NOTE: The following article is intended for mature audiences.
CBR News is happy to bring you the third part in our three part profile of "Lost Girls" by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie, set for release this Summer from Top Shelf Productions. In part one of our series, Alan Moore discussed the hot button issues of pornography, sex and war. In part two, Moore and Gebbie delved further into the controversial issues presented in the book as well as Gebbie's 16 year process of bringing the book together. Today, we finish out our discussion with Moore and Gebbie by discussing any possible outcry that may result from the publication of "Lost Girls," as well as the important role Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" plays in the book.
ON ANY POSSIBLE OUTCRY
With its depictions of polymorphous sexual couplings, including scenes of the heroines having sex when they were younger, "Lost Girls" has already been rejected by several comic shops, and Borders has declined to carry it. Top Shelf already has the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund on standby in the event of any attempts to prosecute the book or any sellers of the book, where it would likely be defended on the grounds of artistic merit.
Moore and Gebbie have also tried to prepare their responses to any charges that might be made.
"Alan and I were going through difficult questions that people might say to me at San Diego," said Gebbie. "And he said, 'What would you say if people said to you that this is tantamount to child molestation or whatever? How could you justify doing this artwork?' And I would say I'm every single character that I draw. Just like you're them when you're writing them. And if I'm the character to whom these things are happening, I couldn't possibly accuse myself of not caring, because the whole response is to try and be that clarifying voice that shows you what it feels like to be that person and having that thing happen to you.
"That's supposed to be what Art is about. It helps you understand the humanity, the spirituality, the emotional realm and the view of the subject. And if Art can't elucidate it, then nothing can, and women have been used as objects and ciphers and victims just like it's happening with children. Children have thoughts about all these things. I went back a lot to my own childhood curiosities, my own childhood experiences, which the child's response is 'I don't want to be in trouble, I don't want to be hurt, I don't want to be frightened.' A lot of what parents and adults do with children is make them feel wrong for having their own responses to things, and there's rarely a dialogue between parent and child where the parent has informed opinions about what the child should do. It's a very complex area and anybody can interfere with it in terms of families.
"If I couldn't get into something, then I would wait until I could. Like the stuff with Dorothy and the field hands, I really feel her innocence," continued Gebbie. I really feel Wendy's unhappiness and guilt. I really feel Alice's rejection of society and its rejection of her and her cleverness, and the things that happened to her that she didn't understand that saddened her, that confused her, that alienated her… It would have been a terrible travesty, this book, if it had been one of those typical kind of things that people usually come up with, prison fodder."
"And I should imagine that pedophiles or any rapist do not need to take their inspiration from literature or art or pornography," added Moore. "Andrea Dworkin did make the argument that pornography provides a blueprint for rape, but I can't agree with that. It's like saying all heroin users start out on marijuana. Yeah, well, they started out on milk before that. There is no causal connection. And if you've got a population of hundreds of thousands of people who read pornography, and you've got a tiny percentage of those people who actually rape, then that's not really an argument for saying pornography causes rape and sex crimes. You could just as easily say, 'Look, the other 95% of people seem to be able to handle pornography just fine.' So perhaps it's an argument that pornography, instead of inciting rape and sexual crime, in some ways you could argue that it seems to diffuse it. It would be interesting to see what the reaction is.
"As regards to sex with minors, it's worth pointing out that 'Alice in Wonderland' is about 140 years old," continued Moore. "None of the three main characters are much less than 100 years old. We are talking about lines on paper. We are talking about words arranged in certain orders. We're not talking about real entities. If people are worried about images of any of the totally imaginary beings depicted in 'Lost Girls,' I'm sure that I could persuade Melinda to draw perfectly imaginary birth certificates that reveal that they were all in fact young-looking midgets. What the point of that would be, I'm not entire sure. I would fall back upon probably the greatest recent American eroticist, not Henry Miller, but Robert Crumb, who I've got nothing but absolute awe for. Like his story 'Joe Blow.' It was so funny and shocking and liberating, not that it would inspire you to go and have incestuous relations with members of your family. No, that was not the point. It was the idea that was happening in a space of non-material things. Robert Crumb did say, famously, 'It's just lines on paper, folks!' I would say it's what those lines on paper did in people's minds. At the end of the day, it is just lines on paper. It's purely exploring ideas. If there are ideas not okay for us to explore, then I want an explanation as to which ideas those are and why. And I suppose to some degree 'Lost Girls' will be a multicolored litmus paper. It will be a revealing time and I hope not too dramatic for anybody."
It should be pointed out that "Lost Girls" is expensively printed and bound, designed to be kept in pride of place on bookshelves, with its three lavishly printed hardbacks and slipcase. At its retail price of $75, it's hardly a magazine that the average punter could go to the local newsstand and plunk down some change for and take home in a brown paper bag. Unlike most pornography, "Lost Girls" demands the reader's close attention to think about the original stories it comments on, and the increasingly overt political discourse it is engaged with.
