Ten Years Later: Moore & Gebbie Exposed the Sexuality of Literary Heroines in Lost Girls

Books Features Ten Years Later
Ten Years Later: Moore & Gebbie Exposed the Sexuality of Literary Heroines in Lost Girls

This article contains NSFW illustrations of full-frontal nudity and is intended for mature readers.

Depending on where in the world you’re sitting as you read this, it may not be legally advisable to purchase Lost Girls, Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s massive erotic upending of the leading ladies from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Peter Pan. First published in its entirety by Top Shelf ten years ago this summer and set in 1913 during the tumultuous days leading up to the first World War (Archduke Franz Ferdinand meets his end while the protagonists fondle one another in the audience of a play), Lost Girls is undeniably pornography: in form, in potential function and in Moore’s own words.

Lost Girls single volume edition cover.jpg

It is very nearly every kind of pornography, too. A handsome man first seduces a young American girl (Dorothy, formerly of Kansas) who indulges his shoe fetish before anally penetrating the older, apparently heteroflexible husband of a repressed Wendy, terribly far from her teenage Neverland. A silver-haired Alice rediscovers Wonderland as she lays a sprightly young maid with the assistance of a porcelain dildo. In one of many asides from the primary plot, a family of four engages in every conceivable combination of incest, son and daughter clearly below the teenage threshold. Most of the book, in fact, challenges obscenity laws and definitions of child pornography. Preteen brothers explore their sexuality, a young street urchin turns tricks to survive and Alice falls prey to the manipulations of a predatory white rabbit. To remove any ambiguity in the minds of those who have yet to read the book, Gebbie draws every adolescent sex act in full detail, often in lush crayon. Lost Girls does not allude and suggest when it comes to its XXX-rated content.

The length of the story—over 300 pages—allows Moore and Gebbie to touch on budding sexuality in nearly every permutation. Alice, whose founding novel was frequently interpreted to represent emerging womanhood long before Moore and Gebbie serialized Lost Girls in the pages of Steve Bissette’s appropriately named Taboo anthology, suffers the most in transition from Lewis Carroll’s frabjous source material. Her awakening is a forced one, coerced into sex with an older man when she is only 14. Her Wonderland, the topsy-turvy, otherworldly dimension that has made untold millions for Disney throughout the decades, is her way of escaping reality during these repeated violations.

Lost Girls Interior Art by Melinda Gebbie

On the opposite end of the spectrum lies Dorothy Gale, corn-fed farmgirl from the Heartland. Dorothy’s first orgasm comes when a tornado ravages her homestead, and her journey through “Oz” is a succession of sexual encounters with willing farmhands. The Wizard’s revelation here is less Emerald City than Flowers in the Attic.

The grown protagonist of J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Wendy Darling is stuck somewhere in the middle of these extremes. The green-clad eternal boy of Wendy’s story sneaks into her window one evening and brings her to a life-changing climax while her two preteen brothers watch on, hands moving furiously under their nightgowns. What follows for Wendy is a period of free love quickly crushed by guilt and loss of innocence as a hook-handed man pursues the youths around the Darlings’ upscale home. Rather than cope with her rollercoaster feelings toward sex, Wendy marries an older man for whom she feels no sexual attraction. Their most passionate sex scene in the book takes place entirely without their involvement, as the pair performs mundane tasks that cast fireside shadows posed in carnal positions.

These three women, all of whom titillate each other multiple times throughout the course of the book, find comfort in relaying their tales to one another while sleeping under the same roof in a hotel. It’s not a stretch for readers to connect the dots between erotic encounters and source material, but each story culminates in a splash page that steps out of the tale’s reality to illustrate the allusions of the founding stories. On these pages, Gebbie becomes perhaps the first and only person in the world to draw a great pink vaginal alligator or a clitoral caterpillar awash in opium smoke.

