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Lost Girls by Alan Moore
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Lost Girls
by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie
Review by Karl Wolff

Personal History: Alan Moore wrote an epic erotic comic. And Lost Girls also carried with it hints of controversy. As a longtime fan of Moore, I had to see what he did with this particular genre of comics.

The History: Published in 2006, Lost Girls is still too new to have "a history," at least in the same way as Story of O or Naked Lunch. Those two novels were controversial and shocking when they first hit bookstores, but have since accrued literary respectability and legitimacy with the addition of so many years. Lost Girls isn't even ten years old, therefor I will hold off on any premature announcements to its status as a classic.

The exact nature of the controversy is in its depiction of child sexuality. Without the proper contextualization, the words "child sexuality" comes across as shocking and horrific. This requires unpacking and seeing it within the narrative framework of Lost Girls. Moore and Gebbie have created a work that explores an erotic world based on the fictionalized lives of three protagonists from children's literature. Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Wendy from Peter Pan. Here is what Alan Moore has to say about this, "if we'd have come out and said, 'well, this is a work of art,' they would have probably all said, 'no it's not, it's pornography.' So because we're saying, 'this is pornography,' they're saying, 'no it's not, it's art,' and people don't realize quite what they've said." (quote from The Forbidden Planet International Blog Log). The whole art versus pornography conundrum, while saving the authors and readers the headache of legal prosecution, does little to solve the issue.

This is what makes the arts different from the sciences. Because of the slippery subjectivity of artistic intentions, reader reactions, and critical interpretation, things can get ugly when butting against the ferocious consequences of the law and psychology. Back when I began this essay series, I cited Susan Sontag's "The Pornographic Imagination." In Sontag's influential essay, she works diligently to support erotica and pornography as a legitimate literary genre. She also goes out of her way to avoid discussing either legal or psychological aspects of the works she selected. But (and this is key) the works she discussed were prose. Lost Girls is a comic, a medium built upon an interplay between words and image. It is these images where things get dicey.

At CONvergence this year I attended a panel titled "Fetishes: Gone Too Far?". During the discussion, one of the key points was the interrelated issues of controversy versus legality. Like William S. Burroughs, I hold an ideological position of "First Amendment absolutist." What this means is that I believe artists should have almost no restrictions in terms of subject matter. In a related legal case, Neil Gaiman went so far as to assert that comic book characters have no claims to legal personhood. Comic book characters do not exist in the same way that fictional characters represented by a film or stage actor exist. And in cases like these, where someone is prosecuted for possessing a comic where underage characters have sex, is a dangerous precedent. One shouldn't confuse moral judgments (what said person does with said comics) with legal writ. What is moral and what is legal isn't always a 1:1 ratio. This holds especially true in a multi-ethnic, multicultural pluralistic democracy like the United States.

But with any absolutist position, this has a number of caveats. This circles back to context, genre, and child sex. The First Amendment protects speech not acts. Lost Girls is work of fiction and, as such, is legally protected free speech. This isn't a how-to manual on how to solicit children for sexual acts. And even with the protection of the First Amendment, it is clear that the depictions are artistic renderings. When it comes to photographs or filmic representations, the context changes entirely, since that brings up a host of issues like age of consent, coercion, criminal enterprise, and more.

I spend a lot of space discussing the context and particulars because one should be able to read Lost Girls without fear of legal prosecution.

Despite the sensational subject matter, Lost Girls is a groundbreaking erotic comic that Moore and Gebbie use to explore issues of genre, history, and narrative.

The Book: Lost Girls centers its narrative around an Austrian hotel on the eve of The Great War. At the hotel we meet Wendy Durling, Dorothy Gale, and Alice Fairchild. As the story progresses, Wendy, Dorothy, and Alice recount erotic tales from their childhood. We see eroticized origin stories. Dorothy masturbates during a tornado. Wendy meets a strange boy in the park who initiates her (and her young brothers) into the world of adult sexuality. Alice engages in sexual escapades with a schoolmistress named Mrs. Redman (a sexualized version of The Red Queen). They continue regaling each other with their erotic autobiographies admist sexual shenanigans at the Austrian hotel.
In a way Lost Girls comes across like slash fiction, the sexualized version of fan fiction. This is relevant since Moore and Gebbie are using characters and situations from classic literature.

