melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2011-02-03 01:44 am

Victorian crossdressing

I would say the unifying themes of this post, to the extent it has any, are Victoriana, costuming, and crossdressing. Also, Things I Have Scanned. So let's get on it, shall we?

First, people wanted to see the pictures of the 1890s silk dress I was fixing last week, so here they are.

I could not find any pictures of what looked like the right dress in period, but most of the really old photos from that side of the family are with my uncle, so they might turn up?

The first actual provenance I have is a photoshoot from what, by the cars, looks to be the late 1940s/early 1950s, of what I can only describe as a steampunk theme day in downtown Salisbury, MD:

black & white photo of five people posed near two Model T Fords: a man dressed as a 19th century mechanic, one in a duster and driving goggles, one dressed as a blacksmith, one in a boater and lab coat, and a woman in a long black silk skirt & shirtwaist with a white scarf around her hair.

The woman in the dress and man in the boater sit in the Model T in front of a city riverscape.

This one doesn't have the dress in it, but it shows contemporary cars, if anybody is up to narrowing down a date better:
The man in the boater and the man in the goggles ride a Model T through a downtown street populated by late 1940s cars.

We're not sure who's wearing it in these shots, either. It could be my grandparents' good friend Marian, with her husband Jim in the lab coat. Or it could be one of my grandmother's sisters or cousins. Next time we see Marian, I am going to try to remember to bring them and ask.

My grandmother is wearing it in the next set of shots, however. These were taken in Oct 1967, for some sort of centennial (I'm not sure what it was a centennial of, since Delmarva was quite well established by 1867. Maybe it was a tricentennial and Mom-mom's group just got the 19th century? Dunno. Yes, the dress is out of period by several decades for 1867, but she wasn't the only one who went that route, and on the other hand, I'm pretty sure all the 1867-style dresses in these shots were reproductions, and the 1890s-style ones were actually vintage.

Color snapshot of a group of people in 19th century costumes posed near a pavilion and a parade float.
Color photo of three women in black dresses of the late 19th century; on the left is my grandmother in the dress from the previous photos.
Two women from the previous shot in front of the parade float.

And, okay, fine, here is a myspace-style photo of me wearing it, 2010. (The collar I have with it isn't original to the dress, but is around the same period and was also in my grandmother's things. And the dress needs some kind of collar or neckpiece, if only to hide the motheaten places on the back shoulders.)

Me, in a grainy shot, wearing the black dress with a white lace collar.

So, there you go. One dress, three generations, 70 years of cosplay. :P

Meanwhile, this was in my great-aunt's collection of random ephemera. It appears to be part of a set of art cards that illustrated the industrial and manual might of America, Carl Sandburg-style. Only. Okay. I try not to be one to police other folks' gender presentation, but. I am not the only one who doesn't believe this lumberjack is a cisgender male, am I?

FTM lumberjack on old art card.

Here are some photos of great-great-aunts-in-law wearing hats:
Two photos of a woman in pre-WWII clothing. In the first one, she is wearing a bonnet and simpering. In the second one, she is wearing a top hat and holding a riding crop with intent.

Two women in WWI-era clothing. In the first shot, they look solemn and dignified. In the second shot, they are wearing silly party hats and grinning.
...you're welcome.

Meanwhile, I have acquired another supply from my secret-source-of-free-comics-in-return-for-reviews! And they seemed to fit the theme, so, hey, since I have read them all already,a here are scans and reviews:

I saw the first volume of the new English-language Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec hardcovers sitting on one of the piles, and I may have admitted a high-pitched squealing noise. I did in fact hug it once I was told it could be mine. Repeatedly.

Adele Blanc-Sec is a writer in late 19th/early 20th century France, who finds herself drawn into the underworld of Paris, solving crimes that usually involve the supernatural or paranormal in some way. I think I may be in love with her. Look, here is Adele Blanc-Sec in her first appearance by name:
A slender woman in late Victorian clothing leans in a doorway, pointing a small gun at us, and telling us that we are captured and need not try to escape. NO. SERIOUSLY. LOVE.

