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Lost Girls is a graphic novel depicting the sexual adventures of three important female fictional characters of the late 19th and early 20th century: Alice from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Dorothy Gale from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and Wendy Darling from Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. They meet as adults in 1913, and describe and share erotic adventures with each other. The story is written by Alan Moore, and drawn by Melinda Gebbie.
Alice (now a grey-haired old woman named "Lady Fairchild"), Dorothy (now in her 20s), and Wendy (now named "Wendy Potter", in her 30s, and married to a man named Harold Potter who is 20 years older) are visiting an expensive mountain resort hotel in Austria on the eve of World War I (1913–1914). The hotel, named "Hotel Himmelgarten", is run by a man named Monsieur Rougeur. At the hotel, Dorothy meets a man named Captain Rolf Bauer.
Note: Wendy's husband is not a reference to Harry Potter; Moore wrote this bit years before J. K. Rowling's first book came out.
The women meet by chance and begin to exchange erotic stories from their pasts. The stories are based on the childhood fantasy worlds of the three women:
- Wendy, John, and Michael Durling meeting a homeless boy named Peter, his sister Annabel, and the lost boys in a park for sexual encounters one summer, when Wendy was sixteen.
- Dorothy Gale having sexual encounters with three farm hands and later her father at the age of sixteen after a cyclone came to Kansas; it was while trapped in her house during this cyclone that she experienced her first orgasm.
- Alice Fairchild having sex, first with a man and then with several girls and women while attending an all girls school, beginning at the age of fourteen.
In addition to the three women's erotic flashbacks, the graphic novel depicts sexual encounters between the women and other guests and staff of the hotel. The erotic adventures are set against the backdrop of cultural and historic events of the period, such as the debut of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Literary significance and reception
Moore is one of the most critically acclaimed writers in the field of comic books, and the release of this work received widespread coverage in the industry media. Despite the price of US$75, the book's first two print runs of 10,000 each sold out at the distributor level on the day of their release, with most of those copies reflecting pre-orders placed by retail customers. Because of the high price point, few retailers ordered "shelf copies" to keep in stock. U.S. sales at the end of 2007 reached 35,000 copies.
Controversy about child sexuality
Lost Girls has come under fire from critics who have argued that the book's controversial sexual content involving children might open up stores that carry the book and people who buy the book to be charged with possession and/or trafficking in child pornography. Many retailers have stated that they will not stock the book out of fear of possible obscenity prosecution, though some said they might make the book available to their customers via special order and simply not stock the book.
In the United States prosecution for production or sale of "obscene" material would require failing the Miller test. Although child pornography is classified as obscene, that requires the involvement of a child in its production, which the book did not include. The legal situation in other countries is less clear: some countries forbid any images of nude children in a sexual context, regardless of how they were produced. French publisher Delcourt temporarily suspended their plans to publish a translated edition in 2008, citing concerns about the legality of the depictions of minors under French law.
Moore states that the storm of criticism which he and Gebbie expected did not materialize, which he attributes in part to his design of Lost Girls as a "benign" form of pornography. He has also said that his own description of Lost Girls as "pornography" has "wrong-footed a lot of... people." Moore speculates that "if we’d have come out and said, 'well, this is a work of art,' they would have probably all said, 'no it's not, it's pornography.' So because we're saying, 'this is pornography,' they're saying, 'no it's not, it's art,' and people don't realise quite what they've said."
In the UK, graphic artists and publishers fear that the book could be illegal to possess under the Coroners and Justice Bill, which criminalises any sexual image depicting a "child". Even though the characters are over the age of consent, the new law defines "child" to be anyone appearing under the age of 18, which means that pages from the graphic novel could fall foul of the law.
Disputed copyright status
On June 23, 2006, officials for Great Ormond Street Hospital – which was given the copyright to Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie in 1929 – asserted that Moore would need their permission to publish the book in the U.K. (and by implication, elsewhere in the European Union). Moore indicated that he would not be seeking their licence, claiming that he had not expected his work to be "banned" and that the hospital only holds the rights to performances of the original play, not to uses of the individual characters. On October 11, 2006, Top Shelf signed an agreement with GOSH that did not concede copyright infringement, but delayed publication of Lost Girls in the U.K. until after the copyright lapsed at the end of 2007. The work was officially published for sale in the U.K. in early 2008.
Allusions and references
The title of the work is a play on the name for Peter Pan's followers, the Lost Boys.
The individual sections dealing with the three titular "girls" all have distinct visual layouts and themes used for their chapters. Alice's sections feature ovals reminiscent of her looking-glass; Wendy's are shrouded in tall, dark rectangles reminiscent of the shadowy Victorian-architecture of her time, and Dorothy has wide panels in imitation of the flat landscape of Kansas and prominently featured silver shoes.