Lost Girls Interior Art by Melinda Gebbie

Moore, the scribe behind such comic benchmarks as Watchmen and V for Vendetta, approaches the story as seriously as any of his now-canonized works. The structure is precise and unyielding, the themes multilayered and interconnected and the three primary protagonists as compelling and complicated as any he’s ever crafted. The complexity of the literary references within—yes, to the famous texts, but also to Victorian pornographers and obscure erotica artists of the era—rival anything in his more action-packed League of Extraordinary Gentleman. The seemingly disparate works are really kissing cousins: imagine League as Spider-Man and Lost Girls as a preteen Peter Parker screwing a giant symbolic spider and you have a good idea of how the books reflect each other.

Still, Lost Girls is Gebbie’s book. No stranger to controversy—her explicit small-press comic Fresca Zizis was banned in the United Kingdom during the Thatcher years—Gebbie brings colorful, sweaty, sticky life to Moore’s perversity. Her characters are not the chiseled Grecian gods of typical superhero beat-em-ups, but the soft, hairy, slippery renditions of all-too-real people. It falls on Gebbie’s able shoulders to frankly portray incest, pederasty and metaphorical bestiality in an arousing light. Sex is not incidental to Lost Girls; Lost Girls is sex, and Gebbie renders sex in all of its clunky glory.

It’s also been ten years since a well-meaning Borders employer tried to convince this writer’s father not to buy the slipcased tome for his 16-year-old son. In a starred review for Publishers Weekly, Moore’s literary peer Neil Gaiman states that, for all of Moore and Gebbie’s high-faluting ideas about elevating porn, Lost Girls is not a “one-handed read.” To a teenager, that’s a challenge easily met. But in a book so suffuse with sex, it’s easy to get lost in the onslaught of imagery. What you’re left with after the wash of bodies fade is compelling historical-fiction pornography that prompts the reader to question all assumptions about decency and depiction of sexuality.

Lost Girls Interior Art by Melinda Gebbie

Less clear is the lasting impact of Lost Girls on the wider comic scene. Independent and underground cartoonists like Phoebe Gloeckner explored uncomfortable sexual topics long before Moore and Gebbie portrayed Wendy manually stimulating the Lost Boys. Anime and manga—and the Japanese government—still frequently wrestle with the legality and morality of depicting underage characters in explicitly sexual situations. Moore has come under increased scrutiny for misogyny and sexual violence in his work, as books like Watchmen and The Killing Joke have resurged in popularity, but his place among the all-time greats of the medium has never been in jeopardy.

Tens of thousands of copies later, it’s difficult to draw a direct line from Lost Girls to any work of similar importance and visibility. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ Saga perhaps comes closest, repeatedly confronting the reader with frankly depicted sex scenes and nudity alongside its shocking violence and deeply affecting personal drama. The book touches on sexual exploitation of minors with the introduction of six-year-old Sophie on the pleasure planet, Sextillion, although there’s no question that she was being abused and her captors meet a swift and brutal end at the hands of bounty hunter, The Will. The war that serves as a backdrop for the series is highly fictional, not historical, but there’s a similar sense of blissful numbness to shock the fifth, tenth, fifteenth time Staples draws a scrotum, even if a few scenes got the book briefly banned from digital distributors.

Lost Girls Interior Art by Melinda Gebbie

The legacy of pan-queerness advocated by Lost Girls is also murky. There is little hesitation by most characters in the book to move fluidly from opposite-sex to same-sex encounters and back again. Indeed, it is Alice, abused by men at a young age, who sticks most ardently to female partners while nearly everyone else cavorts freely. Books like Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked + The Divine promote similarly uncomplicated fluidity, and even all-ages smash hit Lumberjanes advances a world where neat categories and well-defined labels are largely unnecessary—although heaven help the journalist who draws anything but the faintest connection between Lost Girls and Lumberjanes.

It seems that Lost Girls largely succeeds as and in its intended category: pornography. Like late-night Xtube explorations, it’s not likely to come up in polite conversation even as thousands of eyes peruse and digest its curves and crevices. After a decade in print, Lost Girls is still “barely legal,” and its legacy, not unlike Moore’s work on more publicly lauded comics, remains largely untouched by probing hands.

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