...okay, I have to admit, the story itself didn't impress me much, being overly complicated and with so many characters it was impossible to keep them straight or even care about them much. (The story itself lampshaded this fact repeatedly, but that didn't actually make me able to follow the plot any better.) I am hoping it is a symptom of this being the first set of stories, and posibly also of transation. As for the new hardcover edition itself - well, while the quality of the printing and binding is great, there is basically no extra material in the book at all - not even a title page, or even any copyright history, much less any information about the comic itself or its history. Maybe this is customary in comic hardcovers these days, but I don't like it, no sir.

What I loved, loved, loved (outside Adele herself, of course, in all her super-competent, super-confident, casually crossdressing, no-nonsense, pterodactyl-fighting, letting-her-hair-down glory) was the art. Most European comics - or, at least, most European comics that make it this far West - seem to have an amazing sense of design. They use space, light and dark, line and shape, mood and motion, in a way that most American comic artists can barely dream of. Every panel in this book, I just want to study for composition and balance and chiaroscuro. And the line art style, the caricature-influenced faces, is normally something I really dislike in art, but Tardi does it with such fluidity and sense of mass - look at Adele leaning the doorway up there - that he might even change my mind about the style. If I didn't already know someone who uses Adele as her avatar I might even be tempted to throw over Commander Valentine. ^_^

The CBLDF 2010 Liberty Annual is a sampler book put out to benefit the CBLDF, which if you don't follow that, is basically OTW but for comic book artists. They mainly focus on attempts to censor comics (mostly obscenity or pornography related). The book contains 11 comic shorts and some pin-ups by professional comic artists (most of them people I've even heard of!), all of them themed, more-or-less, around freedom of speech and/or fighting the Man and his lies. The pin-ups were mostly sad, disappointed efforts by washouts like Liefeld and Miller. The shorts were mostly good, more-or-less, although a sadly depressing proportion of them interpreted freedom of speech as the right to look at large, bouncing, naked, women's breasts. (Where is the comic about how male genitalia are much more heavily censored than female in comics and art? Oh, right, wouldn't be able to publish that outside a porn comic, sigh.)

Anyway, the short that was my absolute favorite of all is the one that also happens to fit the theme of this post. It's apparently about Megaton Man, a parody superhero by Don Simpson and Paul Fricke, except that the art style really annoys me, and I'm pretty sure the things I loved about the short aren't actually there in most of his other comics. But look at these two panels!!!
A black woman in head-to-toe primary-colored spandex is talking to a woman dressed as the old Columbia symbol, who is expounding on her Swift Sword of Robber-Baron Capitalism, Steely Sandals of American Exceptionalism, and Phrygian Cap of Xenophobia.

TELL ME YOU DO NOT WANT THEM TO HAVE THEIR OWN SERIES TOGETHER.

Scarlett Takes Manhattan, by Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt, is a porn comic. I am told the creators were upset that it got filed as such, and I am not sure why, because it has a lavishly-illustrated orgy with a a naked woman in a strap-on in the foreground on the second page.

It is a porn comic set in late 19th century New York City, though, and the creators decided to embrace the concept, and follow the form of Victorian porn epics, Fanny Hill-style and all. It tells the story of an innocent, unstained young woman, born into the tenements, who is led astray by a married man, loses her position and her reputation, and descends to selling her body in squalor before she meets another man who offers her a partnership and gives her a career on the stage, whereupon she mingles with the rich and powerful, but then overreaches herself, falls from glory, and is left jaded, cynical, and alone. And like the 19th century epics, it tries to claim it has redeeming social importance by putting in some attempts at a social message among all the happy, glorious, over-the-top, amoral, kinky, non-heteronormative sex scenes and broad comedy. In a 19th century book, it would probably be something subtle and/or muddled about how the class system leaves poor women with a choice between respectability and survival. In this one, they went with Racism Is Bad And Politicians Are Corrupt Especially When They Use Racism As A Tool instead. Well, subtlety is overrated anyway. And we probably need to re-learn that lesson, America.

