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    A Journey To Alan Moore’s Lost Girls

    By Patrick Rollens and Mike Carey

    LOST GIRLS, FOUND CLASSICS
    Sixteen years ago, the world was a very different place. The Soviet Union teetered on the brink of collapse. A musician named Kurt Cobain was poised to fundamentally change the world’s music scene. Margaret Thatcher’s ouster from the position of prime minister heralded the end of an era in the UK.

    In the comics industry, more crucial events were occurring. Marvel and DC, two flagship publishers, struggled with an ever-decreasing readership. Talented writers and artists, among them Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee, perceived flaws in the major publishers’ policy regarding royalties and creative control; this dissension would come to a head with the birth of Image Comics in 1992. Across the industry, increasing attention was being paid to more mature readers. In 1993, DC Comics consolidated several imprints into a single line of mature-readers titles, and Vertigo was born. It would prove to be a critical success and act as a springboard for a slew of up-and-coming writers and artists.

    It was in this atmosphere of change and awareness that Alan Moore began thinking about Lost Girls. In interviews, Moore has described Lost Girls, published this month by Top Shelf, as his attempt to reclaim simple pornography as an art form. To a casual observer, artist Melinda Gebbie’s artwork combines with Moore’s script to produce little more than well-illustrated smut, and it’s almost certainly this aspect of Lost Girls that will earn the book negative press following its July debut at Comic-Con International. However, there is decidedly more at work in this three-volume slipcase than simply sexual decadence.

    In Lost Girls, a trio of women (one young and spunky, one old and cantankerous, one middle-aged and trapped in a frigid marriage) meet by chance in an Austrian hotel in 1913. As their stories unfold, it’s made clear to the reader that the three are re-imaginings of characters from classic children’s literature: Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. Under Moore’s pen, the three prominent characters offer hints at their backgrounds through flashbacks and dreams, which they relate to each other over the course of the book.

    Finding old, oft-ignored characters, dusting them off and breathing new life into them is something of a hallmark for Alan Moore. His early work on Swamp Thing was an example of this: when he took over the book in 1983 with issue 20, he completely reimagined the character from the ground up — and saved the book from cancellation.

    Even Moore’s seminal creation, Watchmen, was an example of this sort of storytelling. In his initial pitch to DC, Moore proposed using a motley collection of obscure characters acquired by DC from Charlton Comics in 1983. When DC opted to retain the Charlton superheroes for later use, Moore instead developed the familiar Watchmen cast — Rorschach, Nite Owl, Dr. Manhattan and others — directly from the Charlton Comics paradigms.

    But what’s the appeal with this sort of storytelling? Why investigate what Dorothy and Alice might chat about over midday tea in Austria?

    Joining Comic Foundry to analyze the “story behind the porn” is Mike Carey, a frighteningly prolific writer with books out from Marvel, DC and a number of small press publishers. Carey was gracious enough to lend CF his expertise as both a storyteller and a comic creator.

    Carey: “I think what you get with this kind of revisionism is a very complex pleasure. You want people — some people, anyway — to see your story through the lens of the original.”

    With this being the case, Lost Girls holds up. Alice’s flashbacks include more than one instance involving a looking glass. Wendy’s childhood memories are replete with visits from an elf-like Peter and his sister, the spritely Maribell (Tinkerbell). Dorothy, reclining in the hotel’s steam room, recounts how a tornado deposited her in a strange land known as Oz. Every step of the way, Moore invokes readers’ interest in classic literature to keep them turning pages in Lost Girls.

    Carey: “You know how little kids like to hear the same story over and over, and they don’t want you to deviate from the scripts by a word or a pause? Well that’s the pleasure of repetition, of the familiar, and it’s obviously very powerful and deep. But sophisticated adults want seasoning on that pleasure: they want the familiar refracted, prismatically, through the surprising and the novel. That’s why re-imaginings, reinterpretations, are so powerful and wonderful. They keep you within your comfort zone but at the same time take you on bizarre and thrilling journeys - a potent mix.”

    Carey’s experience with this sort of storytelling is expansive; his upcoming story arc on Ultimate Fantastic Four will include reboots of several popular Marvel characters.

    There’s a fine line, of course, between re-imagining a dusty, forgotten character and butchering a cherished fan favorite. A closer look at Moore’s oeuvre, however shows a willingness to invoke this sense of wonder in his storytelling. The obvious entry is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (with its expansive host of characters from Victorian-era fiction), but the offerings don’t stop there. Lesser-known stories by Moore, including his random bits from the DC universe, offer revisions and new ideas for characters like Vigilante, Green Arrow, the Joker and Superman. Even Moore’s take on Captain Britain couldn’t come to fruition until he essentially killed off the title character and resurrected him anew.

    Carey: “There’s the pleasure of having your guesses confirmed and the pleasure of being misled and taken by surprise: they both operate here.”

    And what of the 16-year gap between the initial concept and the final slipcase edition by Top Shelf? True, the first six chapters of Lost Girls were published a while ago in the Taboo anthology magazine. In the time since Moore first started conceptualizing the characters of Dorothy, Alice and Wendy, a lot has happened in the industry. Image Comics rose to fame and fueled a speculative market in the 1990s. Marvel Comics declared bankruptcy, then bounced back and became a multimedia powerhouse. DC’s Vertigo line proved time and time again that mature readers enjoy comics as well. In short, everything has changed and very little has stayed the same since Moore first put pen to paper for Lost Girls.

    Two other Alan Moore books also saw similarly long development period: V for Vendetta and Marvelman (later Miracleman). In the case of the former, the changing of the guard in Britain’s government made England a bit sunnier than Moore had first imagined it. In the latter, Miracleman ended decidedly differently than it had began. Carey attributes this to Moore’s changing thoughts on superheroes.

    Carey: “Miracleman didn’t work out quite as well, and I think that was because Moore’s feelings about superhero stories had changed in the interim. The final confrontation with Johnny Bates had this strange quality to it — as though in fact we’d missed the action and were seeing it in an imperfect reconstruction. For me it created a lacuna at the very heart of the story, where you really needed a more powerful and immediate resolution. Or perhaps what I mean is that the resolution has to be in the same key in which the story started out, and this was in a different, intentionally minor key. So the danger with these long gaps is that you’ll get — for want of a better word — parallax. The writer’s own perspective will have changed in between start and ending, and that can create clashes and odd shifts of perspective within the story.”

    To be sure, the world’s perception of pornography has changed in the last 16 years. When Moore started writing Lost Girls, porn was more or less limited to dirty movies and magazines. Now, through the dubious magic of the internet, it’s at everyone’s fingertips. Moore wrote Lost Girls as a reaction to the downfall of true erotica in the world. It could be argued that the past 16 years have seen a further collapse of the medium — or a rebirth.

    But the story and characters of Lost Girls remains quintessentially Moore’s, and it is aspect of the book’s creation that makes it less a culture shock and more a familiar homecoming.

    Posted by Tim Leong on July 6th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |

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