make the book: right now, it’s just a case of numbers. Kickstarter projects follow a very predictable trajectory, and sadly, we’re just falling significantly short of where we need to be at this stage to reach our goal.
It’s hard to say exactly why that is. One of the reasons to pause now instead of struggling along for the next 17 days is to give ourselves time to analyse the campaign so that we can come back stronger. Ultimately, we’re still going to make a beautiful book of comics inspired by iconic fashion. We’re just going to take a break to regroup.
It has also come to our attention that someone has been maliciously spreading misinformation about writer Dani Colman, and in some cases individually targeting people who have promoted the campaign. Given that this is someone against whom Dani had to take legal action for stalking several years ago – and especially in light of what recently happened to Chelsea Cain – we are taking online harassment extremely seriously. No one should have to deal with harassment for being part of or supporting a creative project, so the decision to cancel funding now is also in the interest of protecting our collaborators and supporters against any kind of escalation.
When we know what the next step is for Couture, we’ll let you know here. This isn’t the end of the road: it’s just a little detour! Right now, we’re going to take a little break to enjoy the holidays, but we’ll be back in the New Year with more fashion, more art, and the next stage in this incredible journey from crazy idea to beautiful book. Until then, we wish you all happy holidays, and a fond – and fashionable – farewell.
Writer Dani Colman (editor of Black Jack Ketchum, ODY-C) is putting her love of fashion to the page with a new Kickstarter project, Couture: A Comics Collection. Colman penned 15 short stories inspired by fashion collections from Christian Dior to Alexander McQueen, and then recruited comic artists like Marguerite Sauvage, Kevin Wada, Jen Bartel, and more to visualize them. The Kickstarter runs through Nov. 18.
Where did the inspiration for a fashion-inspired collection of stories come from?
Dani Colman: I can probably blame the whole thing on Alex De Campi! I met Alex at Phoenix Comic Con 2015, when Archie vs Predator was coming out, and she told me about sneaking real-life fashion into the pages of Archie vs Predator. She actually went through the first couple of issues with a Sharpie and annotated which characters were wearing what, down to the specific designer and collection – I still have those issues! I’d loved fashion and comics separately for a long time, but that was the first time I’d seen them coexist in that way. I dove into that intersection of fashion and comics, reading books, interviewing creators and even running panels, and when I decided to put together a collection of short comics, it was clear from the outset that fashion had to be the theme. Not only had I explored fashion and comics in a way I felt very few other people had done; most of the people I really wanted to work with I’d met through interviews and panels on the subject!
How does your background connect you to both of these worlds?
Dani Colman: I came to fashion very young, and kind of by necessity: I’ve always been small for my age, so I taught myself first to tailor the clothes I bought, then to make clothes from scratch. I taught myself to sew by seeking out detailed breakdowns of garments – often books and articles on the restoration of vintage clothing for museums – and reverse-engineering the techniques. I devoured books on fashion history and loved watching movies with lavish costume design, and before I really formed an appreciation of fashion design as an art form, I actually had aspirations as a costume designer for film or theatre. That all got put on the back burner when I left home – leaving my sewing machine behind, sadly – and I explored storytelling in film, animation, and finally comics. My interest in comics went from 0-60 thanks to a really great writing class I took while I was studying animation; I befriended the teacher and he introduced me to this whole world of sequential storytelling, which was a medium I quickly learned to love writing for. Since then I’ve helped him sell his books, I’ve contributed to two Image books, I’ve spent a little time as press, and now I even teach my own writing class.
The interest in fashion never went away while I was entering the world of comics, but without a lot of time and resources to devote to clothing design, it was hard to figure out what to do with it beyond continuing to read and study fashion at every chance I got. It wasn’t until very recently that I realised I could bring these two passions together in a way that really satisfied my love for both.
Was there a particular artist and designer/collection pairing you especially wanted to see?
