9.10.2006

Finding The Lost Girls

The Lost Girls (Top Shelf): There's an endless list of possible ways to attack Lost Girls when attempting a review, but I'm going to try to distill that down to just the strongest ideas that jumped out at me. Initially, I was questioning why master scribe Alan Moore would have chosen pre-War Austria as a setting, but that was cleared up soon enough. The hotel becomes a literal oasis of pleasure and quickly reminds us that the best art is often inspired by a backdrop of turmoil and strife.

Most people probably will become hung up on the fact that Moore is juxtaposing supposedly innocent young female literary heroines with outright pornography. I chose to look beyond it and focus on what he would do structurally with the character archetypes. And I like what he did. We still see Wendy (from Peter Pan), Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz), and Alice (of Alice in Wonderland) go through journeys, but their travels through Neverland, The Land of Oz, and Wonderland respectively become allegorical for their journeys of sexual awakening. They all play out in different ways based on their personalities, and with various results.

Dorothy, for example, is a catalyst. In the telling of her story, she has power harnessed in her sexuality which perhaps causes, or at least enhances, the tornado. Her journey down the yellow-brick road with the familiar Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin-Man is basically a series of sexual encounters with men who boast similar shortcomings in their personalities. The key here is that Dorothy has the power within her. She wields it and isn't afraid to experiment in an inquisitive way, cataloguing life experiences for the sheer joie-de-vive of it.

Conversely, Wendy has to be "sparked" to become inspired to discover her sexuality and the visit from Peter draws her out. There's a certain amount of shame and embarassment she has to overcome. This awakens her curiosity, her joy, dismisses her shy demeanor and allows her to take fanciful "flight" as familiar characters like Captain Hook are incorporated in a sexualized way.

Alice is perhaps the most complex of the three, in the way that her particular fantasy is caused and manifests itself. We learn in Moore's version that Alice was victimized at a young age, and it's this experience which causes her to descend deeper down the "rabbit hole" into a world of drug abuse and sexual objectification. Her experiences blur the line between fantasy and reality and become an elaborate blend of the two. She creates an entire fictional world for herself to explain her experiences, behavior, and lasting reactions to it all.

The next area of meta-commentary that Moore dissects for us is the obvious claim that this is "just" pornography and could perhaps be classified as "bad" or "wrong" in that it depicts these particular young female leads in sexualized situations and is devoid of artistic merit. He offers a defense to this pretty standard Right Wing assault and makes an interesting point that it's all fiction, thus inherently harmless. If we simply talk about our fantasies or depict them in fictionalized accounts, then no harm can come of them. They are the classic "victimless" crime, assuming you accept that they're criminal in the first place. And he makes a convincing argument that they're not. He takes the pornography to an extreme, deliberately I believe, just to prove his point. The more explicit things become, he's essentially looking at his potential audience and saying "Are you getting upset by this? Is any of this uncomfortable? You shouldn't be upset. And it shouldn't be uncomfortable. It's just fiction folks, relax." He slyly insinuates that "Perhaps the most uncomfortable thing is that you've fantasized about some of these exact things and if they make you uncomfortable, you should confront yourself, not me, the poor author."

One of the most interesting characters is hotel owner Monsieur Rougeur, who is arguably the most passionate character highlighted, in that he's created this oasis of pleasure, complete with inspiring little "White Bibles" that house a collection of erotic fiction to inspire his guests to frolic openly with eachother and the staff. He himself becomes an author (one of Moore's most frequently used storytelling tropes, the story-within-a-story construct, the most famous of which being his use of the Pirate story in Watchmen, and the device is used in a couple of different ways here) and reminds us that the storyteller himself is perhaps the most erotic of all characters, in his ability to use ideas and words to stimulate.

By the end of their character arcs, Wendy, Dorothy, and Alice, through telling their stories of sexual awakening, have confronted the truth inherent to themselves and completed their paths of maturity. By confronting, discussing, and ultimately accepting their fantasies, they've all "found" the little Lost Girls they once were and have ushered themselves into womanhood. At the end, Moore leaves us with an insightful sound byte as War is upon the hotel guests, that you can "destroy beautiful and imaginative things, but not beauty and imagination."

Artistically, Melinda Gebbie just cannot receive enough praise for this work. On the very surface, she pefectly captures the feeling of the era. But your eye is quickly drawn deeper, to analyze every panel border, every panel shape, every panel transition, every color choice, and every shadow. Each of these devices seeks to tell another story, comment as a sarcastic or knowing aside to the audience on the "main" story being delivered, and even serve as further, more accurate explanation for what you're ostensibly being presented.

I hesitate to grant the "+" grade because there are a few spots where I feel that Moore didn't give the audience much credit. I actually felt that my intelligence was insulted on a few occasions, and too much information was provided. Where I had already inferred meaning or made a subtle connection to an established literary work, Moore would come right out and make the connection for me. The most obvious example of this are the full page illustrations. For example, Dorothy and the Lion. We've already been provided a plethora of psychological analogy and narrative to understand that the farm hand is representative of the Lion, yet Moore comes along and smacks us on the head with a full page pin-up of Dorothy and the Lion to make 100% sure we haven't missed anything. Though this happens repeatedly, it's a minor gripe, and there's no denying the inherent beauty of the pages in and of themselves. Grade A.

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