By Maarten Vande Wiele
Faith sings, Hope dreams of making it as a model, and Chastity just wants to be rich and famous. And they’re all looking to find it in fashionable Paris, where everything is designer, everything luxuriates in glamour, everyone parades in head to toe couture (all neatly recorded in the footnotes). But it doesn’t take all that long to discover the sordid darkness beneath the surface glitz, and by the end of the book we’ve seen all three leads go through incredible highs and terrible lows in their quests for fame and fortune.
While we watch the girls go up through the ranks, doing whatever it takes in the process, before crashing down, hard, nasty, and all the while, the Parisian fashion world with the beautiful façade and hideously ugliness beneath blazes all about. Paris is full of every nasty little rumour you’ve ever heard, every whisper of illicit sex, the drugs, the drink, the abuse, the backstabbing, the divas, the outrageous behaviour … it’s all laid bare here, set to a riotous beat in this enjoyable black, black comedy.
(Hope, Faith, and Chastity… our three heroines in this dark comedy)
So Faith dreams of being a great singer, but finds the cut-throat world of music to be all about the star who’s willing to do whatever it takes to stay on top, and the life of an aspiring singer is harsh, cruel, and she may have to stoop as low as those who’ve been holding here back if she wants to make it.
(Faith gets her big break? Or just the start of the descent?)
Hope dreams of a life in fashion, being one of the elite, and the disfiguring scar on her face isn’t going to hold her back. Surgery might fix her face, and her face might get her noticed, but the world of modelling is cruel, dominated by those who see the models as props to be used up and cast aside. Just like everyone else in that world, she believes she’s going to be different, but her neediness, her desire to be beautiful and recognised and belove is the thing that brings her down, sucked into the bright light, a moth to a fashionable, deadly flame.
(Hope and the modelling life, the drugs, the diet, the writing on the wall so early on)
And Chastity…. oh, her parents got the name so wrong, or perhaps it was merely their parenting (I’ll leave you to be shocked at who those famous parents are). Chastity merely wants money and fame, and will do whatever it takes to get it. Within the first 20 pages you see her pull the Anna Nicole Smith move, hitched to the ancient millionaire, yet that’s the mildest, nicest, cleanest thing she’ll do.
From here, the depavity, the sex, the wilful self destruction, all in the pursuit of fame and money, gets steadily worse. And just as you think she can’t take it any further … she hatches a money and fame grabbing scheme, something beyond even the Hiltons of this world (yet) – the surgically restored virgin….
(Chastity – getting by any and all ways she can)
Paris is actually two books in one; I Love Paris, scripted by comic artist and illustrator Erika Raven, and I Hate Paris, scripted by writer Peter Moerenhout. Strange to have two different writers tackling the script, and it’s uncertain how much input Vande Wielde had in the writing process, but the themes carry through, and it’s not overly noticeable that two different voices are involved.
Where I Love Paris is full of aspiration, hope, dreams, love, sex, music, beautiful gowns and the horrible people who wear them, I Hate Paris really pulls absolutely no punches, practically glorifying in the many twists and turns in the girl’s lives as they find that the beautiful fashionista world is rotten, poisonous, and a tempting trap they’ll never escape. It goes wrong at almost every turn for them, but there’s little chance to empathise, and they take almost perverse delight in unfailingly screwing themselves over as often as the ultra-nasty world they’re drowning in attempts to.
As nasty as the themes in here are, the artwork is its beautiful opposite. I could sit and look at some of Vande Wiele’s pages for a long, long time. Artwork reminiscent of those beautiful 50s fashion design images throughout, stark black and white imagery, lots and lots of black, a thick line, sparingly used. Sure, perhaps a little clunky with the storytelling at times, and the continual closeup work of his panel design makes everything a little too claustrophobic maybe. But overall, it’s a delight to look at, and easy to read.
(Love, love, love Vande Wiele’s beautiful artwork)
Strangely the feel as I was reading Paris, full of the depravity and seeediness I’ve described, was that it just didn’t feel excessive enough. I don’t mean it didn’t focus on the lewd, crude, drug-taking, sex, back-stabbing or ultra nastiness of the fashion, music, and porn worlds, that it certainly managed.
What I mean is that emotionally, it feels clipped, truncated. There’s little time here for the emotional highs and lows you know the girls go through. Instead you merely see the wonderful/terrible things, see the reaction, and then move on, no depth, no complexity. When it deals with three women and their lives, personal, private, professional, yet pulls back from showing anything but the surface emotions, then it just felt something was missing. Perhaps that’s what Vande Wiele and his writers were going for, some commentary on the shallowness of modern life, certainly the shallowness of the worlds of showbiz and fashion. But I wanted the full thing, all the sleaze and all teh emotional hit as well.
It’s a filthy gorgeous hunk of graphic novel, to borrow a title from Scissor Sisters, perfectly described on the back cover as the very first graphic trash novel. But just like those trashy novels, it’s all surface, and lacking somewhat in the depth that could have absolutely nailed this as great. In the end, entertaining hunk of trashy fun is what it delivers, and does it all whilst looking, quite fittingly I suppose, (absolutely) fabulous.
Paris is published by Knockabout on the 21st April.