This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics
We here at Panels are taking some much needed time off; in the meantime, we’re revisiting some favorite old posts from the last 6 months! We’ll see you back on July 11 with all new posts for your enjoyment.
This post originally ran on February 2, 2016.
In chapter 22 of Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, around the point at which the story moves from simply taboo to extreme, almost unspeakable, possibly illegal taboo, a secondary character makes the following observation in defense of incest porn: “Fiction and fact: only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them.” He addresses the reader’s objection directly: “if this were real, it would be horrible. But they are fictions. The are uncontaminated by effect and consequence.” By the chapter’s end, affixed to a friendly, sweet, and graphic depiction of a twenty-person orgy, he explains pornography as,
…enchanted parklands where the most secret and vulnerable of all our many selves can safely play…the palaces of luxury that all the policies and armies of the outer world can never spoil, can never bring to rubble…our secret gardens, where seductive paths of words and imagery lead us to the wet, blinding gateways of our pleasure…beyond which, things may only be expressed in language that is beyond literature…beyond all words.
If you can’t get your head around this information, Lost Girls is not the book for you, because a twenty-person orgy is one of the less taboo things that happens in this story, and Moore’s apologetics around pornography are really only an afterthought in a work whose thesis is something like, “Childhood sexuality is one of the most beautiful things in the world, so beautiful that it is, of course, attractive to adults, although the moment an adult interferes in it, it becomes sullied and detrimental to the child’s development.”
Moore’s thoughts on the power of the imagination are well-documented (cf the wonderful, but underrated Promethea) so his fans most likely don’t need to be reminded that the book’s power exists only in their minds, but when you get into frothy and delightful descriptions of child rape, it doesn’t hurt to cover your bases.
I first heard about Lost Girls from a dealer at Wizard World Chicago in 2003 or 2004. “Alan Moore’s working on a comic about Alice from Alice and Wonderland, Wendy from Peter Pan, and Dorothy from Wizard of Oz,” he said. “Cool,” I thought. “A more gynocentric League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” And then I never heard anyone say anything about it ever again, because most people experience shame when discussing pornography, even if it’s gorgeous, gentle, loving, sex-positive pornography that tells the story of women proactively healing the wounds of their own childhoods.
Or maybe it’s not pornography. Each page is laid out with an eye first to artistry, second to prurience, and sometimes prurience comes in third after cleverness. The colors tend to warmth, drenched with rich, wet reds and pinks, punctuated by stark black and white. Although one artist, Melinda Gebbes, created all the artwork, her style varies from chapter to chapter, matching the story’s tone as it swings between dozens of classical and modern notions, making conscious and meaningful choices in every display.
During the sixteen years they spent creating this book, Moore and Gebbes became lovers, fell in love, and got married. So, perhaps it isn’t really pornography at all, just a very graphic and unorthodox love story. Or a detailed manual on healing the wounds of childhood sexual abuse. Or a counterpoint to Lolita. Despite the fantasy sex splashed across almost every page, to my mind, this book bears as much resemblance to pornography as a self-defense class does to a prison riot.
Like all of Moore’s work, there is an insistent and insane genius woven into what, on the surface, could be just another example of genre. Alice, an older aristocratic woman, shunned by her family due to her overt preference for women; Wendy, a middle-age, middle-class housewife, quietly vanishing in the umbra of her bourgeoisie morality; and Dorothy, a young farm girl almost undone by her own checked desires, all meet up by synchronicitous circumstance in an unusual Austrian hotel on the eve of World War One. The world is going to lose its innocence, but first, these three women are going to reclaim theirs.
Interwoven with the women’s friendship and burgeoning romance, Alice directs the others to recount the most sexually charged stories of their childhoods. In each case, the details form around the original works of literature, but replace the fantastic element of the classic children’s stories with sexual ones. When Alice goes through the looking glass, it is because her father’s friend molests her against a mirror; when Wendy flies through the night, it is because Peter has awakened her sexuality along with John and Michael’s; when Dorothy wakes up in Oz, it is because she’s had her first orgasm. There’s plenty of intelligence to the use of symbols, but what Moore really wants to say, he actually says in chapter one, although it may take the reader a few passes through the book to figure it out. What Alice desires, most of all, is to return to the state of wholeness in which she existed before she was “interfered with,” and she accomplishes this by imagining her younger, innocent self as her play partner. Her true fantasy is integration, to become whole, to own what was stolen from her childhood.
This is what Moore wants us to see: that yes, of course these taboos hold beauty and allure, because it is normal for adults to crave for themselves the curious delights they took for granted in childhood. Childhood sexuality is beautiful, but you only have the right to one child’s sexuality: that is to say, your own childhood sexuality, which, presumably, you have stored in your own imagination. The moment an adult covets what belongs, by right, to any other child, that adult has lost their bearing. The moment an adult acts on that desire, they have crossed the line, from protagonist to antagonist. Childhood sexuality belongs to children. Any adult who tries to take a role in the drama, no matter how kindly and lovingly they do so, automatically becomes the villain of that child’s story.