Probably a good thing my parents don’t read this blog (or at least I don’t think they do), as Lost Girls is, by its creators’ cheerful admission, a work of pornography. It’s an unusual format – three hardcover volumes in a slipcase, making it unsuitable for one-handed reading) – and the medium it’s presented in – comics – is hardly the obvious choice either.
However, Alan Moore (writer) and Melinda Gebbie (artist) have more in mind here than the clichéd ‘woman answering the door to the plumber in a babydoll nightie’ stuff, as the Lost Girls of the title are Alice, Wendy and Dorothy, whose names you may well recognise from other works of fiction. The three characters meet in a Swiss hotel on the brink of World War I, and, as well as various encounters with other guests (and the staff) at the hotel, they share tales of their pasts – most of which are, yes, sexual, but which are also re-tellings of their stories in a sexual way; for example, Dorothy’s experience of being whisked away by a tornado is revealed to have been the afternoon she first had an orgasm.
The artwork by Gebbie is interesting; to my untrained eye, a lot of it resembles a mixture of pastels and watercolour paint work, which frequently makes it look like the paintings in a children’s book (appropriate given the origins of the characters and the format), and adds a slightly dream-like quality to things. There are pages with clear, solid linework, but these are rare, as if reality’s the exception and not the rule. There are differing panel shapes and art styles too, depending on whose tale is being told, and this works pretty well, and even when the panels are filled with tangled limbs and fleshtones, there’s rarely any problem knowing what’s going on, or who’s speaking, which is something a lot of comics without pornographic intentions could benefit from.
You’re probably wondering about the sexual stuff (though this is hardly a work likely to be bought solely on the basis of its potential for arousal) – wonder no more: there’s a whole stack of sex in this book, between men and women, women and women, men and men, and pretty much every other variation – voyeurism, orgies, incest, bestiality, and almost anything else you can think of. Some bits of it might float your boat, others might not, as what is and isn’t sexy or arousing is very much a personal thing. Still, there’s pretty much something for everyone here – and of course, that means there’s a lot of stuff which won’t be everyone’s bag.
Now we’re past that pressing issue, I can comment on the story; for me, it was clever, though flawed – the main flaw being that all the stories effectively amount to ones of sexual awakening, as Alice, Wendy and Dorothy are all young in the original texts; we get three women of varying ages in the story’s present telling tales of their youth. To my mind, this is rather limited, and I would have been interested to see stories spanning more of the women’s lives. And whilst the sex stuff is kind of interesting and diverting (and occasionally slightly challenging, on the level of “okay, I’m not really into that particular activity”), it sometimes seems a bit of a hindrance when it comes to the telling of the tales – indeed, most of the third volume is comprised of the three women in a variety of sexual situations and costumes and roles, telling each other their tales whilst having it away, and sometimes the little ‘present day interruptions’ to the storytelling feel kind of jarring.
The story’s set in the run-up to the First World War, and there’s quite a good sense of something looming, that this rather carefree time at the Hotel will soon be gone, though to be honest I felt the end was a little unclear on what was being said; there’s a good point made earlier in Book 3 about how war is just the opposite of sex (all that energy expended on something horrific and destructive as opposed to enjoyable and potentially creative), and I think the final page or so is making the same point again, though in visual terms (I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have missed something painfully obvious here though, so feel free to e-mail me or post a comment). It reminds me slightly of the end of Blackadder Goes Forth in tone, however, which isn’t a bad thing at all.
For me, Lost Girls was more interesting than arousing, and more ambitious than successful, but I think it was worth reading, and certainly worth the creators’ time – as if anticipating a possible media fuss about the book (which is currently not on general release in the UK, ostensibly for copyright reasons) and its depictions, there’s a clever comment about artists’ rights to say whatever they want, and the difference between reality and fiction: “Only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them”, says one character, in the same way that the South Park film contained a pre-emptive strike at the obvious criticisms.