But Moore and Gebbie further complicate things. The hotel proprietor named Monsieur Rougeur lends the women The White Book, an anthology of erotic pastiches allegedly written and illustrated by such luminaries as Aubrey Beardsley, Guilliame Apollinaire, Oscar Wilde, and Egon Schiele. Near the end of Lost Girls, the specter of war hovers ever closer. Archduke Francis Ferdinand is assassinated and various European powers prepare an imminent war. The husbands of the three female protagonists leave to attend to the immediate crisis. The hotel is emptied but for Dorothy, Wendy, and Alice, and the lusty hotel staff. It is during this orgy that Monsieur Rougeur recounts his own origin story. He tells about his life as a master forger and pederast. In typical Moore fashion, the comic depicts three simultaneous storylines. The first is a story from The White Book; the second is Rougeur's life story; and the third is the present-day hotel orgy. But because Rougeur is a master forger, we don't know whether he is telling the truth with his story. And this relates back to the alleged authenticity of the art in The White Book. Lost Girls exists simultaneously as an epic piece of slash fiction and as an avant-garde exploration of narrative itself.

The very final scenes involve German soldiers breaking a mirror (a prop present in the prologue) and a slow pull back that reveals the entire narrative was a dream by a dying soldier in a trench. One recalls the endings of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and : the common ending trope all these works had was that it had been a dream.

The Verdict: As I stated previously, I'm avoiding any verdict saying Lost Girls is a classic. Too early to tell. Although this will be yet another example within Alan Moore's oeuvre that scholars can puzzle over, dissect, and contextualize. Despite its controversial subject matter, it holds its own both within Moore's body of work and against other erotic comics.

http://www.cclapcenter.com/2014/08/the_nsfw_files_lost_girls_by_a.html ( )
  kswolff | Aug 8, 2014 |
Blah blah controversial blah. There are loads of other reviews in which you can read about that aspect of Lost Girls. It’s probably obvious to most people on my friends list which side of the debate I’d be on and so here I’d rather just talk about what I thought was good and not. (Very late to the party here – quite a few friends had copies years ago, but as with Alan Moore comics in general, people were reluctant to lend them to anyone. I later became wary of it because technically some of the contents became illegal in the UK in 2010 – but it appears to be a tacit exception because it’s still sold by mainstream booksellers; possibly it’s classified as art although it does identify itself as porn.)

And this graphic novel is silly like porn is silly (it does deliberately identify itself as porn): every occasion is an excuse for sex, the likes of room-service staff are jumped on and welcome it (much of it’s set in a hotel where the three main characters happen to meet as adults in 1914), and generally if anyone’s not sure at first they are very soon afterwards. It’s working to a different set of conventions from literary stories – those of mainstream pre-gonzo porn films, the shagging-the-plumber sort of thing.

It didn’t, as I assumed it would, take the original stories it’s based on (Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan) and simply put sex in them – it rewrote them in such a way that the original environments and events seemed like symbols for the main characters’ early sexual experiences. This worked best with Peter Pan, because it has a fairly obvious sexual / romantic undertone between the main characters anyway. The idea of Captain Hook as a flasher and sex offender also fitted very well. (Though the story could have done with Tiger Lily as a real character, not just a dress-up costume. And I didn’t like the way grown-up Wendy looked so severe.) Whilst I really liked Moore & Gebbie’s characterisation of Dorothy – she’s so sweet and enthusiastic, regardless of her filthy adventures - her back story, a series of seductions of various farmhands, wasn’t as inventive as the others and more could have been done with the original IMO. Alice’s story jarred slightly in the narrative, because experiences of abuse which were clearly presented as traumatic for the character, complete with dissociation, appear in a narrative which otherwise is a straightforward sort of porn in which characters enjoy themselves without consequences. (Maybe I expect it to be either ‘porn’ or ‘a story of the characters’ sex lives with the bad bits left in’ plus possible commentary on Victorian / Edwardian hidden sleaze, rather than the mixture which it is. Sex is often liberating in Lost Girls, but not always; it's still a somewhat complicated force.) Some of Alice’s young-adult experiences (kept in the household of a dissolute society lesbian, a corollary for the Red Queen) are also rather similar to episodes in Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet.

I thought there was quite a pointless amount of incest in the various stories where it wasn’t relevant. (I know it’s a very common motif in porn because of the taboo, I’m just one of those people it does nothing for and who thereby doesn’t quite get it. In the case of the main characters it creates possible interpretations of all of them as victims, which is unwelcome, and which seems antithetical to the sex-positive ideals of the book.) Several of the storylines would have worked just as well – better to some of us - if characters had been unrelated, or just cousins which would have been quite common at that time (e.g. Annabel/Tinkerbell and Peter). In some instances it was possible to forget about it or just mentally rename/derelate characters, as the writing was otherwise pretty good or even occasionally somehow transcended that aspect.

