The last time I was in New York, I was just arriving at a fancy dinner when I got a phone call from my senior editor at the Internationalist. As I excused myself and stepped into the lobby, his voice, which gets high-pitched as he gets excited, shouted at me, "WHAT THE HELL DID YOU REQUEST? THIS IS DIRRRRTY!" He and a couple other editors had broken into the huge box from Top Shelf Productions that had arrived, expecting maybe some large, art coffee-table book. Instead, they had opened up the box to discover Alan Moore's newest graphic novel, complete with pages and pages of incredibly explicit fucking.
He was right—this shit is dirty. Ever want to see Dorothy, of The Wizard of Oz fame, pass out in those poppy fields after being gangbanged by three farmhands? Moore's got it. Want to witness Alice, in some kind of wonderland, ordered by her Red Queen to eat out a teenager under a table in a public restaurant? Right here, baby! And these pictures are vivid. Melinda Gebbie, the artist, draws the girls right on the cusp of realism: They are, like the colors Gebbie has chosen, soft and rich and fleshy. Even those pictures depicting gross sexual acts are absolutely gorgeous.
Lost Girls is and comments upon pornography. Since their beginnings, comics have been associated with porn—in 1954, Dr. Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent called for the censorship of many comics because they blatantly depicted sexuality. (He especially condemned the sadism and homosexuality shown in early comics.) But check the price tag: At $75, this isn't just a book to get some nerd boys off (although it definitely will!). Rather, Moore is attempting to explore the disconnect in society between what is considered highbrow (art, literature) and lowbrow (pornography, comic books). He's hoping his juxtaposition of dirty visuals and complex characters will flummox his readers enough to get them to think about why that contrast feels so weird.
The characters are familiar from your childhood—Dorothy, Wendy, and Alice—and the story is fairly simple. The three of them, now adults, meet up in a decadent Austrian hotel just after the beginning of World War II and tell each other the secrets of their pasts, all the while fucking each other. In their grown-up biographical retellings, Moore puts the sexuality inherent in coming-of-age stories at the forefront: The magical fantasy elements of their famous tales have been replaced with sex. The scarecrow deflowering Dorothy. The Red Queen playing dominatrix to submissive Alice.
The repercussions of these early brushes with sex are evident in each girl, and none of them have come of age well: Alice is an older, dominance-crazed sex addict who molests little girls; Wendy is a frightened prude, married to the most asexual man she could find; and Dorothy is a hormone-raging twentysomething who willingly fucks anyone who asks. You feel really sorry for the girls because they're so screwed up, but also kind of weird because the stories that screwed them up make you want to go have sex with someone. Lost Girls achieves the purpose of pornography—it makes you want to get off—over and over and over. It's telling that Moore and Gebbie were barely acquaintances when they began working on the project, 16 years ago, and now live together.
The end of the book is troubling: As the third volume draws to a close, Moore and Gebbie have shown you a raped and beaten preteen, a father having sex with a consenting daughter, and various other sickening sights. This, to me, is not hot. I started feeling sick, ashamed that I had been so turned on by the earlier pages. The girls are fantasies, much like any porn character, but they are not so easily discarded. They are girls that we have grown up with. And they are this novel's main characters, with the dimensionality of any well-developed character from any kind of novel. Ultimately, they are forced to flee as German soldiers overtake the hotel. As they were burning it to the ground, I couldn't help but hope they'd be okay.