Moore attempts to tailor the dialogue to each character's previous experiences and stories. Dorothy Gale, raised on a farm speaks in a casual Midwestern American dialect. Wendy's speeches are heavy with timidity and clumsiness as a result of the repressive nature of her middle-class upbringing. Alice, having briefly been made queen (in Through The Looking-Glass And What Alice Found There), is more authoritarian in her upper-class English speech patterns and formal manner. Lewis Carroll's nonsense-words also make allusory appearances in Alice's dialogue, including phrases such as "to jab", "bandersnatch" and "contrarywise" as well as more overt references to her adventures in phrases like "the reflection is the real thing" and "I made pretence".
Each of the three Lost Girls volumes opens with a quotation from the three "original" authors (Lewis Carroll, J.M. Barrie, L. Frank Baum). Parts of these citations are used as titles for each book:
- First volume: Older Children ("We are but older children, dear, who fret to find our bedtime near," Carroll.)
- Second volume: Neverlands ("Of course, the Neverlands vary a good deal," Barrie.)
- Third volume: The Great And Terrible ("I am Oz, the great and terrible. Who are you and why do you seek me?," Baum.)
Equally, the titles of each chapter naturally point towards the three "original" authors' books: "The Mirror", "Silver Shoes", "Missing Shadows", "A Vice From a Caterpillar", "Which Dreamed It?", "The Cowardly Lion", "You Won't Forget to Wave?", "Queens Together", "Snicker Snack", etc.
Each volume has ten chapters, and each chapter contains eight pages. This format initially derived from its original serialized publication in Stephen R. Bissette's anthology Taboo, but it also reflects Carroll's multi-layered usage of mathematical allusions and links as there are 8 squares in the length of a chess board (a prominent feature of Through The Looking-Glass, and the key to becoming a queen in both game and book) as well as his poem The Hunting Of The Snark being An Agony In Eight Fits.
The regular chapters are interspersed with pornographic pastiches of works by artists and authors of the period, presented as chapters in Monsieur Rougeur's White Book, a collection of illustrated pornographic stories. Each chapter is in the style of different authors and artists of the period: these include presentations in the styles of Colette and Aubrey Beardsley, Guillaume Apollinaire and Alfons Mucha, Oscar Wilde and Egon Schiele, and Pierre Louÿs and Franz von Bayros.
Moore describes the work as "pornography", a genre whose literary and artistic quality he and Gebbie hope to raise:
Certainly it seemed to us [Moore and Gebbie] that sex, as a genre, was woefully under-represented in literature. Every other field of human experience—even rarefied ones like detective, spaceman or cowboy—have got whole genres dedicated to them. Whereas the only genre in which sex can be discussed is a disreputable, seamy, under-the-counter genre with absolutely no standards: [the pornography industry]—which is a kind of Bollywood for hip, sleazy ugliness." - Alan Moore interview with Science Fiction Weekly
A fictional crossover placing the protagonists of unconnected stories in a shared universe is a standard trope of superhero comics, a genre that Moore has written in extensively. Philip José Farmer's works featuring the Wold Newton family is a previous example of taking established classic characters and retroactively placing them in continuity with each other. While working on Lost Girls, Moore also used this concept as the basis for his series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
Shelter from the storm
The plot device of a group of people being sequestered together in a hotel or similar place telling stories or committing otherwise decadent acts while the outside world is falling apart or in chaos is an old one in Western storytelling. Moore draws heavily on themes and tropes from such books as the Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom, and Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, the latter of which sees a young German man staying in a mountain hotel/sanatorium for seven years just prior to World War I. This novel, like Lost Girls, sees that war as a major turning point in world history.
The first six chapters of Lost Girls were initially published in the Taboo anthology magazine, beginning in 1991 with Taboo #5. Kitchen Sink Press's Tundra imprint later reprinted the Taboo chapters as two separate volumes, containing all of the previously-published chapters. A ten-issue series was scheduled at one point, but Moore and Gebbie instead decided to take the time to finish it, then offer it to various companies as a finished product. Eventually Top Shelf was selected as the publisher, and at one point the finished product was meant to be released in late 2003 or early 2004. Top Shelf later planned to debut it in the U.S. at the 2005 San Diego Comic-Con, but due to graphic design taking longer than anticipated, it was released at the July 2006 convention instead. In the U.K. the book was published on 1 January 2008, and launched by Moore and Gebbie at a book launch in London on 2 January.
Over the course of the book's sixteen-year production, Moore and Gebbie entered into a romantic relationship, and in 2005 they announced their engagement to be matrimony|married. "I'd recommend to anybody working on their relationship that they should try embarking on a 16-year elaborate pornography together," joked Moore. "I think they'll find it works wonders."
Moore originally planned to write in his usual style, producing a lengthy script from which Gebbie would work, but after some initial attempts they decided "to collaborate much more closely. So, she would construct the pages of artwork from my incoherent thumbnail sketches and then I would put the dialogue in afterwards."
The DVD of the documentary feature film The Mindscape of Alan Moore contains an exclusive bonus interview with Gebbie, elaborately detailing the origin of the book and the collaboration with Moore.