Lost Girls, written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Melinda Gebbie, is the accumulation of approximately sixteen years of labor into three large volumes and sold as a boxed set through Top Shelf Productions. There's no flowery way to say this, so I'll refrain from beating around the bush (if you'll excuse the pun, I'm sure this will not be the last one): this book contains pornography. The chapters span the facets of debauchery, explore varying shades of sexuality, and probe taboos ranging from things like incest and rape and bestiality to a great deal more.
None of this, though, is to say that the book is bad, quite the contrary in this reviewer's opinion. However, Lost Girls is most certainly not for everyone, even the supposedly open minded person may find themselves timid and conservative when attempting to read this book.
But erotica and sexual memoir have extensive foundations in the literary world. If the Marquis de Sade could be said to turn sex into an art on the page, and many others like Pauline Reage could be said to expand the scope of this medium into the realm of mainstream artistic legitimacy, then Alan Moore isn't really doing anything new. This is relatively new, however, to comics - a medium that has long been fraught with controversy and stymied by self-censorship. In this sense, the author may in fact be doing something spectacular by getting sex out of the bedroom, out of text, away from things like Hentai (I mean, tentacles? Seriously?), and synthesizing it into something fairly original: the aesthetic interplay between text an image - something Alan Moore has always excelled in.
I'll refrain, however, from getting into the nuances of the Art vs. Pornography debate. You're not here to read a dissertation, you want to know either what the book is or whether it's worth buying (or you're researching for a dissertation and are looking for secondary sources and critical reactions). So let's get down to brass tacks and see if we can't address each of these things.
The book primarily focuses on three women staying at a hotel in Austria and alternately engaging in sexual acts or recounting their past experiences. These girls, however, the reader is expected to already have an intimate relationship with, so to speak: Alice from her eponymous Adventures in Wonderland, Wendy from Peter Pan, and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.
In each instance, Alan Moore reimagines their respective fantasy worlds into elaborate metaphors for their sexual exploits and traumas. Much of the action, in the main narrative and the flashbacks, take place during the Victorian period, that den of repressed desire and shallow propriety, and ends with the explosion of World War One in Europe.
Admittedly, writing a review does not take place in a vacuum - especially when it comes to a book that has already been released for several months. A number of other reviews I've read speak of Alan Moore's poor characterization - about how they remain flat throughout and simply prove to be vessels for the author's message. This, however, I did not find problematic and did not make the story any less compelling. These are archetypal characters: their story has already been told and readers should already be familiar with them.
This ultimately frees the author to use them as he pleases - sexually. I disagree that there are no changes in the characters, however. Through the revelation of their stories to one another, the reader gradually sees certain neuroses and obsessions slip away and throughout the book we get to see the characters developed differently, no longer sheathed by the veil of their childhood fantasies. The dialogue very often seems like something straight out of Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, terse and contrived and dialectically unsound - but I find it hard to imagine anything else sounding more realistic during an orgy.
The book is notable for its writing, wherein Alan Moore, in addition to the content, pushes the boundaries of comics authorship by experimenting with perspective, temporality, and narrative. The art, at times, seems childishly drawn and poorly rendered, but perhaps this style is best suited for the story that is being told. The images that Melinda Gebbie conjures reflect well upon the action, the licentiousness, and, in some cases, the innocence of the story (though I must admit, by the end of the book all the penises began to look the same to me - which may or may not be an artistic flaw).
Lost Girls is a must for anybody studying comics academically or seeking to learn to write from a master of the art form, as Alan Moore has shown that he is from his previous endeavors and certainly displays here with little humility. It is an enjoyable read for the less squeamish among us looking for either a good story, personal gratification, or an immense boxed set that could easily double as a bludgeon.
There is a running joke, I have been told by a friend, asking whether Alan Moore can write a female character that is not a prostitute. While the characters in Lost Girls cannot, technically, be said to be in the sex industry, this book should probably not be used as a contrary example.
The author and the illustrator succeed in crafting a novel that comments upon sexually repressive societies, taboos, and art in general. But, where Watchmen may have been the end-all be-all of superhero comics, Lost Girls only breaks open the floodgates and thrusts sexuality into the forefront, leaving future authors and artists to (ideally) explore this new territory without hindrance.