Finding the "Lost Girls" with Alan Moore & Melinda Gebbie: Part 2 of 3

Fri, May 26th, 2006 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Adi Tantimedh, Guest Writer

NOTE: The following article is intended for mature audiences.

In Part One of our interview with Alan Moore, we discussed the hot-button issues of Pornography, Sex and War. Here, we continue to delve even further into the controversial issues in "Lost Girls" that will set the cat among the pigeons.

The title of the book itself, "Lost Girls" is a play on the Lost Boys in "Peter Pan." Alice, Wendy and Dorothy are each lost, and it is here in this hotel, where in finding each other, they will finally find themselves.

Wendy's account of the summer she and her brothers encounter a homeless boy named Peter and his sister, who initiate them into the mysteries of sex, is the erotic reinterpretation of the story of "Peter Pan." The "neverland" of their summer idyll becomes the park where they sneak off to everyday, and a middle-aged pervert with a hooked, arthritic hand becomes the villainous pirate captain of Wendy's fantasies. Wendy and her brothers, in their teens and early teens, discover that there is more than joy and pleasure in sex. There is also danger and menace, and the threat of predators lurking in the bushes. It is an idyll that has to end.

Moore is neither apologetic nor hesitant about showing the characters experimenting with sex and exploring it for the first time.

"One of the questions of underage sex in 'Lost Girls'… apart from the fact that the age of consent varies from time to time and place to place, there's also the fact that I don't think you can address sexuality without addressing the point at which we enter it," Moore told CBR News. And I would say that almost by definition, one of the ways in which we identify the end of childhood is the sexual experience. That's probably a good way of defining it, even we're talking about someone who didn't have their sexual experience till they were in their thirties."

"...one of the ways in which we identify the end of childhood is the sexual experience."
-- Alan Moore
This is true for "Lost Girls," since all three women regard their first sexual experience as the end of their childhoods.

"By definition, Sex is the end of childhood, although not necessarily the beginning of adulthood, but it says we're not children anymore. That almost means that forgetting about technical ages, just talking about us as emotional beings, that we all enter sex as children and come out of it as something else. And that first sexual experience, that first step through the door, that is of course the central metaphor of 'Lost Girls,' that wonderland you are plunged into which has a logic that is more like that of Lewis Carroll's Red Queen than that of the world in which you previously existed. Nothing means the same thing anymore, it's full of strange feelings and strange discovery, nothing makes any sense, and that makes places like Neverland, and Oz, and Wonderland, a really rich and powerful metaphor for something which is in a way kind of universal.

"And I'm not sure, but in the case of J.M. Barrie, it may have been his intentions," continued Moore. "The bit at the end of 'Peter Pan'… I mean, there are some strange bits in 'Peter Pan.' In the original, unexpurgated version, there's the great bit about one of the Lost Boys asleep on a path when a bunch of ancient fairies on their way home from an orgy and are drunk, have to climb all over him. There are some spooky things as well, like the bit about children meeting their dead father in the woods and having a game with him and never telling anyone about what had happened. Also at the end of 'Peter Pan,' Wendy's grown up and she's got a child. She has had sex, and she doesn't want Peter Pan getting in and spiriting her child away, which may have been about things other than sex, but that is something which most parents would recognize -- if they were honest with themselves -- that it was okay for them to sneak out and have sexual adventures when they were kids, but they wouldn't want any child of theirs being exposed to those same wild, savage forces. So yeah, at least in 'Peter Pan,' there did seem to be some conscious thought with regard to sexual awakening in there, in the mix with the other stuff.

"I don't think that was the case with 'Wizard of Oz,'" continued Moore. "I think that was more a case of a political analogy probably related to things which have long since vanished from the political landscape, like I believe at the time the farmers wanted a currency to be based on a silver reserve rather than the gold reserve, because that would have benefited them. That was where the yellow brick road came from.

"And with 'Alice in Wonderland'… Lewis Carroll is an easy target if you're in a particularly cynical frame of mind," added Moore. "I tend to think it was probably something quite innocent. It is purely a modern kind of construct, the reading of pedophilic intent into the naked pictures of Alice Liddell. Things like that ignore the sentimentalized image of natural childhood that would have been prevalent in his time. Whether it was intended is important in the symbolism and the imagery.

"All three books are filled with powerful metaphors and images that can be interpreted in a sexual way. That was probably what sparked off the whole idea when I was just thinking about 'Peter Pan,' and dreams of flying can be a metaphor for sexual expression. I'm sure these things weren't intended as sexual ideas, but they have great application if they are used that way.