The authors present some argument in the narrative (quite meta) accompanying the characters’ reading of some late Victorian incest-porn: “It is a crime, but this is the idea of incest, no? …It is quite monstrous, except that they are fictions…Fiction and fact, only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them…if this were real, it would be horrible…but they are fictions. They are uncontaminated by effects and consequences. Why, they are almost innocent.” (With clear and habitual understanding of the consequences from other sources, a very occasional narrative without them is surreal.) Yet one of its most potentially powerful arguments is left less clear by being presented only in pictures: the panels of the dying soldier in the trenches in the last pages. Evidently it asks the question why so many people consider it okay to present war, violence and killing as glorious and/or fun, whilst considering various degrees of sexual activity (legal or otherwise) not okay, or damaging if shown in similar ways.

I wasn’t all that keen on Gebbie’s main art style in the narrative – though it does have a good way of showing the squashiness of the human body – I prefer more clearly delineated pictures and I did like many of the drawings when the outlines were sharper. (Surely it is the case with comics that such a large number of drawings are produced that it would be impossible for all to be perfect, and that there would be no panels in which characters don’t have odd faces, for instance.) There are so many styles in here though and that’s what, cumulatively, is impressive, to produce and pastiche all these. Her Art Nouveau style pictures were particularly lovely and detailed. The messy haziness of the predominant style worked beautifully, however, in the elegiac scene in which characters have an opium-fulelled orgy on an island (complete with colonial imagery) at the same time Duke Franz Ferdinand is shot: also the loveliest writing in the book as a world slips away for ever.
And the spell was broken, just like that. As we came to ourselves we noticed how cold it had grown, a winter breath insinuated in the grass that paled the flowers and slowed the hearts of dragonflies.
Something had changed. A certain inclination of the light, a shift of pressure in the air. Without the burning armour of our lust, I’m sure we all felt naked then. Three goose-fleshed women in a wood, suddenly awkward, unsure of their grace, abandoned by desire.
Something quite glorious was finished with for good.
A season turned.
We hardly spoke, returning to the boat.
The sun had all but gone, leaving a somber, elegiac light towards the West. No birds were flying overhead…
There were no birds to fly.
( )
2 vote antonomasia | Jul 6, 2014 |
Very Alan Moore, with his telltale kinks. flaws, and foibles. some of the art is gorgeous. some of the content is deeply disturbing. The writing itself, well, it's Moore.
  sageness | Feb 7, 2014 |
Not for the youngsters. Good. Interesting. Of literary merit. Sexy and provocative. But very, very adult. NC-17. Just FYI. ( )
  piccoline | Feb 5, 2014 |
Porn and fun in equal measures here. Moore reinterprets the stories of Alice (from Wonderland), Dorothy (from Oz) and Wendy (from Neverland) as the fevered dreams of adolescent girls. But first he brings the three together in the last halcyon days before WWI, drops them in a hotel together, and has them fall in serious lust with one another. The re-imaginings of the original stories are very clever, very salacious, and seriously twisted. The add-on bits with no reference to the originals are not as interesting.

I think that if you prefer your girlish icons unsullied, you'd best stay as far away from this as possible. On the other hand, if Shel Silverstein's song "Polly in a porny with a pony" makes you giggle madly, you might want to pick this up.

Includes most every taboo sexual act you can think of, and some you can't.

My quibble is with the drawings- the women aren't consistently shaped, nor are their faces the same from panel to panel. Odd little lumps grow out of their sides and then disappear, proportions seem... off somehow. Perhaps it's intentional, to add to the dreamlike feeling. I don't read a lot of graphic-novel porn, so I don't know what the conventions are.

I thought it was fun, and the ending managed to be poignant and lovely, and that surprised me too. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
So "Lost Girls" is shocking, it's lovely, it's ambitious, it's grandly clever -- but is it any good? Yes: It's very, very good, if flawed. Parts of it are some of the most extraordinary stuff Alan Moore has ever written; parts of it made me want to tear my own eyes out. (Some of them are the same parts.)
added by Shortride | editSalon, Douglas Wouk (Aug 30, 2008)
 
It’s a trifle, an aberration in the market to have such forgettable erotica bound in such an upscale presentation. It’s meant to be life-affirming, but the compulsion to find sex behind every element of these classic children’s stories strikes me as sad and old-fashioned, like a randy elder uncle who isn’t getting enough.
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alan Mooreprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gebbie, Melindamain authorall editionsconfirmed
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An graphic novel that adapts "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," "Peter Pan and Wendy," and "The Wizard of Oz," and depicts the sexual exploits of Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy after the three ladies meet at a Swiss hotel in the 1910s.

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