Best Shots Extra: Scarlett Takes Manhattan
Review: Scarlett Takes Manhattan
Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt
Molly Crabapple's work is like no other—she captures a different place and time and bends it to her will, twisting Victorian and Gilded Age images into something new, and lifting a curtain to a time period that has a reputation for being stuffy and oh-so-proper.
Scarlett Takes Manhattan is not proper. Scarlett blows a kiss at propriety as she breezes past, taking the show business world by storm and reinventing herself over and over on the way. Leavitt and Crabapple blend period language with frankly sexual art—this is not a comic for your kids—but in between there are issues of class and race and religion, the struggle of vaudeville to keep itself safe from the censors, and the usual problems that happen when poor folks start to make a little money. Scarlett critiques impractical clothing and men who think they have a right to women, and celebrates performance and the body.
Scarlett starts off as Shifra Helfgott, an innocent girl who loses her mother and is left to make her way in the world. She tries menial labor, but soon realizes that she enjoys “the erotic arts” better—and performing even more than that. Her gender-bending romance with Daniel D'Lovely leads her to the vaudeville stage, where she becomes known as “The Girl Who Did THAT,” though Daniel knows what Britney Spears and Paris Hilton are just now learning, which is that THAT is only good for so long.
She plays with fire both literally and figuratively, getting involved with politicians who want her pretty face and luscious curves to carry their cynical message, but loyalty (and perhaps some greed) bring her back to the vaudeville she loves and the libertine lifestyle she won't give up.
The story is fun, but Crabapple's art is enough reason to drop the cash on this book. Each page is filled with little details that you have to look back over several times to catch, and the splash pages beg to be sold as posters. People might want to lump Crabapple in with the steampunkers, but her style is all her own, no matter what her subject matter.
Scarlett Takes Manhattan makes no apologies for what it is. It's a lovely little romp, but it's also a story of a woman who does what she wants when she wants to. The sense of humor and the attention to perfect period details keep the book light, but my favorite thing about it, when it comes down to it, is that sexuality in all its myriad forms is always a positive for the characters. Comics are full of sexy women wearing skimpy clothing; that's nothing new. What is new is the amount of control that Scarlett has over her own body. It's that that may be truly frightening.