"We didn't want to do something that was a sniggering parody of those works. Frankly, that has been done quite a lot before - 'Oh, a sexualized Wizard of Oz! Oh, a sexualized Peter Pan! Oh, Tinkerbell was kind of sexy wasn't she?' That sort of thinking. We didn't want to do that. I'm sure there are people who wouldn't believe the next statement, but we really wanted to be faithful to the original books. We did not want to travesty them. So we have those girl characters all grown up and having sexual adventures -- that's actually what human beings do. It's suggested that those girls were going to grow up, and they weren't going to die. They were probably going to grow up and develop sexualities, because that's normal. And we wanted to extrapolate them into a future sexual, adult life. And we also wanted to keep the characteristics of the children in the books. I still think that our Alice has still got a lot of that strange, curious, certainly mad, quality of Lewis Carroll's Alice."

In "Lost Girls," even Alice is unaware of what has been hidden in her psyche until she meets Dorothy and Wendy, and through them recovers that part of herself thought lost.

"It's sort of a Woman's Decameron. It's a very liberating experience for all of them," explained Moore. "They continue to stay in the hotel even after everyone's left and they know that the soldiers are coming, because they feel that it is more important. The stories they are telling and the fact that they are telling them is somehow more important than this terrible storm that is breaking over Europe and that will destroy everything. Somehow, this romance, this narrative, their narratives, are more important because they are actually about Life, they are about the imagination and our possibilities, whereas what is bearing down upon Europe is the exact opposite of that. It's about limiting the possibilities of everything, destroying our imaginations in the same way it destroys the physical landscape by leveling it to just a flat, barren stretch of mud. And I do think that the First World War was in some ways more poignant than the more terrible wars that have happened since. Old Europe was completely destroyed and it was the First World War. The third indicator of what the 20th Century will be bringing with it, and I think it frightened all of us, particularly Germany. It left us with incredible psychological scars that we struggled with for the remainder of the 20th Century to heal and treat in whatever way we could. Artistically, T.S. Elliot's poem 'The Wasteland' could have been about the First World War. It's language reads like eight different poems that have all been smashed and stuck together as best he can, and that was why people responded to that poem, because it had the same sort of feel about it as their lives did. It's been broken and fragmented and we're trying to put it together in some new shape that will make sense of all this."

MELINDA GEBBIE ON ILLUSTRATING "LOST GIRLS"

Melinda Gebbie is no newcomer to the comics scene. She had been active in the San Francisco underground comic scene with such luminaries as Trina Robbins since the mid-1970s. Her short stories have been serialized in books like "Wimmin's Comix" and her books include "Reagan for Beginners" and "Fresca Zizi's."

In the late 1980s, she moved to the United Kingdom and has since worked with Alan Moore on "Cobweb," which ran in "Tomorrow Stories." However, the work that has occupied her most in the last sixteen years has been "Lost Girls," whose themes of sex, politics and identity are perfectly in keeping with all her work.

Now, with the graphic novel completed and due for publication in August, Gebbie was able to put the sixteen-year journey into some perspective.

Part of the impetus behind "Lost Girls" was the desire to have a book about sex that could appeal to women.

"Nobody could possibly mistake my intentions, and I want to treat it as if it was something that people already understood, like sex and other urges like good food and company and happy times and nice group activities and working together towards a common goal," Gebbie told CBR News. "I think the first time I ever thought about something like that was when I was about 10, that was when I first started thinking about sex officially, and I thought, 'There must be a beautiful book somewhere, that will tell me everything I want to know, and it will be beautiful, and everything will be explained, and once I see it, I will know everything there is to know about sex.' And of course, there was no book. There never has been a book. And I finally got a chance to do one."

We discussed the process of drawing from Alan Moore's script.

"On a day-to-day basis, it was different because he had five other things he had to work on for other people on top of this, and I worked at my house and he worked at his house," said Gebbie. "We got together when we could, and the rest of the time, when he was doing so many different books and stories, I was just working on the one for fifteen-and-a-half years. It was nerve-wracking, because if it doesn't work, you have to wait till it does work. It's like an Olympic thing, only you're doing it by yourself and you haven't a trainer. Once a week I'd show Alan the work that I'd done and the rest of the time, when I was working on paper, I had to be sure that I distilled something that I genuinely responded to."

What will set "Lost Girls" apart is the hand-colored work, with not a hint of digital manipulation or computer graphics.

"A lot of it was layered colored pencils, and it averaged to three days per panel," said Gebbie.

