What if... Dorothy's journey to Oz was a sexual journey, where she unlocked her lovers' doubts of stupidity, heartlessness, and cowardice? What if... that tornado was the metaphorical first orgasm she never, ever forgot— when life explodes into color?
Imagine Alice— yes, Alice of the Wonderland. A perverse little girl to be sure. Her relationship with the Red Queen is a twisted erotic legend for the ages. And how did a talking caterpillar come to be a conversational cock?
Or what about Wendy, from Peter Pan, who followed her "lost boys" into the garden of forbidden delights, including tea-room cruising that may have been lost in the original edition? Someone had to stand up to Captain Hook, even at the expense of her own virtue.
Now imagine all three of these women coming together in their adulthood: Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy— sharing their sexual histories for the first time.
Artists Melinda Gebbie and Alan Moore have done more than imagine it: They've written, and more to the point, illustrated, a three-volume erotic odyssey on the subject, that is so realistic it feels as if you knew the erotic mythology all along in your bones. Welcome to The Lost Girls.
Melinda is like family to me: she's my ex's ex! Her early erotic drawings and underground comics are legendary. Alan, her partner, is famous for his graphic novels like The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, and V is for Vendetta.
They spend SIXTEEN YEARS writing and illustrating this book.
SB: My god, who spends more than sixteen minutes doing anything in publishing today? — It's like you're out of another time! I sat there looking at your book, in awe— and in fact I started hating you, because I felt like everything I ever did added up to seconds of meaninglessness.
Alan Moore: Iain Sinclair does that to me, inspire me to envy and despair.
Yeah, I was 36 when we started... I’m 52 now! When we first got together we thought we were doing eight pages for an anthology. I’d just met Melinda for the first the first time, I was a fan.
The thought of working with a woman on this subject was a radical idea. I mean that in terms of the comics industry, even if that seems imaginable everywhere else.
Within the first few weeks, we realized our ideal was going to take A LONG TIME. It wasn’t productive in the beginning. I couldn't think beyond a smutty parody, which is not what the world needs. Mel said that she liked working with three characters, and Alice Wendy and Dorothy came into the picture.
Once we said those three names, there was a sort of thunderclap. We thought about a few others, casting around, but no one else came close to their chemistry.
SB: How do you work together? Did you comment or fiddle around with each other’s medium--- did Mel write or did you draw?
AM: Very few people know how it worked. This project was unique in my career. Normally, for the last 25 years of my work, there’s distance between myself and the illustrator— they lived one place, I lived in another.. I’d write these very long scripts, with detailed descriptions: how many panels are needed on this page, a rundown of each descriptions, DOP shots, atmosphere, acting, etc. I would be open to their me ideas, but the dye was basically set.
In the beginning with Mel, I gave her these sort of scripts, designed to break an artist spirit— (LOL). She found wading through my acres of notes really tedious. Ever the one to be obliging... I did thumbnail sketches of what I wanted with her by my side, talking and brainstorming. Then she created wonderful pages of artwork, based on my hieroglyphics. I would then put dialog in, influenced by her drawings. It was an ongoing conversation.
SB: I know it's awful to play favorites, but i couldn't help loving Dorothy's character the most of all. Is it because I'm American, or what do you think?
AM: Oh, she's the most feisty, the most adventurous, she’s also incredibly gorgeous. Her illustration reminds me of Clara Bow, who was always one of Melinda’s favorite.
We spent so much time decoding these characters. We wanted familiarity, but radical new interpretations.
SB: Why is your project so controversial in some comics circles? Isn't that a little old? When Wimmin’s Comix came out in the 70s, THAT was shocking— that women made explicit sex pictures and stories. They were two decades ahead of their time.
So now…. with The Lost Girls, why would we think that the audience is scandalized? Do people still think comics are Superman eunuchs? Certainly the fans can't feel that way...
AM: I don't get it, either. Robert Crumb was a pioneer of the kind of stuff we’re doing, and 40 years ago people would say the same scandalized things. We have a current social panic going on, but how we can forget what we’ve just been through?
Ever since the outset of my career, where it was appropriate, I have treated the characters I worked with as fully rounded personalities, having some sort of sexuality would be an important to a personality! Even with The Swamp Thing, decomposed vegetable matter, he should have a sexual life of some kind! Erotic experience is going to be part of any fully-rounded character.
If Lost Girls is shocking, it's because I’ve gotten rid of heroes. We're talking about sex, frankly, at greater length, and it's sustained work of erotica. I've put more of myself on the line.
In doing so, I'm stating that, that on some level I can find myself aroused by what we've created, and that a level of self revelation that I’m unaccustomed to. Before Lost Girls I had never taken it to this extreme.
SB: Well, I think you'll find yourself in good company! You know, in the end of the story, World War I is breaking out, and we see German soldier invading the hotel where the women have been gathering. All the dialog switches to German. What are they saying?
AM: I wanted it to be authentic. I knew people would blog about it and the translations would come soon enough. The general drift is that the soldiers are bivouacking. They talk about the French as a bunch of homo shits, that sort of crude comment. The say, "this place smells of fish" — and other ugly sexist comment.
They are soldiers who don't want to be there, in a cold place, and they are going to their deaths. As they break Alice’s mirror, the say, "C'mon, you cunt"— it’s brutal penetrative language.
The fragile fantasy universe of the Lost Girls has been broken and the voices of the WWI are intruding, destroying everything that was beautiful and sensual and cultured about Europe in a process that would irrevocably damage its heart. It's never got over that devastation even a century later.
I also spoke with Melinda, at length, in a hot tub. This is my favorite interview technique. She is so proud of how this book has been produced. I can't tell you how long it's been since I met an author who was truly and deeply satisfied by every aspect of their book's production. She knows it's her life's work, and she has never compromised it. I was inspired.
And then we gossiped for about four hours about ours and every else's love lives.
Mel brought Aretha and I three presents:
What a treat!
I put together a gallery of some of Melinda's work, both from her tender youth, and from Lost Girls' maturity. You can view the whole opus, generating from the time she was drawing her first female portraits and her first erotica. Let the drooling begin...
Top illustration from The Lost Girls, and photo of Melinda Gebbe from 1969, taken by Honey Lee Cottrell.