Deconstructing Fictional Icons
Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce takes a look at a new edition of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s Lost Girls…
Lost Girls Expanded Edition
Writer – Alan Moore
Artist – Melinda Gebbie
Published by Top Shelf Productions / Knockabout
It might seem easy to agree with Lost Girls‘ own back cover blurb which labels it as a piece of ‘erotic fiction’. But in many ways this seems unnecessarily prudish. Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s comic– the first few parts of which were originally published by Taboo magazine in the early 1990s – is an unabashed slice of pornography. This is not a work with a tasteful bit of nudity here or coy piece of lovemaking there. Almost every page contains some sort of graphic sex act for which no imagination is needed and, if one sticks to the dictionary definition of pornography as being “Printed or visual material… intended to stimulate sexual excitement,” Lost Girls surely fulfils its role more than admirably. But – unsurprisingly for a work by Moore – Lost Girls is a graphic novel (slight pun perhaps intended) that works on a multitude of levels in which sexuality, respectability and imagination all intertwine.
The book follows three women, all well-known heroines of literature, who meet at an Austrian mountain resort on the eve of the First World War. There is Alice – of ‘Adventures In Wonderland Fame’ – who is now an older woman and living a life as ‘Lady Fairchild’. There is also Dorothy, from The Wizard of Oz, who is now in her 20s. Rounding out the trio is Wendy, the female hero of Peter Pan who – in 30s – travels with a husband almost 20 years her senior. Their chance meeting soon leads them to sharing the erotic encounters of their past. Their sexual history becomes a sensuous present as each also enjoy numerous sexual trysts with each other and hotel guests. But whilst the air is redolent with freedom and hedonism, a brutal reality threatens to come and destroy everything as the spectre of war and destruction drifts ever closer.
It’s hard not to find echoes of Moore’s League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen in Lost Girls as both works deal with taking characters from (ostensibly Victorian) fiction and completely deconstructing them. Here, classic works of fiction are shown to be nothing more than thinly veiled accounts of burgeoning sexuality. Wendy’s Peter is at the head of a homeless gang of boys whom Wendy would meet up to have sex with. Dorothy first masturbates when a cyclone hits her farm and later begins having sex with three farm hands whom she dubs The Tin Man, The Straw Man and The Cowardly Lion. The erotic undertones of these original works are no longer subtext but become the entire text, fantasy writing as a veil for the bloom of sexual desire.
For all its hedonistic exuberance and excess, there is a certain undercurrent of darkness with our main protagonists stories all containing disturbing elements such as rape and incest. There’s partly a feminist critique at play here – the women have to struggle to be allowed pleasure in a society that outwardly deems female sexuality an abhorrence. But their struggle also give way to a delight of discovering one’s body and the pleasures of the flesh.
The duality is also something of a riposte to mainstream pornography which deals with sex in a way which seems divorced from all reality. In Lost Girls there is always a sense of the cause and effect that goes into human sexuality. But while the book does critique more of the grubby and salacious aspects of modern pornography, this is still a celebration of the depiction of sexuality and the impetus of eroticism.
One of the most controversial aspects of Lost Girls (aside from copyright issues which kept it off the shelf for many years) has been its depiction of child sexuality an issue broached upon during a few moments during the main narrative. Moore frames these moments outside of the main narrative, as stories within stories and the book is at pains to point out there fictional nature. Ideas of fiction and imagination are crucial to Lost Girls – for all its graphic sexuality, Lost Girls is a work that is indeed fiction. Anything that happens has only been a figment of the imagination. Should we be afraid of imagination, a place that is unfettered by censorship or – indeed – morality? Should we be ashamed of sexual fantasy as long as it remains within the realms of fantasy?
This new coffee table edition of the book highlights the gorgeous art from Melinda Gebbie. Subtly changing her style every time the narrative shifts focus to a different character and there’s a sense of the surreal and dreamlike throughout. Even in the midst of the most graphic sexual scenes, there’s an elegance here and a fascination – and respect – for all the permutations of the human body. This new edition also extra pages of gallery art, with Gebbie’s sketches providing an insight into her depictions of the main characters.
Its very status as a work of pornography means that Lost Girls has remained on the fringe of Moore’s work. But it deserves much more recognition as a piece of superb comic art as much as a piece of erotic fiction. Undeniably erotic, prudes and those who want something to lend the vicar should stay far away. But this portrait of sexuality is celebratory and endlessly fascinating.