Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Lost Girls

by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie

Being one of my favourite writers, Alan Moore is no stranger to these pages. With every project he takes on a different style and puts his own unique twist on it. Political allegory in Watchmen, an esoteric horror story in From Hell and parody in Top 10. Eager to learn what he was going to do next I was very pleased when in an interview with the Onion AV Club he announced that 'for this project I just wanted to write some really good porn' (it's a great interview, read the whole thing). And that's exactly what he did.

Still Moore's 'plain old porn' is a lot more sophisticated than most serious literature. The story is centred around three women, Alice, Wendy and Dorothy, who are real world allegories of their famous fictional namesakes. Over the course of three volumes they retell the plots of Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz in flashback as kinky coming of age stories. In Alice's story for example the White Rabbit is replaced a nervous old paedophile who initiates her into a life of debauchery. Peter Pan is the boy who climbs in Wendy's window at night and 'takes her to Wonderland'. Obviously the original versions of those stories were intended to be coming of age allegories (especially Peter Pan), but I doubt that Moore's interpretations are quite what the authors had in mind (except maybe that dodgy bastard Lewis Carroll).

As you'd expect from an explicitly pornographic graphic novel, the art (drawn by Moore's fiancée Melinda Gebbie) is big, colourful and sumptuous. And yes, hot as hell. The books themselves come in a beautifully illustrated hardcover edition (with a nice slipcover to protect unsuspecting eyes from the explicit material on the covers of the volumes inside). I really like it when graphic novelists make nice physical artifacts out of their work like this.

Moore's writing is as good as ever here. Three volumes of just one sex romp after another could easily get boring but Moore presents each chapter with a different twist; the three main characters each have their own panel layout for their individual flashback chapters and other chapters are intercut with intertwining narratives from the erotic fiction that the characters have been reading offscreen, while some chapters show the same events from different perspectives.

Of course, Moore can't just let porn be porn. He stages his story against the backdrop of a world on the cusp of a transformation from the modern to the post-modern eras. The first volume ends with our protagonists attending the infamous May 1913 performance of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring in Paris, which ended in a riot (Stravinsky consciously veered away from conventional rhythms and tonality in this piece, and the ballet as a whole is a celebration of the primitive (he was like a neo-classical Cryptopsy). The riot is very much symptomatic of a change in perspective from the absolutist attitudes of modernism to relativism). The second volume ends with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, obviously a different kind of trigger point for the new age that we now live in. I won't spoil the end of the third volume but it's an astounding passage, both poetic and morbid at the same time. It resoundingly refutes anyone who says comic books or pornography can't be art.

I think this is quite comfortably the best book I've read all year. Not only is it cleverly written and achingly poetic, it's also thoroughly refreshing to read some fiction with a genuinely healthy attitude towards sex, and if we feel a wee bit guilty when we enjoy reading such a lurid piece of prurience Moore placates our Victorian guilt with a monologue that is both eloquent and amusing:

[As our protagonists' host reads aloud from a Victorian erotic novel in which a pair of young twins engage in enthusiastic sex with their parents.]

“You see, if this were real, it would be horrible. Children raped by their trusted parents. Horrible. But they are fictions. They are uncontaminated by effect and consequence. Why, they are almost innocent. I, of course, am real, and since Helena, who I just fucked, is only thirteen, I am very guilty.”


Joel said...

You make me want this graphic novel very very much. And not purely for the pr0n (although maybe subconsciously).

Jon said...

I'm pretty sure you'd like it, and it is a lot more than just porn.