It's taken 16 years for Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie to complete and release Lost Girls. So needless to say, Moore has had a lot of time to think about the controversial project— a three-book set that depicts Dorothy from The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz, Alice of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Peter Pan's Wendy in lusty adolescent adventures instead of their familiar time spent in fantasylands. In a sprawling and fascinating interview last week, Metro comic book columnist Jonathan P. Kuehlein talked Lost Girls, pornography, relationships and what's next for one of the most influential writers in the world.
JPK: What is the origin of Lost Girls? How did you form the idea of these three characters coming together in one story?
AM: "It probably all originated from my very vague desire to see if it was possible to do an extended narrative based upon sex, rather than upon violence, which was the general run of things in the mainstream comic industry. There was book after book based on fights and more or less an absolute prohibition of any kind of sexual material.
"In my mainstream work, where it was appropriate, I'd try to give the characters I was working with a sexual dimension because I felt that made them more three dimensional and believable.
"The idea started to germinate that it might be possible to do something that was entirely about sex — that didn't have a swamp monster or a quantum super-being at the centre of the story. That was pretty much where my ideas began and ended for a few years, with the idea of doing an intelligent, beautiful, literary pornography that transcended the genre. That's quite an easy idea to have, but when you actually sit down and think about how to do that, it become a little more problematical.
"A couple of year later I was asked to contribute something to an erotic anthology magazine that was being published over here and apparently Melinda had been asked independently to contribute something to the same magazine. I need an artist if I'm going to turn out a comic, and I think it was Neil Gaiman who put us in touch.
"The way that Lost Girls actually came about was simply a collision between half an idea of mine and half an idea of Melinda's. I'd thought that it might be possible to do some kind of sexual narrative that related to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, simply because there are a number of flying scenes in Peter Pan and because Sigmund Freud said that dreams of flying are dreams of sexual expression (which is probably nonsense, but Sigmund Freud said it). It was a pretty half-assed idea that didn't really go very far and it only suggested a smutty parody of Peter Pan, which wasn't really what I had in mind.
"Melinda in the past, in her own stories, found that she'd enjoyed those stories that happened to have three women in the central role. From there the ideas came together and I remember thinking it was a very obvious step from thinking 'Well if Wendy from Peter Pan was one of the three women in question, who would the other two be?' Alice and Dorothy obviously sprang to mind immediately.
"Once we got those three characters in place, it suggested all sorts of possibilities. You'd be able to compare their stories and see which bits of them are similar, which bits hard striking differences and they seemed like such perfect characters for the story that I wanted to tell, in that they provided a brilliant metaphor for the way in which we, as human beings, enter the world of our sexuality, where everything is reversed, all of the laws that have governed your previous existence have suddenly turned right on their head. You come straight out of your childhood into a world where nothing makes sense in the way that it previously had and all of the people seem like insane grotesques straight from the mind of Lewis Carroll. "It also struck us that, with those characters, you've got childhood characters that we all read about during our own childhoods. Now, with Lost Girls, it turns out that they've grown up with us.
"It seemed that in some way, we could use these characters as everyman or everywoman characters that all of the readership would know from their own childhoods and they would be bringing all of that to the work. That is, as long as we could represent those characters accurately, as long as we could make it so it wasn't a travesty of those characters, so we were respectful of those three characters and that the adult women who are depicted were believable — women that might have grown out of the three girls in the original stories.
"Once we had those three names in place, the rest of the story seemed to grow organically from there. It took two or three weeks to actually stumble upon the idea, but once we had it, it only took another week or two at most before I had the entire story broken down and we realized we weren't talking about an eight-page inclusion for an anthology. We were talking about something a lot bigger that would probably take us a while longer. I don't think we realized at the time it would take us 16 years longer, but those are the breaks, I suppose."
JPK: This book plumbs the depths of human sexuality in such a graphic way that it, in my mind, crosses the line between erotica and pornography. Where does that line fall for you and do you think the term pornography get a bad rap?
AM: "The line between erotica and pornography is one that I considered quite a lot when we were starting out Lost Girls and I decided quite early on that I prefer it was referred to as pornography.
"There are a number of reasons for this, for one, I thought the term erotica sounded a bit too middle class, that the difference between the two was more to do with the income bracket of the person reading it then it was to do with the actual work.
"It also struck me that the term erotica is misleading. It means pertaining to love and yet most of the pornography that I've seen seems to be about sex. Now nobody is denying that sex in a loving relationship is probably a lot more fulfilling than sex in a relationship that isn't loving, but at the same time, sex is just sex and is a perfectly pleasurable experience in its own terms. It isn't always to do with romantic love.
"The term pornography, on the other hand, as far as I understand it, comes from the etymological root pornos, which means prostitutes or 'wantons' and graphos, which means drawings or writings. So what we're talking about is drawings or writings about 'wantons' or wonton behaviour. That seemed perfectly adequate to me. I also liked the part about drawings or writings because that's very specific. It doesn't include Polaroids, home video footage or shared files relating to 'wantons'. It's talking purely about the realm of the human imagination.
