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LYING IN THE GUTTERS VOLUME 2 COLUMN 51

Welcome to the most popular and longest running comics column on the internet. In its various forms, Lying In The Gutters has covered rumours and gossip in the comics industry for twelve long glorious and quite scary years.

All stories are sourced from well-connected individuals and checked with respective publisher representatives before publication. Mostly. The veracity of each story is judged by me and given a spotlight - Green is the most reliable, Amber means there's likely an interest involved or the likelihood isn't set and Red means even I can't quite bring myself to believe it.

Lying In The Gutters is for your entertainment. Neither Fair Nor Balanced.

Now… while you all had you Free Comic Book Day on Saturday, I had my own. Holed up with a galley copy of the "Complete Lost Girls," all three 112-page volumes. So I thought I might as well review it.

LOST IN LA RUG MUNCHER:

A REVIEW OF LOST GIRLS BY ALAN MOORE AND MELINDA GEBBIE

[Yellow Light]It's not what I was expecting. It's less. It's more. Like most Alan Moore books, what it's done is to get me thinking. I still haven't thought it through totally yet. So consider this less of a concise, crisp clear review, more as a train of thought. I have no idea where it will end. Let's find out together, shall we?

"Lost Girls" is completely and without equivocation slash fiction. A form popularised by certain female fans of "Star Trek," who wrote stories featuring the sexual couplings of Kirk/Spock, it launched a sub-artform. Thanks to the Internet, now anyone can read and write stories involving Optimus Prime getting it on with Megatron and Harry Potter simultaneously. Slash fiction is distinct from fanfiction in that it focuses on the previously unexplored sexual relationship between two fictional characters, sometimes making text what was originally present in subtext. And sometimes just exploring what would happen in a relationship between Piglet and the shark from "Jaws II."

Melinda Gebbie's artwork adds to this. Incredibly stylised, colourful and beautifully composed, it nonetheless gives the impression of being formed from coloured pencils and crayons, almost in a scrapbook. In that way it removes the pornographic bite of hard reality, but then adds a strong erotic charge of innocence. Impressionism meets Julie Burchill.

I read the first few chapters when they were published in "Taboo," alongside "From Hell." Kitchen Sink collected both in their own volumes, but we only saw a few chapters of "Lost Girls" - and in the UK, that was fairly hard thanks to the lovely people at Customs & Excise. Reading the whole collection at once seems gluttenous, overindulgent, much as the book does itself. I remember it feeling quite tame at the time, a bit too girly, a bit too worthy, full of swirls and colours. Plush Sex. Well, that was then. As the book continues it plummets into further depravity.

Lost Girls sees three women, a late teenager, a married woman in her thirties and a spinster, Dorothy, Wendy and Alice. The identities of these characters from "The Wizard Of Oz," "Peter Pan" and "Alice In The Looking Glass" are repeatedly confirmed and commented on by parallels, recurring images, storytelling devices and painfully plain puns. However, the adventures we ascribe to them are but interpretations of their sexual awakening.

Ensconced in a hotel in Austria in the early twentieth century by a variety of storytelling devices (the biggest being that they're at the very start of The Great War - also a performance of the infamous ballet opera "The Rite Of Spring"), they proceed to tell each other filthy sexual narratives and then get it on. For three hardback volumes. There are some men on hand to spice things up a bit, sometimes with each other (a Mr Harold Potter, Wendy's husband, appears prominently, but his arrival was written in the original publication of early chapters, well before a certain JK Rowling brought a similarly titled fellow onto the scene) and sometimes with the hotel staff - who are all, from bellhops to maids, prostitutes.

The most common remark I'd expect to hear on one hearing of this book is "why not just get a porn mag?" Certainly, the women and men featured would be flesh and blood (though arguable no more realistic) and that is an honest declaration of one's intentions, rather that hiding it away in some kind of artistic pretension that no one believes. In that way, porn and comics share a disdain, a lack of belief that they could contain anything more than surface elements. And, for each, that belief is confirmed by much of the product.

