by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie
A review by Gerry Donaghy
Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's new graphic (in every sense of the word) novel Lost Girls addresses, among other things, the emerging sexuality of adolescence that most adults find troublesome. The vehicles for this exploration are three heroines from children's literature's most familiar stories: Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Wendy from Peter Pan, and Alice from Alice in Wonderland. These three, gathered in a European hotel on the eve of the Great War, engage in an unabashed orgy of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll (okay, it's Stravinsky's "Rites of Spring," but that was as decadent in its day as Elvis's hips were in the fifties). It all comes across as an erotic hybrid of Boccaccio's Decameron, Mann's Magic Mountain, and Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, with illustrations via Aubrey Beardsley and Egon Schiele.
While the protagonists indulge their decadent whims, they tell each other stories depicting their sexual awakening. These stories are actually the familiar stories about Oz, Neverland, and Wonderland, but not quite the way you remember them. If, as some scholars suggest, that many children's stories are thinly veiled attempts at portraying verboten subject matter, then the stories told in Lost Girls are attempts to extract that subject matter and push the limits in both what can be depicted in the comic format and what is considered acceptable fair use for another artist's creation.
To be sure, the content in Lost Girls is a graphic depiction of sexual awakenings and rebirths. No polymorphously perverse stone is left unturned, and I can assure that no matter how opened-minded the reader is, there is bound to be a line they've drawn that will be crossed by Moore and Gebbie. However, there are no cheap thrills for either the characters or the readers. The stories the women tell each other often depict the grotesque ways their burgeoning sensuality was abused by trusted adults in their lives. Think the Mad Hatter only had a tea party in mind? Who was the man behind the curtain? And while they may be living in a garden of debauched earthly delights at the Hotel Himmelgarten, the world continues to turn, erupting into a war that literally marches to their doorstep.
It's difficult to endorse a book of such potency without coming across as a letch; however there are larger issues being addressed (isn't that always the pornographer's apology?) in Lost Girls. Yes, the book wears its pornographic bona fides on its sleeve, but it never justifies the behavior of any of the characters.
There are no easy answers and this elevates Moore and Gebbie's work above mere pornography. There are consequences to the debauchery depicted within these pages. But, that isn't to say that they are justified. Often in history, periods defined as decadent have preceded times of great cataclysms, such as the Weimar Republic before World War II. But such decadent periods are often the byproducts of repressed and oppressed societies. Is one necessarily the solution to the other? And what of the sexual acts perpetrated on the characters as adolescents? Are they victims of trusted adults, or are the stories they tell each other a product of smoked opium and heightened libidos? Exactly how reliable are the narrators?
The further one delves into Lost Girls, the easier it is to become desensitized to the debauchery being displayed. But it is at those moments that the big shocks come to jolt back a sense of awareness. For example, as the women enjoy a particularly frisky picnic, the panels depicting their bucolic revelry are intercut with panels showing the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand. With the threat of war lingering, guests flee the hotel, where, left to their own devices, the women create a hermetic fantasy world, oblivious to the downward spiral the world has taken.
Far be it from me to say that if you have an aversion to graphic erotica that Lost Girls will change your mind. However, if you're not easily offended, there are visual and cognitive rewards to be had. All of this is a rather long way of saying that Lost Girls is a trip worth taking if you don't mind the scenery.