Blah blah controversial blah. There are loads of other reviews in which you can read about that aspect of Lost Girls. It’s probably obvious to most pe...moreBlah blah controversial blah. There are loads of other reviews in which you can read about that aspect of Lost Girls. It’s probably obvious to most people on my friends list which side of the debate I’d be on and so here I’d rather just talk about what I thought was good and not. (Very late to the party here – quite a few friends had copies years ago, but as with Alan Moore comics in general, people were reluctant to lend them to anyone. I later became wary of it because technically some of the contents became illegal in the UK in 2010 – but it appears to be a tacit exception because it’s still sold by mainstream booksellers; possibly it’s classified as art although it does identify itself as porn.)
And this graphic novel is silly like porn is silly (it does deliberately identify itself as porn): every occasion is an excuse for sex, the likes of room-service staff are jumped on and welcome it (much of it’s set in a hotel where the three main characters happen to meet as adults in 1914), and generally if anyone’s not sure at first they are very soon afterwards. It’s working to a different set of conventions from literary stories – those of mainstream pre-gonzo porn films, the shagging-the-plumber sort of thing.
It didn’t, as I assumed it would, take the original stories it’s based on (Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan) and simply put sex in them – it rewrote them in such a way that the original environments and events seemed like symbols for the main characters’ early sexual experiences. This worked best with Peter Pan, because it has a fairly obvious sexual / romantic undertone between the main characters anyway. The idea of Captain Hook as a flasher and sex offender also fitted very well. (Though the story could have done with Tiger Lily as a real character, not just a dress-up costume. And I didn’t like the way grown-up Wendy looked so severe.) Whilst I really liked Moore & Gebbie’s characterisation of Dorothy – she’s so sweet and enthusiastic, regardless of her filthy adventures - her back story, a series of seductions of various farmhands, wasn’t as inventive as the others and more could have been done with the original IMO. Alice’s story jarred slightly in the narrative, because experiences of abuse which were clearly presented as traumatic for the character, complete with dissociation, appear in a narrative which otherwise is a straightforward sort of porn in which characters enjoy themselves without consequences. (Maybe I expect it to be either ‘porn’ or ‘a story of the characters’ sex lives with the bad bits left in’ plus possible commentary on Victorian / Edwardian hidden sleaze, rather than the mixture which it is. Sex is often liberating in Lost Girls, but not always; it's still a somewhat complicated force.) Some of Alice’s young-adult experiences (kept in the household of a dissolute society lesbian, a corollary for the Red Queen) are also rather similar to episodes in Sarah Waters’ Tipping the Velvet.
I thought there was quite a pointless amount of incest in the various stories where it wasn’t relevant. (I know it’s a very common motif in porn because of the taboo, I’m just one of those people it does nothing for and who thereby doesn’t quite get it. In the case of the main characters it creates possible interpretations of all of them as victims, which is unwelcome, and which seems antithetical to the sex-positive ideals of the book.) Several of the storylines would have worked just as well – better to some of us - if characters had been unrelated, or just cousins which would have been quite common at that time (e.g. Annabel/Tinkerbell and Peter). In some instances it was possible to forget about it or just mentally rename/derelate characters, as the writing was otherwise pretty good or even occasionally somehow transcended that aspect.
The authors present some argument in the narrative (quite meta) accompanying the characters’ reading of some late Victorian incest-porn: “It is a crime, but this is the idea of incest, no? …It is quite monstrous, except that they are fictions…Fiction and fact, only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them…if this were real, it would be horrible…but they are fictions. They are uncontaminated by effects and consequences. Why, they are almost innocent.” (With clear and habitual understanding of the consequences from other sources, a very occasional narrative without them is surreal.) Yet one of its most potentially powerful arguments is left less clear by being presented only in pictures: the panels of the dying soldier in the trenches in the last pages. Evidently it asks the question why so many people consider it okay to present war, violence and killing as glorious and/or fun, whilst considering various degrees of sexual activity (legal or otherwise) not okay, or damaging if shown in similar ways.
I wasn’t all that keen on Gebbie’s main art style in the narrative – though it does have a good way of showing the squashiness of the human body – I prefer more clearly delineated pictures and I did like many of the drawings when the outlines were sharper. (Surely it is the case with comics that such a large number of drawings are produced that it would be impossible for all to be perfect, and that there would be no panels in which characters don’t have odd faces, for instance.) There are so many styles in here though and that’s what, cumulatively, is impressive, to produce and pastiche all these. Her Art Nouveau style pictures were particularly lovely and detailed. The messy haziness of the predominant style worked beautifully, however, in the elegiac scene in which characters have an opium-fulelled orgy on an island (complete with colonial imagery) at the same time Duke Franz Ferdinand is shot: also the loveliest writing in the book as a world slips away for ever. And the spell was broken, just like that. As we came to ourselves we noticed how cold it had grown, a winter breath insinuated in the grass that paled the flowers and slowed the hearts of dragonflies. Something had changed. A certain inclination of the light, a shift of pressure in the air. Without the burning armour of our lust, I’m sure we all felt naked then. Three goose-fleshed women in a wood, suddenly awkward, unsure of their grace, abandoned by desire. Something quite glorious was finished with for good. A season turned. We hardly spoke, returning to the boat. The sun had all but gone, leaving a somber, elegiac light towards the West. No birds were flying overhead… There were no birds to fly.