Is Alan Moore a Universal Genius?
No, of course he’s not. Though I yield to no one in my love of Voice Of The Fire – especially I loved the trick of “Hob’s Hog”, a thing that as I’ve said before I think Alan Moore does better than anyone, and perhaps it’s the finest degraded-vernacular first-person narration I’ve ever come across — truly a magic spell! — nevertheless I won’t deny that in a handful of places the book is something just a little bit less than pure gold. I think it’s a fantastic, exciting, brilliant experiment, and in spots something of an out-and-out triumph…but in other spots I confess I think it misses pure gold just by an inch or two, and hits pure silver instead. Very pure silver; but silver. Similarly, though I can sit and read, watch, or listen to his thoughts on culture, philosophy, magic, and the future for hours on end — and I really can, for me he throws off sparks of inspiration so thick that it might as well really be magic — and of course he would say it really is, and what’m I looking so surprised about anyway — good heavens, what an idea-man he is! — still Alan can’t talk with absolute brilliance about everything in the world…and though he is (for example) more serious than Grant Morrison or Warren Ellis, he is not as up-to-date, and therefore some of his talk inevitably falls the tiniest bit flatter than some other of his talk.
And I haven’t heard the recordings of his Happenings. I’m sure I’d like them. I might even love them.
But would they be pure gold? I’m not going to say I think anything about this one way or another, except finding out is going to be half the fun, so don’t ask me to spoil it for myself by idolizing Alan too much…
And I loved the Black Dossier, and even think I detected in it some extra-sly material that effectively answers some of the more sensible-sounding criticisms of it…
But I thought his mimicking of the styles of other authors was not as convincing as some other mimickings of this kind. The Shakespeare really wasn’t a good match at all (oh, well, come on! Let’s be reasonable, my God what do I want from poor Alan…!), the Wodehouse didn’t sound very much like Wodehouse, the Kerouac was funny but unreadable…and so.
And have you noticed that he seems to thrive particularly well in the superhero genre, or anyway the quasi-superhero genre?
And not quite so well when he’s out of it…
Oh, well except of course there’s From Hell…and Big Numbers as well, maybe…
And I’ve got news for you: now there’s Lost Girls, too.
No kidding: it’s a stunner.
A Universal Genius he might not be, but Lost Girls sure won’t do much to convince you of that. It is simply — yes — pure gold. I’ve never seen his much-vaunted talent for double vu on such fantastic, effective display; I’ve never been so amazed at the pure cleverness of his conceit. Consider two things, here: one, his (heretofore merely amusing, but now something else besides) insistence that Lost Girls is not erotica but porn…and two, that he might’ve chosen to pull the Watchmen trick of making up thinly-veiled “alternate” versions of these beloved children’s stories — that we all would’ve known were intended to be Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy anyway — but he didn’t.
But, why didn’t he?
Hey, it worked for Watchmen, and it worked incredibly well: in fact it worked better that way, than if he had used the pre-existing characters!
There’s an obvious answer to this: which is simply that if one desires to discuss the powerful current of sexual implication that runs underneath much of our childrens’ literature, that discussion benefits from the re-imagining of the old familiar characters as themselves, instead of as shadowy cognates with new names, ambiguous pointers to a strictly suggestive or wished-for meaning that’s never allowed to become what it really is, or intends to be. I mean…first of all, it pulls completely against the point. Because the point’s supposed to be about freeing truths that were previously sublimated! And it’s really hard enough already: Alice is Alice, but until the end of Book One she isn’t specifically named as “our” Alice. Neither is Wendy, though it’s just as hard to miss that Wendy is who she is. Meanwhile Dorothy is the plainest-spoken of these identifications, but even she can’t help but be somewhat masked, by (for example) the replacement of the movie’s Ruby Slippers with the book’s original Silver Shoes, by a new nickname, by a whole bunch of things. And they’re all older; they all have new invented histories and sexual inclinations and lives; it’s really hard enough already. Without Alan’s brilliant double-vu shenanigans it wouldn’t even be possible to do it. But even Alan can only stretch double vu so far before it breaks.
That’s the obvious answer.
Here’s the not-so-obvious one: if the girls had been called (say) Donna, and Nikki, and Shelley, instead of Wendy and Dorothy and Alice…
Why then, it wouldn’t have been porn.
Yes: only erotica. The kind of stuff art teachers put on their walls to intrigue their slightly-tipsy students or browbeat their button-down businessmen brothers-in-law with…oh, oh! Oh, the avant-garde. What they love today, you’ll love tomorrow…!
Porn’s not like that. Nobody loves it tomorrow.
And yet is porn so vile, by its nature? It is not; and yet, it is. Porn can dress itself up as it likes, give words to itself to say that are sly, cute, coy, or otherwise defensible-sounding…and yet all porn’s defences are really only pretenses, and no one really buys it, and indeed no one ever really sees it. Except the, ah…the enthusiast.
