Alan Moore's Girls Gone Wilde

Watchmen creator's decades-in-the-making (porno)graphic opus sees release

A beautiful dirty book 16 years in the making, writer Alan Moore and artist Melinda Gebbie's luminous (porno)graphic novel Lost Girls is to erotic literature what Moore's now classic 1987 Watchmen (with Dave Gibbons) was to the superhero scene. Each busts the frames of its respective genre with formal precision; each reflects upon its own ways and means through books within the book; and, most importantly, each kicks great writing into hyperdrive with dense and resonant imagery.

"I'm a useless brain in the tank without an artist," says Moore from the home he shares with fiancée Gebbie in Northampton, England.

From V for Vendetta in the early '80s to his ongoing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore has made power trips his specialty, and Lost Girls is no exception. In its pages, The Wizard of Oz's Dorothy, a giddy American teen; Peter Pan's Wendy, a repressed bourgeois; and an aging, aristocrat Alice, formerly of Wonderland, transform dreamy desires into feverish fulfillment together in an Austrian hotel during the months leading up to World War I. There they entertain and seduce one another with tales of their girlish erotic revelations spun from this league of extraordinary ladies' source material. Peter is an actual Pan, and when Dorothy surrenders, she really surrenders. In addition to its unusually accommodating staff, the Hotel Himmelgarten (or "heavenly garden") offers some groovy, and decidedly un-Gideon, reading matter: bedside copies of the proprietor's "white book," a pastiche of classic Edwardian and Victorian erotica. Libido confronts the death drive in this artificial paradise as the three women work through their youthful sexual traumas, give it up in every possible way, and occasionally smoke a little dope. "There's something about opium that goes very well with lesbianism," declares Alice, the sybaritic enabler of these girls gone Wilde.

Lost Girls: Gale force
illustration: Melinda Gebbie
Lost Girls: Gale force

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Lost Girls
by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie

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  • Panel Discussion
    A talk with Lost Girls artist Melinda Gebbie
    by Matt Singer
  • Moore has been giving characters a sex life as far back as Maxwell the Magic Cat, which he wrote and drew for his local Northants Post newspaper from 1979 to 1986. And the famous "Rite of Spring" issue of Swamp Thing was devoted to a psychedelic sexual experience involving this "walking mass of putrefying vegetable matter." Sex for both pleasure and power adds a dimension to more recent characters such as the superhero Tom Strong and, my favorite, the magical Promethea, primary vessel for the gnostic writer's intense interest in diabolism, the kabbalah, and the greater esoteric tradition. Lost Girls, however, arose from Moore's pre-magical conclusion that "sex was probably interesting enough by itself, without all the extraterrestrial or supernatural trimmings."

    Introduced by mutual friend Neil Gaiman after being asked to contribute to a one-shot erotic magazine called Tales of Shangri-La, Moore and Gebbie began meeting on weekends to discuss an artistic collaboration that soon evolved into something more boldface-worthy. By combining Moore's admittedly "half-assed notion" about the sexuality of Peter Pan–ish flying dreams with Gebbie's interest in stories involving strong female trios, the duo had the book's entire 240-page structure in place within two weeks of working together. After a couple of false starts with other companies, Moore deems Top Shelf Productions' swank three-volume boxed edition "the most beautiful artifact I've ever been associated with—down to the nice smell of the paper."

    Lost Girls hits its first aesthetic climax at the end of book one, when Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy attend the May 1913 Paris premiere of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. Recounting her impressions as the spectacle comes to its literally riotous conclusion, Alice writes in her journal that "I lanced my tongue in Mrs. Potter's anus, up and fast between the tropic lips into her beast-peach hole. Crowned hot with bronze, American-girl heat rubbed shameless as a cat against my thigh. The smash of wet cymbals inside me as the maid surrendered to the sacrifice. I'm weeping." Moore tunes his writing to Stravinky's rhythms, Gebbie re-creates Russian designer Nicholas Roerich's colorfully undulating backdrops, and graphic fiction transcends itself.

    Though he's not so immodest as to elevate Lost Girls into the realm of Stravinsky's Rite, Moore notes that both works deal with primal forces and arrive at the beginning of their respective centuries into worlds fraught with political tension and repression. They may even share a certain amount of cultural blowback, too. In the end, Lost Girls' most transgressive aspect may be its lovingly exaggerated resemblance to a Tijuana bible, the cheap eight-page comics that often put familiar—and copyrighted—cartoon characters like Olive Oyl and Betty Boop into extravagantly sexual situations. And here Lost Girls may have crossed the line: The Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, which owns the rights to author J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Wendy, has expressed concerns that have yet to be fully resolved by the book's publisher.

    While the underage sex presented in the "white book" is treated lightly, you'll find little sadomasochism and no scatology, for example, elsewhere. Moore admits "punches were pulled" in the interest of accessibility, balance, and ambience mostly in order to make the book more appealing to women. Lost Girls is the opposite of porn's humorous or horrific norm, which is "lit as though for brain surgery in a sordid apartment, on a sofa with busted springs sticking through it, and every pore hair and goose bump of these poor shivering meat puppets on full display."

    Puppets come in uniform, too, and Lost Girls wraps up with a timeless juxtaposition as World War I begins. A German with a passion for Dorothy's silver slippers lends similar attention to his military boots when called up, and the whole fantasy comes to a dark, stark conclusion when the German army arrives at the Himmelgarten. Moore, like any reasonably evolved human being, can't avoid the tragically obvious. "What's the real obscenity here?" he asks rhetorically. "A young man doing one of those things young men traditionally do with their penises, or is it a young man lying in a field with his penis at his feet?

    "Looking back," he continues, "we realized what I suppose should have been glaringly obvious from the beginning: that this is a profoundly hippie piece of work betraying how both myself and Melinda were formed in the 1960s. It's got a bold make-love-not-war message, it's pro-erotica, it's pro-sexuality, it's pro–art nouveau, and there are lots of psychedelic and drug sequences. It's not got rock and roll, but it's got Stravinsky. And it revolves around children's fantasy characters, which were also very popular then." Go ask Alice.

    Apart from a couple of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen books in the works, Moore is taking a break from the comics he appears to crank out with supernatural ease in order to complete Jerusalem, a microscopically detailed excavation of his Northampton roots. "It's like Ulysses and Moby-Dick wrestling Gravity's Rainbow— at least in terms of its page length," he says. Until then, he's flying high on the good reviews Lost Girls is already eliciting, including a gushing postcard from Brian Eno, which he reads over the phone. "I'm sticking to the ceiling," Moore crows drolly. "I'm so smug, I can hardly stand to be in the same room with myself."

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