"They're not allowed to even look at it in the store," said Gebbie. "I said to Chris that it has to be sealed, nobody can look at it in the shop. The Madonna book had come out, and nobody was allowed to look at it before they bought it. Everybody bought it in droves and it was cack. So they're going to have to have some faith in this one. The main thing is if I get feedback from people who come up to me and say unpleasant things, I can say, 'Obviously, you bought this thing or you wouldn't have seen it. You took it away. Your child didn't look at it in a shop and get traumatized, unlike looking at 'Soldier of Fortune' magazine and seeing children get blown up. That's okay. That's on the bottom shelf at Smith's or whatever. They would have had to buy it to be able to complain about it. That would have been $75 dollars of their own money they put into it in order to give somebody a bad time."
Any furor that might erupt over "Lost Girls" is down to the fact that it has pictures. After all, far more violent and brutal pornographic prose novels, like those by the Marquis de Sade, are still in print, and no one is currently trying to prosecute it in court.
"You can still buy 'Fanny Hill,' which is an outright piece of pornography," said Moore. "There are a number of artbooks out there with erotic illustrations in them, which is a recognized part of the world of Art. The erotic collapses the combination of words and images, which is the problem. We seem to be able to take both of them if they are separate, in their proper ghettos -- If the pornographic artbooks are in the big, expensive artbooks section, where only a certain class of people can afford to look at them. In all the pornography trials we've had over here, the argument from the prosecution boiled down to 'Well, of course, none of this stuff corrupted me, and it wouldn't corrupt any of you gentlemen of the jury.' But as a person famously said in the Lady Chatterly trial, 'You wouldn't want your wives or servants to see this, people who couldn't be trusted to keep a rigid control over their behaviour that we can as gentlemen.' Poor people, working class people, the people who were savage and would probably burst out into a rape spree at the sight of a well-turned ankle. It's how we imagine any social group that we consider lower than us. That seems to be a big part of it as well. It seems to be in most of the obscenity trials over here. We don't talk about wives and servants anymore. We dress up the rhetoric, but it's basically the same argument. What they're 'protecting the children' from, I'm not entirely sure, but it seems to be more the visual things they respond to. I would say it's more the combination of words and pictures.
"People who do want to have sex with children are not going to be reading an arty book, they're going to find something much more basic," said Moore. "Pornography is not the act anymore than a murder mystery is the act of murder. People who do these things, yes, they might use pornography as some sort of prop or aid, but that is not what is making them do these things, it's their pathology and psychopathology. And also, it's probably worth pointing out that yes, the rape of a child is a horrific thing, but why exactly is it worse than the rape of anybody? And why is rape itself worse than any of the other coersive and horrifying things that we can do to each other? Is rape a fate worse than death? How is one rape worst than another? Is a child getting raped worse than a child getting blown up by a bomb in a war? Human bestiality is human bestiality. Like the young soldier lying dead in the ditch at the end of 'Lost Girls' with his guts blown out. That is something that shouldn't have happened. He should have been alive and making love."
LOST GIRLS AT THE RITE OF SPRING
The last chapter of Book One of "The Lost Girls" sees the three heroines having sex in a Paris theater amidst an outraged audience rioting over the premiere of Stravinsky's ballet "The Rite of Spring," which is still considered the first real explosion of Modernist Art. It is here that one of the key themes of the story crystallize for the first time: that of Sex as the fuel in the engine of Art, Creativity, and Creation itself.
The sequence is a tour-de-force of text and art as Moore describes the primal frenzy evoked by Stravinsky's music and the atavistic nature of the performance on stage, while Gebbie's art becomes increasingly frantic and fragmented. This is probably the first time a story has attempted to recreate the effect of "The Rite of Spring" on an unsuspecting public upon its debut.
I asked both writer and artist about the importance of the chapter and how it was created.
"In 'Lost Girls,'" said Moore. "I suppose in terms of storytelling, in terms of postmodern deconstruction that's going on there, we're using a lot of the modernist and postmodernist tools to tell a story about a time before Modernism, which is the only way you can tell it honestly. If we had just fabricated something in the style of that period, it wouldn't have been true. It would have just been a pastiche. And it wouldn't have been true to me and Melinda's perceptions as modern human beings looking at the time. It seems a bit paradoxical, but it seemed to be the only way we could approach this material, where we were glorying in the riches of the past. We were looking at those riches with an informed modern eye."