"A lot of 'Lost Girls' was layered colored pencils, and it averaged to three days per panel. When I look at it, I'm glad it only took me sixteen years -- it was about six to eight layers of pencils."
-- Melinda Gebbie
"When I look at it, I'm glad it only took me sixteen years -- it was about six to eight layers of pencils. Some of it was done in watercolors, some of it was mixed media. With the Dorothy background stories, they were done with colored pencils," explained Gebbie. "The Alice stories were watercolor or watered-down acrylic or gauche. Watercolors are really nice, because if you make mistakes, you can just water them down."

Then there was the research for the sections that featured an imaginary book containing erotic stories supposedly illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley and Egon Schiele.

"Ever since I'd been looking at erotic pictures, I'd seen some from the '30s that I thought were quite sweet. I really liked the child-like qualities in them, but most of the stuff was just really brash, and kind of not very human-looking," said Gebbie. "For the chapters where I pastiched Beardsley and Schiele, I was already pretty familiar with them and their style."

The story is very much aimed at women, in that it centers on the feelings and thoughts of the heroines, which is rare in most pornography. This sense of transformation is in keeping with the heroines' experiences of transformation in the story itself, especially when they begin hallucinating. Alice sees Dorothy's labia transform into the caterpillar of her fantasies, for instance. Dorothy re-imagines her lovers in the form of a Tin Man, a Cowardly Lion, a Scarecrow. Alice's memories of her time in the Victorian lesbian underworld, often experienced under a drug-haze, saw its players transformed into the Mad Hatter, the Red Queen, and the other inhabitants of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland.

Alan Moore & Chris Staros
With its frank depiction of almost every sexual coupling imaginable, Moore and Gebbie, along with Top Shelf publisher Chris Staros have to anticipate a possible outcry over the book's status as pornography.

"It's not a comic, it's a book," said Gebbie. "I also said to Chris that I'd also be interested in touring colleges and intelligent bookstores. I really don't want to go to any comic shops and do signings, unless they're Parisian, where they're good comic shops with more sophisticated people going into them and not grotty little corner places. I'm looking forward to dialogues with intelligent people about it. If a man writes pornography, there's no surprise there. If a woman gets involved in pornography… there really hasn't been a woman writing pornography that they can grab by the neck for an awfully long time. There was one woman named Gerder Wegner, and she did prints. I've had nothing like really positive responses from people like Susie Bright, the sexologist. Women have been so appreciative of it, which is a relief to me. I illustrated it for women. That was important to me. Camille Paglia said, 'I'd buy pornography if it was good, if it appealed to women, but that hasn't happened.'"

While they wait for people's reactions to the book, Gebbie has already received some feedback from a small number of friends, people who are not comic fans or literati.

"My female friends have been crazy about it. They've been really enthusiastic about it and got really involved with the female characters. They really love it. I haven't had any negative feedback at all," said Gebbie.

"...I should imagine that pedophiles or any rapist do not need to take their inspiration from literature or art or pornography."
-- Alan Moore
"A lot of stuff had been put away for years and no one had really seen it. I go and visit my friends and brought one or two chapters, and it would have been like a localized joke, really. When I got the printer's proof, I could see the whole thing reduced, since the originals are quite a bit bigger. The progression from the simple, quieter, almost nave, stuff gets more dense and more fanatic and more frenetic, it worked quite well.

"I had the proofs done into nine little portfolio books, and I brought the first three to my friend's house, and she got halfway through the first book and she went, 'Oh my God! I know who this is supposed to be!' She ran and got a print of Beardsley. 'That's who it is!' She just went off on all the things that it suggested and how excited she was, and she didn't even finish the book. Then her husband came home and he said, 'I want these! I want to buy these from you!' I said, 'Don't be ridiculous, you can buy them from Amazon. I can leave these with you for a few days…' And they said, 'Don't leave them with us! I'll steal them!' From the reactions of the people who have seen it, most of them acted like this was written for them, this was their story, this was just what they needed. It wasn't like 'This is a nice job.' We have a friend on this street and I've been visiting him and his partner for years. And he sat and looked through all nine books, and he said 'This is absolutely beautiful.' He was beaming. He was just transfixed. It was exactly the feeling I wanted. I want people to feel like they've come home. To a thing that should have been home to them a long time ago, but nobody bothered to do it."

Return Monday for the final chapter in our three part "Lost Girls" feature, wherein Alan and Melinda discuss the possibility of a public outcry against their work and what they have to say.

 
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