Dani Colman: In a perfect world I’d pair Joelle Jones with mid-century Dior, but sadly I didn’t have a chance to ask her until shortly after she signed her exclusive with DC – and by “shortly” I mean a matter of hours! Comfort Love and Adam Withers are working with a story inspired by Thierry Mugler, which feels like a particularly great fit: Mugler’s couture is so weird and conceptual, each garment feels like a mini-story in itself. Comfort and Adam are masters of character design, and there’s a little of the weird and conceptual in all of their work, so I know that they’ll do an amazing job of teasing complex and relatable characters out of these garments without losing any of the strangeness that makes them so appealing.
How were artists selected and paired with stories? Were any stories written with particular artists in mind?
Dani Colman: I’m a pretty visual thinker, so when I write I usually have some idea of what style I’d like the story to be in. In most cases I’ve sent each artist a curated selection of stories to choose from, so they’ll pick from the two or three that I think best fit their style. That said, there isn’t a single artist on this book who isn’t talented and versatile, and some of the stories I’m most excited about are the ones where an artist has picked the story I least expected them to! For example, I originally sent Jen Bartel a spy story inspired by Jean-Paul Gaulthier, thinking she’d have fun with the setting and the crazy costume changes. It just wasn’t resonating with her, and she asked to do the fairy tale inspired by Alexander McQueen instead. Ultimately, I’m really glad that she did! She has some gorgeous fairy-tale and fantasy illustrations in her portfolio, and there’s a warmth and a richness to her work that I think will really elevate this strange little story in a beautiful and unexpected way. Plus, when Claudia Balboni joined the project later on, she went straight for the Gaulthier story – Claudia played with genre so creatively in Black Jack Ketchum that I can’t wait to see what she does with a spy story.
Do you think the intersection of these two concepts – comics and fashion – has a large built-in audience?
Dani Colman: I wouldn’t have thought so a year ago, but then two things happened. First, I got to attend the Her Universe Fashion Show at SDCC 2015; the show was staged in a massive ballroom, and it was packed. Hundreds of people had shown up to see aspiring designers put their own sartorial stamp on geek culture, and the energy in the room – not to mention the quality and imagination in the clothes – was just amazing. Then, this year, I ran the “Fashion, Comics and the Rise of Geek Chic” panel at both ECCC and NYCC, where we got comics creators together to talk about fashion in comics, fashion inspired by comics, and the rise of cosplay. Both times we packed the room, got great banter going between the panellists, and had some amazing questions from the audience: people were name-checking designers and calling out the specific fashion influences in popular comics, comparing popular street style blogs and Pinterest boards…I think the audience for both fashion and comics is much bigger than you might expect! Particularly among cosplayers, who have to study fashion as they learn how to construct the garments they’ll wear to shows, there’s a real appreciation for fashion as an art – and even a narrative – form.
What comics do you think best reflect the influence fashion has had on the industry?
Dani Colman: You can’t talk about fashion’s influence on comics without mentioning The Wicked + The Divine, which is unquestionably the most stylish book on the shelves. Kieron and Jamie don’t just “get” contemporary fashion: they really understand how style and character inform each other. Whether a character in their books looks fabulous or like they threw on whatever was nearest the bed in the morning, it’s always for a reason. Fashion isn’t just about being “on trend”: it’s about personal expression, and the books that best reflect fashion’s influence are the ones where the creators understand that and use clothing to tell us more about the characters.
Funnily enough, you can also track fashion’s influence on comics by looking at superheroes, particularly the ones who have been around for a while. Even the most iconic costumes are always undergoing revisions: the big costume changes (like Captain Marvel’s flight suit) are the ones we remember, but tiny changes tell you something about the influences on that character too. Wonder Woman is a great example, particularly with all the recent think-pieces about her costume and her appointment as a UN honorary ambassador: her costume changes over the years are like a timeline for what types of fashion we’ve associated with “strong women”. In the ’40s, she wore culottes – wide-legged shorts worn by female athletes; in the ’80s and ’90s, her outfit was influenced by aerobics wear, and the handful of times she’s been given pants have coincided pretty closely with important “pants” moments in fashion and feminism, like the riot grrrl and punk rock feminism of the mid-’90s. Today her costume has the leather breastplate and sectioned skirt that we associate with gladiators, which also brings it in line with recent collections from Balmain, Balenciaga and Herve Leger – all designers whose clothes you often see on visibly ambitious and independent women.
