The Stylish And Stylised Return Of John K. Snyder’s Fashion In Action

by Richard Bruton

The world’s highest-priced and best-dressed celebrity protection agency.

That’s the deal behind Fashion In Action, the fashion-forward, female led action comic, created by John K. Snyder III back in 1985, where the styles were as diverse as the cast, the villain’s wonderfully over the top, and the art looked incredibly different from the vast majority of comics of the time.

Yes, reading it now, it feels somewhat dated, but that’s more in the storytelling and density of the artwork. Stylistically, thematically, it’s aged far, far better than much that came after it.

The thing is, at the time, Fashion In Action was part of a small movement of comics where style and design played a huge part. I’m thinking of Dean Motter, Seth, Paul Rivoche on Mr X, Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg, The Pander Brothers on Matt Wagner’s Grendel, Dakota North by Martha Thomases and Tony Salmon, all incredibly stylish things from around the time.

But, Fashion In Action is notable for many things, in addition to this glorious sense of style.

Firstly, it was also well ahead of its time in terms of the cast. Frances Knight, with her eye-patch and styled to perfection, led her all-female team, where fashion and style might have been the order of the day, but they dressed with style and practicality, rather than the standard 80s female comic fashions of pneumatic spandex body condoms and far too much flesh. Fashion In Action’s cast always dress the part, style with function, beautifully done by Snyder.

Fashion In Action was a strip first published, by Eclipse Comics, in 1985. Now, collected in one place, you get the complete Fashion In Action, with the back-up strips from Tim Truman’s Scout (issues 1-8, 1985-86), and two specials, Fashion In Action Summer Special (1986), and Fashion In Action Winter Special (1987). Incredibly, given the artistic talent on show from the off, it was John K. Snyder’s very first pro comics work.

It’s a fascinating thing to look back on, both to revisit something I loved in younger times, and to look at the change that’s taken place in comics since the late 80s. To give you some idea, here’s the very first page of Fashion In Action…

It’s quite incredibly dense, isn’t it? The sheer amount of work on the page, the complexity of art, the overwhelming number of word balloons. It feels too much for eyes that are now more used to an open page, the modern look of the comic page with fewer words, less going on. Now, granted, some of this is down to this being John K. Snyder’s very first published work but, even on that first page, there’s a real stylised beauty about it, dense and in your face though it might be.

And that’s the big take-away from Fashion In Action, it’s an amazingly stylish and stylised piece of work. It’s also something that, within a very few pages, really sees Snyder’s art transform, the learning curve he’s on is simply amazing.

The thing that immediately springs out, after just a couple of dozen pages, is the Walt Simonson stylings, all the angular and dynamic figure work, the complex, creative, but, ultimately, well designed and flowing page layouts.

But, Snyder’s development is stunning. Compare that first page with these beauties, just a little further on…

Now those are just gorgeous, don’t you think? Just a couple of examples of how far Snyder’s art develops in so short a time.

As far as the tales in here go, the first, written as the back-up series to Scout does suffer from the part-work writing and episodic nature. Here it’s all about concept and watching Snyder develop his style so incredibly fast. It’s also deliciously over the top, as Doctor Cruel and his psychopathic protege, Roxanne, mastermind a plot to replace top celeb Johnny Mars with a robot doppelganger, complete with a toxic serum in his palm to turn anyone he shakes hands with into an ape. Yep, wonderfully, delightfully weird stuff.

In book 2, A Force Of Habit, and book three, Living In The Past, the material comes from the standalone summer and winter specials, and you can see Snyder’s writing benefit from being able to stretch out, freed from the confines of the short, staccato pacing of the Scout back-ups. Living In The Past, particularly, has a complex, clever plot, with Knight tracking down Doctor Cruel whilst her team uncover a secret of her past. The parallel storytelling shows just how far Snyder had come in such a short time.

Sadly, that was that for Fashion In Action. It was a radically different thing, well worth reevaluating if you remember it from the time, well worth taking a look at if you have any interest in stylish, fashionable, female led comics.

Oh, and let’s not forget the extras here, including the Fashion In Action paperdolls, a feature of each comic, lovingly reproduced here, alongside features and articles putting the work into context

Fashion In Action Collection, written, drawn, colored by John K. Snyder III. With co-writer (book 1) Chris Fauver, co-colorist (book 3) Jane Doe. Published by Bedside Press, edited by Hope Nicholson.

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