But the artistic potential of pornography is not just a virtue of "Lost Girls," it's part of the plot and structure. The hotelier claims to have solicited pornographic works from the greatest artists and writers of the day for a volume placed in each room of the hotel. As readers we are treated to glimpses of these works, often as parallels to the action and storyline. The nature of creating and enjoying fictional pornography, where no one is harmed, no matter what subject it touches on is both part of the narrative and part of the book's theme. In a pornographic comic, or the illustrated prose featured of its time, and as not in a photographic magazine or film, there are only words and pictures created from nothing, no actual action, no one being used and abused save the reader. So then, what impact does that have on the repeated displays of paedophilia, incest, bestiality and non-consensual (at first) sex displayed in this book? Is it another exercise on Moore's part to climb self referentially up his own arse? Is it an attempt to excuse the book's content? Is it a comment on what pornography has become thanks to the grip of film making and photography? As unusual with Moore, it could be all these things. Like I said, I'm still thinking about it.

Children having sex with children and adults is the most viscerally disturbing. Again, the theme of taking classic children's stories and either revealing or subverting their subtexts to that of blossoming sexuality and the exploration of such is itself commentary on the realities of fiction, but also the complexity of humanity which is very hard to label and box as modern society would like. As a society gets more and more obsessed on certain lines over what is not acceptable for children to see, read or experience, yet allows other equally potential dangers freely. The book fights against ingrained moralities, and is an uncomfortable read for that, yet it is hard not to celebrate in the freedoms it portrays, however unappealing.

It's an incredibly inconsistent book, and the better for it. Moore uses his most famous trick of juxtaposed images and texts to ludicrous degrees here, becoming a parody of himself in places. before switching tracks completely. If you never thought you'd get sick of lesbian sex, as certain chapters go on, you find yourself wishing they'd skip to the next bit. It's a lumpy read but deliberately so I feel. Moore has been known to insert more difficult tracts in his work to make a point, to test an audience or to deliver something other than spoon-feeding - the pirate comic scenes in "Watchmen," the first chapter of "Voice Of The Fire." And persistence rewards. Yet there are also heavy uses of the storytelling sledgehammer, when you see the scarecrow, you suddenly realise which way this is all going, and the ending seems a little "Blackaddery" to me, no matter how worthy the point of what humanity obsesses about, over what really matters, and which is preferable.

The book has also made me wonder, speculate about Alan Moore and Melina Gebbie's sex life, something I'd never done before. This seems such an enjoyable work to create, it feels like the long period of craft must have impinged on their own relationship. This is a work of fantasy, how many of those fantasies have they acted out, talked about, embodied or considered? What do Alan's children think about the work? I've never been a fan of looking at a creator's life through their work, but the intense sexuality and the knowledge that Moore and Gebbie are to be married this summer, as the book is published, makes it impossible not to.

And look, you're thinking about it too aren't you? I might be interviewing the big man soon I may have to ask.

To conclude, I don't think I can right now. I'm still building up to a climax, I reckon. This comic has driven me to complex thought, to patterns and ideas staying fixed in my own mental space that will stay with me. I will quote this book in conversation, I know it. I will see others through it, I will filter experience through it, it has affected me as much as any fiction can. The last time Alan did this to me in such a way was when I saw him perform "Birth Caul: A Shamanism Of Childhood." Twelve years on, there is much I see through the eyes of that experience. Which means your own take will be very different. Personal. Hopefully moving. What more can you ask from a pornographic comic book piece of slash fiction?

Of course what will be interesting, purely from my point of view, will be how the industry will react. Shops that would stock Alan Moore books may not stock this. Some that would not stock adult comics may decide to in this particular case. Bookstores, libraries, who knows. Alan Moore's profile, whether he likes it or not, has never had a higher media stock. Which means Daily Mail/Fox News style stories about paedophilia, the corruption of our youth may abound and the work of the CBLDF may be needed more than ever. So make sure you get your copy while you can. By Hook or by Crook.

The wife's started reading it. I'll tell you what she thinks.

LOST GIRLS SIGNED, NUMBERED AND DELIVERED.

[Green Light]Publishing "Lost Girls" won't come cheap. Over $200,000 in fact.

That's why Top Shelf are soliciting a direct-to-consumer signed and numbered edition of the complete "Lost Girls", all three 112 page oversized hardcover clothbound and dust jacketed volumes, sealed and shrinkwrapped in a slipcase, in order to help fund print run the book will receive.