For readers who aren’t as familiar with the fashion collections or designers that inspire the stories, are you including images or art to help provide that context?
Dani Colman: And how! The book itself will have interstitial pages between the stories, that will provide a little context about the fashion and how we got from couture to comic. Really, though, the world of fashion – even our relatively limited look at it – is so rich that the backmatter for one book just isn’t enough space to do it justice! That’s why we’re actually creating a digital companion volume to Couture to dig deeper into the fashion that inspired the stories. Titled Atelier (for the workshops in which haute couture garments are crafted), the companion book will include process pages, character designs, director’s commentary from myself and the artists, and just about anything you can think of to provide as complete a picture as possible of the fashion behind the stories, and how we got from one to the other. We’re even working with Jeff Trexler of the Fashion Law Institute to license images from the designers and design houses themselves – I’m really hoping we can track down some original sketches of the garments so that we can show the whole cycle of drawing, to garment, and back to drawing again.
What was the process for connecting the designer collections with the stories you created? For example, the Kickstarter page says Elsa Schiaparelli’s Circus Collection inspired a horror story about Death visiting a circus. Do you start with the collection’s title, a mood, or even a time period?
Dani Colman: It varies from collection to collection, and some were definitely easier than others. The Circus Collection was one of the easier ones, because the fashion acted as a kind of narrative skeleton for a story setting – the Hartford Circus Fire – that I’d wanted to play with for years. With that one, as soon as I saw the clothing, the story fell right into place. Others were much harder, and involved a lot of research. Marguerite Sauvage’s story, based on Galliano’s beautiful Art Nouveau collection for Dior, was one of those. The collection itself is a key moment in modern couture, so I knew I had to include it in the book, but it wasn’t until I read about Galliano and his influences that I found the story. The collection was inspired by Marchesa Luisa Casati, who was a “quaintrelle” – a woman so heavily invested in the arts that she desired to be thought of as a living work of art herself. That led me to the main character, a painting who literally comes to life; the Art Nouveau influences in the clothing gave me the setting; and the rest was digging into the archives of my brain for literary influences I might be able to add to the mix and coming up with The Tailor of Gloucester, a Beatrix Potter book I loved as a child. That’s been the process for most of the stories: while the clothing itself offers a setting or a general sense of the story, the background and research are where I find the real meat of the narrative.
What advantages do you have in going the Kickstarter route?
Dani Colman: The biggest advantage is undoubtedly creative freedom. While it’s possible a publisher might have gone for this concept, it’s doubtful they’d have let me write every single one of the stories, or choose my collaborators in the way that I have. There’s also speed: saving the money to pay artists and print books out of pocket would have taken a prohibitively long time, whereas this way we can raise the money in one big crowdfunding push, and then go straight into production. No one has to work on spec, and the cost burden of the book is shared among the people who actually want to read it!
I also love interacting with the backers – the people who will be the book’s readers. In traditional publishing you have to be very careful about what you say before the book comes out, because there’s always the worry that giving too much away before the book’s release will hurt sales. With crowdfunding, being open about what you’re doing is built into the process: while we’re still keeping a few surprises up our sleeves for release, it’s also a lot of fun getting to talk about how the book is being made, and why we’re making the decisions we are. So far the backers have responded really well to our updates, particularly the story reveals. I think the success of a book like this depends so much on people understanding how we’re making fashion and comics play with each other on the page, so having a medium to discuss that as part of the crowdfunding process is really rewarding.