Almost 10 years before his The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
took many of the figures of Victorian popular fiction on a remarkable romp, Alan Moore, in collaboration with underground artist Melinda Gebbie, began Lost Girls
, with a similar, although less fantastical, conceit: that the three women whose adventures in girlhood may have inspired respectively, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
, Peter Pan and Wendy
and the Wizard of Oz
, meet in a Swiss hotel shortly before the first World War. Wendy, Dorothy and Alice, three very different women—one jaded and old; one trapped in a frigid adulthood; the last a spunky but innocent young American good-time girl—provide each other with the liberation they need, while also providing very different (and, for this is
a pornography, very sexual) versions of the stories we associate with them. We go with the girls, in memory, to the incidents that became the Rabbit Hole, Oz and Neverland.
As a formal exercise in pure comics, Lost Girls
is as good as anything Moore has written. (One of my favorite moments: a husband and wife trapped in a frozen, loveless, sexless relationship, conduct a stiff conversation, laced with unconscious puns and wordplay, moving into positions that cause their shadows to appear to copulate wildly, finding the physical passion that the people are denied.) In addition to being a master-class in comics technique, Lost Girls
is also an education in Edwardian smut—Gebbie and Moore pastiche the pornography of the period, taking in everything from The Oyster
to the Venus and Tannhauser
period work of Aubrey Beardsley
Melinda Gebbie was a strange and inspired choice as collaborator for Moore. She draws real people, with none of the exaggerated bodies usual to superhero or porno comics. Gebbie's people, drawn for the most part in gentle crayons, have human bodies,.
is a bittersweet, beautiful, exhaustive, problematic, occasionally exhausting work. It succeeded for me wonderfully as a true graphic novel. If it failed for me, it was as smut. The book, at least in large black-and-white photocopy form, was not a one-handed read. It was too heady and strange to appreciate or to experience on a visceral level. (Your mileage may vary; porn is, after all, personal.)
Top Shelf has chosen to package it elegantly and expensively, presenting it to the world not as pornography, but as erotica. It is one of the tropes of pure pornography that events are without consequence. No babies, no STDs, no trauma, no memories best left unexamined. Lost Girls
parts company from pure porn in precisely that place: it's all about consequences, not to mention war, music, love, lust, repression and memory. (Aug.)
Neil Gaiman is the author of the bestsellers
Anansi Boys and
American Gods. Films based on his books
Coraline are due in 2007and 2008, respectively.