"It struck me as important to signal right from the beginning that this is a work entirely about the human sexual imagination and it takes place entirely in the human sexual imagination. No men, women, children or horses were actually harmed during the making of Lost Girls."
JPK: With that freedom in mind, did that leave the door wide open to explore anything sexual you could think of?
AM: "My initial decision was that I could not see any reason to limit the pornographic content in Lost Girls by anything other than my sensibilities and Melinda's sensibilities. I think I trust both of us enough to feel that after the immense amount of conversation we put into every page, to make sure we both liked it.
"It struck us that there was no real reason to limit ourselves because, well, why should we? If some of the sexual activities we've displayed in this work of imagination are criminal, is that actually a problem? If you take criminality out of art and literature you're not really left with very much. A lot of the Bible would have to go, too — especially that bit about Lott and his daughters. I was never able to understand that — he gets some kind of special dispensation from God doesn't he because he's just had his wife turned into a pillar of salt? I guess if you've got God's pager number this must be OK.
"If it's OK to portray crimes of violence, then why isn't it OK to portray sexual behaviour? The portrayal is not the deed itself.
"We had a fairly responsible attitude towards the subject matter and I think we tended to trust that rather that whatever the moral panics of the moment might be, because they won't last forever.
"If we had done this done this book during, say, the 1960s, then I'm sure we would have had a reaction to the scenes of homosexuality. In certain parts of the world we might still get an outraged reaction.
"We wanted to do something that was frank and honest and beautiful about the human sexual imagination and that didn't really leave any areas untouched or excluded. There are probably some areas of sexuality that are underrepresented in Lost Girls because we didn't, perhaps, find them interesting enough or appropriate, but by and large, we've tried to be inclusive. We've tried to make Lost Girls a pornography that is not purely aimed at heterosexual white men, but one that is aimed at a wide variety of sexualities and, more importantly, is aimed very squarely at women. This is not to the exclusion of men, but I think writing erotica that would appeal to men is no big trick. Whereas you can see why an awful lot of women have felt alienated from traditional pornography. There's nothing inviting about it. It's all lit as thought it's a brain surgery, with ugly sofas and ugly ambiance and characters that aren't compelling. There's nothing in there to engage the average woman, even though she might be as receptive to the idea of pornography as her male counterparts."
JPK: You've reportedly never been happy with any of the Hollywood adaptations of your books. Is making Lost Girls, a book with such a graphic sexual nature, a surefire way to keep Hollywood away?
AM: "It's one good way, isn't it?
"I've been driven to extremes, shall we say, in my approach and attitude toward film.
"Lost Girls couldn't be made into a film because, despite the fact that film is supposed to be a medium for adults and comics are supposed to be a medium for kids, I can actually get away with anything in comics. I can get away with things that film directors could not dream of.
"The other thing you'd lose in a film is Melinda's artwork, which is, to me, the most astonishing thing about Lost Girls. Yes, I'm proud of the story — I've done some quite good writing in there — but Melinda's artwork is transcendental. It makes even the most questionable scenes into things of luminous beauty.
"It works perfectly as a comic, so my feeling would be let it remain a comic."
JPK: Now that it's complete after all these years, are you happy with the finished product?
AM: "I couldn't be happier. Our publisher [Top Shelf Productions] Chris Staros sent me across one of the first copies to arrive at the San Diego Comic-Con and I think it is easily most beautiful artifact that I have ever been associated with.
"Chris has really pulled out all the stops in making this exactly the book that me, and particularly Melinda, wanted.
"Even the paper smells intoxicating — that's a real book. You open it and you've immediately got that beautiful heady aroma of the way books used to smell.
"And it's got that aura around it. It looks like a beautifully produced Victorian children's book. It's got that warmth, it's got that nostalgia, its got that glow about it, much of which is to do with Melinda's remarkable artwork and the diligence with which she approached every panel, which is one of main reasons it took 16 years. But I certainly wouldn't change a day of that. The end result justifies the amount of time that we put into it.
"I think we're both incredibly pleased. We're both quite proud parents at the moment."
JPK: What was the effect of 16 years of working on Lost Girls on your relationship with Melinda?
AM: "Well we didn't have a relationship when we started, so really it was Lost Girls that our relationship was founded upon.
"I suppose it was kind of inevitable, given this kind of material, that we would have ended up in a relationship and I think that that has been to the benefit of both the work and the relationship.
"When we started talking about this stuff we found that we were both very serious about wanting to do a work of pornography that did all of the things that we thought that pornography should be capable of. That meant that we had to be very frank with each other about our own sexual imaginations. If there hadn't have been that frankness, we could not have done Lost Girls in the way we did. Consequently, that meant that, right from the very start of our relationship, there was that level of frankness, which I think a lot of couple probably can reach the end of their relationships without ever having achieved.