And actually, one of the things I like about this comic is its lack of subtlety, because if there's one thing 19th century America was not, it is subdued. Here are the panels I decided to scan from this, which are actually among the most decorous in the entire book:
A woman and a man are canoodling when the man is hit over the head with a lead pipe. In the next panel, the woman and the man with the lead pipe are happily kissing.
This is Scarlett and Daniel, the two main characters of the book. If you're the sort of person who tracks that kind of thing, Scarlett is Jewish and Daniel is FTM. (I was actually really impressed, and shouldn't've had to be, at the way Daniel is consistently drawn as unmistakably and unconcealably male. Even when he's naked and receiving oral sex. Even when he's crossdressing.)

The other three comics did not involve Victorian costuming, alas, but they did share the theme of being the three comics that had the most influence on what eventually settled in to what passes for my "art" "style": Wendy Pini, Rumiko Takahashi, and Archie Comics.

I got the first issue of the Elfquest remasters, which apparently has been out since 2003, but whatever. I realize that the Pinis are both fairly skeevy, but I found Elfquest at the library in the mid-90s, and it was the first time I'd ever encountered an American comic where the characters looked right, they looked the way the pictures in my head wanted to look if I was only good enough to get them out. (Of course, this was the period when Rob Liefeld was considered the pinnacle of American comic-book art, so possibly that wasn't much of a hurdle.) I never read past, oh, the middle of the storyline with the elves in the creepy mountain, but I copied and traced and tried to mimic the art in them so much.

Anyway. The reprint: the line art is still good! The coloring job is atrocious! The story weathered time better than I thought it would, I may have to go see if the library still has its copies.

I did the same thing with the four volumes of Ranma 1/2 and Maison Ikkoku my sister acquired gray-market around the same time, copying the images over and over again while I tried to figure out what made them resonate with me so hard. There is a lot of anime style art I hate as much as any muscle-bound mid-90s superhero, but oh, Rumiko Takahashi. So anyway, I pretty much skipped Inuyasha entirely, but her new series, RIN-NE, is basically Ranma with shinigami and spirit worlds instead of martial arts. And less shapeshifting. There is not really a lot left to say about it? I am enjoying it, as I suspect anyone who shares my fondness for the period when Ranma was the anime everybody followed, but then I never had enough Ranma to get tired of it. And I understand that there are young otaku these days who have never heard of Ranma, which hurts my head.

Oh, Archie comics. I was indifferent-to-hostile when news of the change in Archie art style came out, because Dan DeCarlo, I suspect, is why I spent so long looking for something in grown-up comics that I could not find. I was also somewhat skeptical when I heard about the big Imaginary Stories event that actually took the Archie kids into adulthood, with each volume carrying on a story set in the future in which Archie has married Veronica and one set in the future in which Archie married Betty. This was partly because I assumed the writers would flub any attempt at portraying adulthood, and partly because I had never been impressed by attempts to do longer-form stories in Archie comics.

But! I have read issue one of Archie: the Married Life now, and I actually kind of like in? In that way where I desperately want to know what happens next? Particularly in the Archie/Veronica half, which appears to be developing into a tangled, emotionally and strategically intricate story around ZONING, URBAN PLANNING, AND LOCAL POLITICS, be still my beating heart. (No, seriously, I love that stuff, and at their best the comics always tackled that sort of boring stuff surprisingly well, which this one seems to be doing so far.) The Betty story pulled me in less (possibly because I always shipped Archie/Veronica - Betty is made to stand firm on her own two feet; Archie and Veronica both need somebody to push against), but it was also much, much more a story for the Archie geek's heart, with lots of references to the less mainstream bits of the comic's canon. And all the secondary characters get their moments of love, although I was depressed (but not surprised) at yet another inevitable attempt to portray Jughead as something other than asexual.

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