To continue our blog’s sex theme …
As genres go, porn makes superhero comics look good. Both are built around spasms of activity that apparently can’t be left out of the action. You have to have fight scenes, you have to have sex scenes. But at least the fight scenes come with some motivation. The man wants to rob the jewelry store, or the man is mad because he was imprisoned in the Parallax Zone. The maid who jumps the bellboy in Book II of Lost Girls doesn’t have a particular reason. The bellboy has less than a reason to respond, since just a couple of minutes ago he came while fooling around with one of the guests. Still, he and the maid go at it. Getting through Lost Girls is like reading three volumes about people who eat fried chicken and don’t care about anything else. No matter what, they’re going to eat fried chicken, and they’re going to do it with a chummy Rotarian air that sounds like nothing on earth: “Monsieur Rougeur’s narrations and his member are both very nice indeed. Could you read us another tale like that, perhaps? Oooh. Ooh, yes . . .”
You have heard there’s shocking stuff in Lost Girls, pedophilia and bestiality and incest. Indeed there is, plenty. From interviews, it appears Moore decided to carry his Lost Girls experiment right to the limit. If he was going to do pornography, he was going to do real pornography, not some polite literary substitute. He tells us that real porn is meant to be “transgressive” and set loose fantasies that can never be acted upon, fantasies from the core of our being. To know ourselves is to know them too. So you start with freeing the psyche and you wind up with a girl jerking off a horse. (“It felt sorta like peach-skin.”) Moore believes in expanding the consciousness, so he believes in consciousness-expanding porn. And in some distant sense a girl jerking off a horse does amount to a freer psyche, because it’s an unthinkable idea slapped down in front of you. But I don’t feel freer after experiencing the idea. I feel like something I care about is being misrepresented. If sex means getting a horse to come, or doing an eight-year-old, or having everybody in the family fuck each other, then all right, I’ll find some other interest. The scenes just mentioned come in the third volume because Lost Girls is organized to represent the way we all first discover sex and come to terms with it. The book builds to a frenzy because sex is a powerful and disturbing force, and to fully experience it means learning that it can pull us in scary directions. Fair enough in theory. The problem is that one person’s fantasy dragged from the primal core is another person’s bizarre turnoff. Lost Girl’s concluding frenzy involves genitals, but for me it doesn’t involve sex. Instead of believing that Moore has something fundamental to say about everybody’s shared experience, I feel like he’s speaking a language only he understands.
The more particular a desire gets, the more ridiculous it gets. Some of the ones shown here are very particular, but there’s no comedy a la Robert Crumb, no recognition that our personalities, right down in their central recesses, can be kind of absurd. If it’s central, it’s serious. In fact it’s sublime. Moore treats the erotic imagination the way a cargo cult treats Charlie Chaplin: the damn thing gets worshipped. He wasn’t like this with superheroes. Maybe the difference is that fight scenes, though crucial to superhero comics, aren’t really the point of the genre, whereas sex scenes are the whole reason pornography exists. At any rate Moore’s superhero work played with genre requirements, sometimes gave them the slip. Whereas his pornography accepts full-on the central, dumb necessities of the genre. Moore figures he can improve on standard porn by means of better art, highbrow themes, happier-looking women. But he’s willing to be as stupid as pornography requires, to pretend that writing about sex means writing about people engaged in great chain-fucks, and to pretend that these chain-fucks don’t violate laws of common sense and probability.
Being serious about something dumb does bad things to the sense of humor. In Lost Girls Moore’s playfulness gains about twenty pounds. It thuds, and the result is a recurring “Hey-yoh!” effect. He (exasperated): “Please, Dorothy. You make it hard for me.” She: “Oh, I’ll make it hard, all right.” The nifty echoes Moore likes to bounce between caption and picture no longer seem so debonair.“Having to start at the bottom,” “All that spit and polish” — okay, now guess what goes with them.
The book is derived from three (four, really) children’s classics: The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, and the Alice books. All of them belong to the great harvest of Victorian-Edwardian fantasy texts that fed pop culture for so long. Even people who haven’t read the books know the characters and the key events. That’s what attracted Moore to the three of them — their exposure. He has things to tell us about our fundamental selves, and books with well-known characters provide a fast route to fundamentality. But does he like the books? Does he care about them? Nothing worthwhile in the originals manages to show up in Moore’s derivative. He gathers a selection of tourist-level surface details and works out little nods and allusions to them, and that’s pretty much it. Dorothy’s Emerald City parallel: “Outside, with the gaslight, the sky over New York looked green, sorta.” Or young Alice goes at it with her lover, Mrs. Redman, while Mr. Redman sleeps. If he wakes up, they’re sunk! Which is not very much like Alice watching the Red King. If the Red King wakes up, his dream is over and maybe Alice will disappear because possibly she is what he’s dreaming about. The first situation is melodrama, the second is Lewis Carroll. If you start out with the Red King and end up with Mr. Redman, you know you’re doing something wrong.
Taking porn seriously seems to involve putting a crimp in the brain. But having committed his error, Moore devotes all his superhuman resources to it. Lost Girls goes on for 320 carefully planned and executed pages. It isn’t just the equivalent of seeing someone you admire hit a false note and make a fool of himself, as everyone does at some moment or another. It’s like watching him hold the false note. It’s like watching him put on a stupid, would-be funny voice to tell a story that bombs and then hold that voice for the entire rest of the day. Meanwhile, in some ways, his noble mind is marching along quite well. Because many of Moore’s old knacks don’t desert him here. I’m no expert on how an English businessman of nine decades ago would sound, and an Austrian military officer who likes ladies shoes is totally beyond me. But Moore somehow makes them sound right, even under dire circumstances (“it is a passion for me. I . . . huhhh . . . I hope I . . . have not startled you . . .”). I don’t know much about the pornography of Colette or Pierre Louys, but apparently Moore can mount their wild styles and create excerpts that at least resemble nothing else on earth (“Mother was rudely alerted to my presence by the arcing squirt of sperm which crossed the room to splash against her cheek, dangling snot-like from one earlobe like a pendant pearl”). I do know about purple prose, and Moore still produces the only strain in existence that’s worth reading (“My right hand mapped thunderstorms of static on the silk of Miss Gale’s knee”).
Melinda Gebbie’s art is hard to size up because the book was sent to reviewers as a set of black-and-white photocopies. She drew most of the pages with layers of colored pencil; from what I remember of the chapters Kitchen Sink published, the effect is beautiful and gives the work a lot of its body. Of course black and white doesn’t keep her Aubrey Beardsley pastiche from coming through, and it’s lovely. Perhaps best of all, Lost Girls’ panel sequencing shows Moore hasn’t lost his juggling arm. If you want to see chapters told entirely through reflections in a mirror on a dresser, or see fully-clothed characters unwittingly produce a sex scene by means of their shadows, or watch many small moving bits of plot, language, and symbol chime together like a three-volume cuckoo clock, then Lost Girls won’t entirely disappoint you. Moore can’t help being brilliant. But being brilliant never stopped anyone from acting like an idiot.