"Alan and I had known about that particular incident for a long time," said Gebbie. "People going mad at the 'Rite of Spring.' I said, 'I know, they could go to 'The Rite of Spring.' That could be brilliant. And his friend had videotaped the re-enactment with copies of the original costumes and the original choreography, and he loaned it to us. I took about 200 photographs of the ballet, just stopped the video and took shots. Just went through the video and picked the six or eight shots that showed a progress through the ballet that was indicative of what was going on, and then I listened to the music and watched the ballet again and again, and played with the artwork, did a bit of collage, that was pretty much a mixed media thing, and there were layers and layers you can't see because they were done on clear plastic. There was over-layering and really bright paint. That's actually my favorite chapter of all of them, because it was the most inventive."
The chapter is different from the rest of the book in its intensity. There is a growing sense of frenzy, and the imagery on stage becomes more fragmented, which is in keeping with how images became more fragmented in the Modernist era as it strives to capture the primal atavistic effect Art can have on people.
"Well, yes," said Moore. "We're not anticipating the riot that greeted 'The Rite of Spring,' but I doubt that Stravinsky was either. At the same time, he was probably aware of the pro-life, pro-existence theme that was running all the way through the piece, and he probably wasn't that surprised at the reaction to the piece. Of course, as we noticed as we were putting the piece together, we originally chose 1913 because it was the best time period to have the three women meet, where by the chronology when these characters were born, based on when they were published, that was probably the only time when Dorothy wouldn't be too young, and Alice wouldn't be too old. When we found it was around the 1913, 1914 period, we started to look up what the particular strains and fault-lines were in Europe at the time. It was a fascinating time. Of course, we noticed this juxtaposition between 'The Rite of Spring' and the attendant riot on one hand, and the First World War breaking out the next. It kind of suggested that things were at a certain pitch in Europe, that for those with eyes that see, the violent reaction at the perfectly innocent 'Rite of Spring' was probably a genuine prefiguring of the way that those forces would manifest within about 12 months."
The premiere of "The Rite of Spring" and the outbreak of the First World War are the two key historical events that bookend 'Lost Girls,' and to Moore and Gebbie, they're not entirely disconnected.
"It was the most stark example of Modernist art, certainly the most high-profile," said Moore. "It's kind of interesting. We started 'Lost Girls' at the end of the Eighties. Originally, we were thinking (absurdly, optimistically, as it turned out…) that we might have the story finished within two or three years. We had publishers collapsing around us through no fault of their own. And it did turn out to be a more demanding work than we originally imagined when we started to realize the scale of work we'd taken on. Actually, given all the setbacks and delays, both me and Melinda feel that it couldn't have come out at a more appropriate time."
"I sat and analysed the music for myself to see what it was that got people so mad," added Gebbie. "Before 'The Rite of Spring,' the most popular ballet was 'Giselle' or something like that, the old-fashioned ballet was very much status quo: the girl bouncing very, very delicately and not too heavily in big, flounced dandelion skirts. You didn't see too much, maybe the prima ballerina had a shorter skirt, but everything was quite sedate. Ballet was one of the status quo traditions, where you had husband and wife go out to the ballet like they go out to the opera. And this throbbing rhythm was kind of portentous."
This was, of course, not what "The Rite of Spring" offered at all.
"It was the sound of the modern, pounding, threatening rhythm of the future: jackboots and war and the relentless violence of Spring itself," said Gebbie. "The sacrifice of the beautiful maiden to the bear-men, and so there's a kind of rape quality, a kind of industrial quality, a War World One quality. There's a fear in the girl's eyes, and there's something really frightening. It also sounds like a train, of course. And so it's a little parable about the future. It brought so much home to the people that they had to fight this energy, and they didn't know how to, because it had never been presented to them on their own home-front, their own plush-lined theaters. So I wanted to get a hold of what it was that made them so hysterical. I guess it's like the era when Punk came along, and it deconstructed things by tearing everything and shredding the Old apart so something new could come through, and people who wanted the Old would fight the New. And that was happening there.
"Most of Art is just an endless amount of caressing or scraping something into existence," continued Gebbie. "It's not nearly as impressive-sounding as talking to a writer, because a writer will give you all sorts of lovely soundbites, because that's their realm, but if the artist isn't successful in what they're drawing, then you don't have the story. Either that stuff works or it doesn't."
"I learned a lot doing 'Lost Girls.' I got a lot of confidence, I had time to figure out what I wanted to paint, and it was a great taking-off place for me," said Gebbie. "I now have a full palette for what I feel passionate about and what I want to paint. The first painting was my favorite vista, a conglomeration of my favorite things that give me a sense of revelry, a certain amount of portraiture. I really still do love drawing women, and my paintings got a lot better after years of drawing 'Lost Girls' and it's really quite a pleasure. I work a lot faster in paint than I did with drawings, I'm amazed to say. I'm doing little portraits for the San Diego Comic Convention of Dorothy, Wendy and Alice that I'm going to bring with me."