There are only 500 copies made available, autographed by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie, and I've got my name on one of them. So that's 499 left. The only way you can get a copy is through the Top Shelf website. Not at shops, not at conventions. It's a high priced high end extremely limited collectable that will enable the volume as a whole to be printed.

The book is published for August, but the volume will ship when the publisher have copies from the printers. It is unlikely there will be any copies of the signed and numbered edition left available to order when the book ships.

Little wonder that the signed and numbered edition costs $150 plus shipping. Adults only of course. But then who else is going to be able to blow $150 on this beauty? The regular edition costs $75 plus shipping.

Alan Moore rarely makes appearances, and rarely signs at those appearances either. And even if you did, imagine trying to lug this huge volume there for the privilege. I saw someone at the Michael Moorcock stage interview with an "Absolute Watchmen" volume, clearly wishing that they'd brought a single issue instead. And if there was ever a comic to share with your significant other, well, this is it. Handy to spread over the bed sheets.

If you want the signed numbered edition, you have to use the website. If you want the standard volume, check first with your retailer whether they are willing to stock it. If so, go for it. It is unlikely that all retailers will. Some, because it's not by Marvel and DC, others because it portrays repeated sexual acts, some illegal, graphically, some because they won't be able to get copies through their geographic distributor fearing seizure by Customs. Yet it is probably Melinda Gebbie and Alan Moore's greatest achievement in the comics field.

Hook or by crook, remember.

ALSO IN COMICS THIS WEEK

COWBOY ARTIST

[Green Light]Jordi Bernet will be drawing a three-issue origin story for "Jonah Hex."

That is all.

BOOM HAMMER

[Green Light]It seems that Dan Abnett and Tony Lee are working on "Warhammer" and "Warhammer 40K" books for little-publisher-that-could, Boom! Studios. Editor Chris Stone was working on the books when Speakeasy had the license.

WHAT ELSE WE'VE BEEN WATCHING THIS WEEK

[Green Light]"C For Cookie" ….On that point, have a listen to the A For Anarchy crew...

After hearing another "Civil War" promotion on American radio, just why do American's insist on pronouncing Mark Millar's surname with an inflection, when they have no problem saying Frank Miller. Do they think that Mark is some kind of pirate?

We all know that's Warren Ellis.

IT'S A SIN

[Green Light]Take one artist who puts a teaser image for a project with its name and publisher in a link on his web site. Take a writer who says he'll be working with this artist for a mystery publisher. Take them both asking me not to run the story after a regular Gutterati worked it out, because they want it to break next week. Take me feeling all grumpy but pulling the story anyway because deep, deep down I'm just too nice not to. Arse.

DEATH IN THE FAMILY

[Green Light]London's Comic Showcase is to close.

One of Britain's older comic shops, it's been in business for over 25 years, its last day is Saturday, June 17th. It's all down to a 50% increase in rent and a desire by the leaseholders to redevelop the area. They've taken the decision not to relocate, and owner and manager Paul Hudson will continue to run his stalls at local marts.

Many London comic book readers will have fond memories of Showcase, as Paul has of them. Maybe not the time his basement flooded with sewage, to be mopped up by 9000 back issues, or when his shoplifter rugby tackle caused him to break his shoulder. But London will miss Comics Showcase, as it disappears to become a Starbucks, or a Pizza Express or whatever.

For me, it was the friendliest of all the London stores. Friends I knew were employed there, it was very easy to make new ones there as well.

If you're in town make sure you pop by before it closes. Pick up some bargains while you're at it…

HOLED UP HELD UP

[Green Light]Rich Johnston's "Holed Up" #3 was finally published Two Years Later on Wednesday. With this, "Gun Theory" and "Lost Girls" round the corner can "Big Numbers" be far away?

Yes, yes it can.

I'm continuing to sell the contents of my shed and study online. Have a browse - Americans here, everyone else here, I'm putting ten new items up each day…

Orbital in London is currently selling "Watchmen" pages. The Mars/smiley face/destruction scenes... I want I want I want...

SMALL PRINT

Discuss this column at the Lying In The Gutters Forum.

Contact me on richjohnston@gmail.com or on AOL Instant Messenger as TwistRich.

You can also write to me at 8 Robin Hood Lane, Kingston Vale, London SW15 3PU ENGLAND

Or call me/text me on 0780 1350982 from the UK or 01144780 1350982 from the US.

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