|Creating Costume - words or pictures?
||[Oct. 6th, 2011|06:09 am]
I saw a sketch of Lady Sybil Ramkin-Vimes on Diane's Tumbler account last night, and for once it wasn't (much) influenced by a Paul Kidby drawing. That resurrected a thought I've often had: to what extent do costumers, cosplayers and fan-artists feel constrained by professional visualisations of written characters and regard them as the "official" version, no deviations allowed?
D's Star Trek Next Generation novel Dark Mirror originated from a discussion in Dublin's Gotham Cafe pizzeria (back in 1991 when it was still Independent Pizza South) over, as the book's acknowledgement puts it,
a large with extra cheese, extra sauce, pepperoni and hot chilies, and a medium with extra cheese, double garlic, hot chilies, and onions, along with two bottles of Orvieto Secco and a whole lot of Ballygowan water... The discussion had nothing to do with pizza, or (originally) a novel, or even STNG; I was speculating over what the Mirror Universe version of the Wrath of Khan-period uniform (the maroon wrapover tunic one) would look like, since no such thing had ever been made "canonical" by appearance on-screen (the ONLY acceptable ST canon is TV and film; novels, comics, games etc. don't count, and as far as we knew, no Mirror uniform of the WoK style had appeared in any of those, either.)
I was holding out for all-black with silver insignia, prompting an inevitable "Black and silver; it's always black and silver with you, isn't it?" response. A couple of sketches on the back of a napkin showed that black WoK Starfleet uniforms would look more than a bit like German WW2 Panzer-crew kit, and it was later clear that I wasn't the only one thinking that way: the flight-crew uniforms in Starship Troopers were deliberately based on German WW2 self-propelled gun crew tunics; same design, grey instead of black.
Once D suggested piratical thigh-high boots instead of the "official" calf-high ones, we had started down the road that led to the Next Generation novel (my English Literature Honours Degree helped write the bit of very nasty Mirror Merchant of Venice, giving Shakespeare the lavish love for gore seen in Jacobean revenge tragedy. Diane re-wrote it, though I think mine was best.) :-) And we still haven't seen my take on the Mirror uniform, because late Classic Trek never went there…
Star Trek, Star Wars, StarGate and many other Star things, as well as Aliens, Pirates of the Caribbean etc. and lots and lots of anime are all visual inspiration came first, so costumers, cosplayers and the rest are in large part restricted, if that's the right word, to representing what's been shown on-screen with painstaking exactitude.
Sometimes it's so painstaking that the fan-made costumes are of infinitely higher quality than "the real thing" (by which I don't mean the imaginative stuff, that's not real at all, but what you'll find hanging up in the studio Wardrobe Department.) Anime and cartoon costumes seem to stretch a bit further: there are few things quite as dopey-looking as the "Clodbuster sword" (it's apparently a metal plank with a handle) taken from its cartoon and made (ahem) real. But there was also a bunch of very fetching young ladies dressed as the humanized (thankfully non-furry) form of the new-version My Little Pony. D, having written for the original series, was Much Amused by my never-seen-before interest. in this aspect of the show.. :-P
However, too often when it comes to costuming or drawing characters which were originally words on paper, there seems to be a lot of the same default-to-professional-visual-source. Discworld characters are based on Paul Kidby art - I can't recall any based on Josh Kirby's chaotic (my opinion) and inaccurate (Word of God aka Terry) covers - though there’s increasing influence from the Sky TV adaptations, even more steampunky and neo-Victorian. German fan "Otto Chriek" has built an incredible, fully-operational iconograph – wood and brass exterior, digicam and mini-printer interior; the only thing that doesn’t work is the imp! But even this looks based at least in part on one of the elaborate Kidby drawings. (Wenn ich falsch bin, Robert, entschuldigen Sie mich!)
The clothing and accessories of Harry Potter characters originate exclusively from the movie series (at least so it seems, because I haven't read any of the books, so must default here myself;) and of course the standard Lord of the Rings image isn't Tolkien but Jackson, despite years of art from other sources, some high-quality, others…not so much. Were there ever costumes based on the ridiculous Bakshi toon? If there were, and I saw them, my memory has purged itself and thankfully so. I'm fairly sure that needles and thread have already been busy on Game of Thrones costumes derived from the recent TV show, even though George R. R. Martin's own descriptions are more than adequate.
Certainly "representing the screen/cover/supplementary portfolio material" properly means that the costumer isn't relying on a masquerade audience (and judging panel) having read the appropriate paragraph from a big novel or long series before deciding if their work is accurate or not. But when it's a hall costume worn for fun rather than formal masquerade (which are often amazingly elaborate and complex) then I wonder why people don’t swing out more.
Is it (a) reticence: no matter how carefully the writer describes characters and clothing, is a costume or drawing that lacks "professional visual imprimatur" somehow incorrect?
Or is it (treading carefully here, masqueraders are my friends) (b) a subtle sort of laziness, skilfully recycling a pre-packaged image to avoid the work of visualising a writer’s words in your own way? (with a sizeable unadmitted dash of (a) lurking at the back as well?)
I have a feeling this will be discussed more thoroughly at the next convention I go to – and if the subject hasn't already been done to death somewhere, it strikes me as a good topic for a panel. Any con organiser who wants to use it can be my guest. I’d be curious to hear the result!