Saturday, 19 September 2015

Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie - Review

Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's Lost Girls is the only comic I've ever brought in which I've been asked for proof of ID. That tells you all you need to know about the type of subject matter this book deals with. Moore himself has proclaimed this book "pornography", and while the art and subject matter are of mature subject matter, it is not pornography as you may know it.

Set in 1913, we see three heroines of famous children's stories, now adults, staying in an Austrian hotel, as the world is on the brink of World War One. Alice, called Lady Fairchild, from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, is now an old spinster, Wendy from J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan is a downtrodden wife married to a man 20 years her senior, and Dorothy from L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz is in her 20's, staying over at the Hotel Himmelgarten as she travels the world. Encouraging each other, they confess their past sexual adventure's as the world crumbles around them.

The stories that we associate with the three protagonists are given a distinctly Freudian spin to them (and there is even an allusion that Freud himself is staying in the same hotel). The cowardly lion, tin man and straw man are all farm hands that Dorothy searches out in her sexual escapades. Captain Hook turns out to be a paedophile with arthritis. Alice is molested at a young age, and subsequently becomes addicted to opium and forced to become a sex slave for a Mrs Redman. We see Alice's looking glass through out the book, which becomes a portal to their imaginary worlds. Through reading Lost Girls, we are led to presume that the stories we are more familiar with are just repressed memories transformed into more palatable tale, a survival mechanism if you will.

Moore and Gebbie went into this project wanting to give porn back some of the dignity they felt it had lost, and Lost Girls is very self aware at points of its standing as pornography. During an orgy scene, hotel owner Monsieur Rougeur states that "Fiction and fact: only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them... You see, if this were real, it would be horrible... But they are fictions. They are uncontaminated by effect and consequence." And to rub in the irony, this is all said while he has sex with a 13 year old and reads a book about incest. While "regular" porn does not question why you are looking at this, Moore and Gebbie's constantly reminds you that this is fiction, and asks why are you reading this.

Lost Girls likes to reference its past too. Monsieur Rougeur's White Book, that he leaves in every room, is self confessed rip-offs of much of arts erotic and controversial past. We see Oscar Wilde, Alfons Mucha, Aubrey Beardsley, Franz von Bayros and Egon Schiele all appropriated in the White Book. Lost Girls actively places itself within the history of sexual imagery, perhaps to persuade us that this is art that should be respected. Not safe for work art, but art none the less. I was reminded of Georges Bataille's Story of the Eye and Heather Benjamin's Sad Sex, two examples of graphic subject matter that stuns you with their exceptional imagery.

For me, the highlight of this comic is Melinda Gebbie's artwork. Watercolours overlaid with crayon and pencil provide positively luminous illustrations. You will find yourself staring intently at Peter Pan duelling Captain Hooks with their, er, members, because the artwork is just incredible. In an interview on Comic Beats, Gebbie states that she wanted the illustrations to look "“irresistibly beautiful and tender” and wanted that “to transfer to the reader”, that it’s meant to effect you “like a beautiful memory” which is why the artwork is hazy and colourful." You will come to Lost Girls for Alan Moore's writing, but you will stay for Melinda Gebbie's drawings.

Much like Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac, Lost Girls sex becomes distinctively more unsexy as the book goes on. Plot points are littered through out, and through the disturbing moments of incest, we are left more entranced by Alice, Wendy and Dorothy's stories, and less and less by their sexual escapades. Regular porn this may not be, but a fascinating and thought provoking comic book it most definitely is.



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