"Doing the work was a great advantage in terms of our relationship - I'd recommend it to anybody. If you want to have a happy and strong and enduring relationship, embark upon a lavish work of literary pornography that will take you 16 years to complete. You won't regret it."
JPK: The idea of using famous literary characters is something you've done before in The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Which came first, Lost Girls or that?
AM: "The three Lost Girls are actually, in a way, the parents of The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I'd been having such a lot of fun with these three public-domain characters in a pornography — it was making all sorts of things possible in the storytelling and it was so rich that it occurred to me that "Hey, maybe you could do this with a bunch of adventure characters as well.'"
JPK: Are there any other characters in the public domain that have caught your fancy?
AM: "The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen does actually touch on all of my requirements in that area. In the forthcoming Black Dossier, we give a timeline to the world of fiction included in the almanac in the second volume. There's a 25-page comic strip done in the old British quality boys' comics style, one of those posh painted bookish comic strips from the 50's which is just the life of Orlando - in which we've created a life and timeline for him which includes the Virginia Wolff version of the character, but the one created by (Italian poet Ludovico) Ariosto in the 15th century. So we'll have a timeline, which reaches from 1189 BC to, the present day and then that can continue into the future.
"And actually, whether characters are in the public domain or not is becoming less and less of a problem as we become more skillful at just making allusions and relying upon the readership's vast knowledge of these characters and all the trivia surrounding them.
"This proves very useful in the Black Dossier where the overarching story into which the dossier is sighted is in 1958 and we've used a lot of the characters from specifically British literature and television and movies that seem to belong in 1958. That creates copyright problems, but there are ways around these things. Any character that seems interesting, there's probably a way that I could fit it into The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen without too much difficulty."
JPK: What's next for you after the Black Dossier?
AM: "The Black Dossier will be my last comic work that comes out from ABC/Wildstorm/DC Comics. The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen will, however, is continuing. Kevin and I will be producing it for Top Shelf, simply because it's such a good idea and it can run forever — or at least as long as we're interested in it.
"There's just so many ways we can change the settings, the characters, the theories, that I can imagine we'll be interested in it for a while yet.
"We've got the fourth volume already planned. At the moment it looks like it's going to be three 72-page books so that each one will fit in to a broader complete story arc, they will all be very self-contained stories. This should help to ease the readers' torment at long gaps between issues."
JPK: What's the timeframe for this next League project?
AM: "The first story will be set in 1910, the second story will be set in 1968 and the third will probably be set in 2007 or 2008. We'll get started on that as soon as Kevin is finished with the Black Dossier."
JPK: Do you have anything else in the works?
AM: "The thing that has been consuming all of my time for the past 18 months, and will probably be taking up most of it for the next 18 months, is the novel that I'm working on right now called Jerusalem. I'm the last person to be able to judge this, but I think it's the best thing I've ever done."
JPK: That's a bold statement from a person with a resume like yours.
AM: "Perhaps it's just because it's the thing I'm doing at the moment. I'm always most in love with the thing I'm doing at the moment.
"This book is touching a very personal vein. I mean all of my work is personal to an extent, but this, which is all about the half a square mile of dirt that I grew up in, is particularly personal. There's bits of family history worked into the story, there's bits of national and international history that run through it as well — there's bits of history that did actually run through this unimportant half square mile of dirt which at one point was quite important — back 1,000 years ago.
"The story has an astonishing raft of characters that are passing through it: Charlie Chaplin; King Richard The Lionhearted; Oliver Cromwell; Lucy Joyce, James Joyce's daughter; Samuel Beckett, the playwright — along with a bunch of ordinarily extraordinary people who did actually live in the neighbourhood at various times over it's history.
"There's also angels, demons, fairies, ghosts - though not what you might normally expect from those terms. The angels are not particularly 'new age', they're a bit more robust that that. They're more like working class Northampton angels who carry pool cues and play a marvelous game of billiards for men and women's souls. "One of the main things in the book is to attempt to answer, conclusively I hope, the question of where we go when we die. I thought after handling sexuality with Lost Girls, magic with Promethea and the rest of it, there was really only one target that someone as arrogant as myself could possibly be interested in, so I thought, 'OK, let's write a book that tells everybody where they go when they die.'
"What I don't know if what I'm going to be able to do after that to top it.
"I think it's going to be my best work, but it will certainly be my longest — and that's even if you add up all the pages of Swamp Thing [45 issues worth]. This is going to be half a million words, which is getting close to 1,500 pages."
JPK: Final question: What would it take to get you to come to Toronto for a public appearance?
AM: "Melinda will likely be over next year, but me, I don't very often get out of this side of the living room because the other end of the living room is a strange and foreign place where they do things differently.
"I'm kind of like certain kinds of fine wine: I don't travel well.
"Besides, I work all the time and I love it. And when I'm traveling, I'm often thinking about how I'd rather be at home in Northampton, looking out at my back garden and typing another paragraph of the novel. "