Ah, porn, porn, porn…who you trying to kid, friend Porn? There are no “enthusiasts”, just people with excuses to make. Excuses that must, that do, always fall flat. Because porn is porn. As the young amoral folk say today: “it is what it is.” And that’s all that it is.
And here’s the beauty of it: I cannot hang Lost Girls — for all its beauty! — on my wall, and call it erotica. I cannot call it art, though art is most definitely what it is. Because people will ask me what it’s about. And if I dare to tell them…
“It’s about Alice In Wonderland, Wendy Darling, and Dorothy Gale fucking each other…”
No, oh no! I can’t tell them that! They’ll think I’m some kind of sick pervert!
Guaranteed they will.
A nineteen-year old girl of my acquaintance — you see how delicate I am (“hey, man…it is what it is”) — recently asked me about my copy of Lost Girls. And I told her what it was. What it is? What it is. And she asked if she could read it, and I said: “Um…I guess so…”
And then she asked if she could borrow it.
And I said:
“Hell no! Look, I don’t care if you are nineteen, I’m pretty sure lending you this would get me strung up…!“
Hence: it’s porn. Not erotica.
If you have to hide it when people come over for dinner: it’s porn. Not erotica.
No matter how artsy or delicate it is.
Here’s where Alan’s genius of conception (not to mention sense of humour — again, double vu) really shows. If it were Donna, and Nikki, and Shelley, then it could be erotica: “what’s it about?” Well, it’s about exploring the undercurrent of sexuality in childrens’ stories, my dear…why haven’t you always felt, that when the tornado comes for Dorothy…
“Wait, wait. This is Dorothy? Like, from the Wizard of Oz?“
Of course not, my sweet. Why, what do you take me for? No, this is only a girl that may be Dorothy, that might be Dorothy…because, don’t you agree, isn’t Dorothy really a metaphor for all young women on the brink of sexual awareness? So we might legitimately say, then, that there is no Dorothy…never has been a Dorothy…
Oh, but please: allow me to take your coat. Gracious, where are my manners…
Now that’s some erotica right there, friends. That is some plausible deniability. No, no…not porn. Good heavens, Constable, what an imagination you’ve got! No, this is erotica…
Perfectly harmless stuff, I assure you!
Now…may I freshen your drink?
Meanwhile they lock me in a room, and then they throw away the room, for letting a nineteen-year old woman, mind! see a picture of an old lady doing something nasty with another old lady.
Well, such was the genius of Alan’s intention.
Mind you, it wasn’t all his intention…
Let’s talk art for a minute. I confess when I discovered who Melinda Gebbie was, I was a bit trepidatious — would she turn out to be the comics version of Linda McCartney? Although I could appreciate the intellectual suitability of the particular style she brought to the work (that I saw in excerpted panels online), still I wondered if she was doing it that way because, well, she couldn’t do it any other way. Not that I’m a snob for any kind of art! But I worried a little, deep down, that her art wouldn’t live up to Alan’s words, and Alan’s fine conceit.
Shame on me.
In fact, shame on me twice: once for doubting, and a second time for denying Melinda credit for shaping and originating that very conceit, that very cleverness and complexity, that Alan’s name on the book convinced me to expect. Alan Moore, without question, writes a damn fine pictorial narrative; but he’s also (which may be higher praise) a very dedicated believer in artistic collaboration, and he does a damn fine job of that too. Well, I’m not just making this up: you can see it throughout his body of work. Alan’s a fantastic Maker, but he’s not THE Maker, not the one and only Maker…well, who in their right mind would overlook Eddie Campbell or Dave Gibbons or Steve Bissette, just because Alan Moore was there? It doesn’t make sense, and it isn’t supportable — “artist” does not mean “secretary”, except in the Blakean sense of all creators being but secretaries “of a greater Author”.
So: Melinda. This is every bit as much her book as it is Alan’s, and my God she makes great stuff of it. One often encounters art which is jolting at first, but then swiftly draws the reader in past the membrane of defamiliarization, almost mesmerically into a state of aligned vision (the principle of opposition becoming the principle of harmony, if you will), a lot like going cross-eyed. Or, like reading something with 3D glasses on, and then looking up at the real world to find it gives you a headache? (A-HA!) And the art in Lost Girls is like that, only more fast-acting: at the risk of sounding like a complete idiot, it doesn’t lower you into the rabbit-hole, it drops you. And then you’re falling. And how? Why? Well, because these are very powerfully recursive images Melinda gives us — very very powerfully recursive images, that use the story to tell the story of the story…
You Watchmen lovers out there, take note: this is really something. This is M.C. Escher. This is not just Alan. This is Melinda.
I won’t even spoil it for you. The thing’s an onion; it’s got layers. It’s a Julia Set. It’s a thrilling accomplishment. Go buy it, go read it…double vu, Good Lord. It really is.
Quite a staggering achievement, for PORN.
Which is by its nature something as unsavoury, as it is ineliminable. Yes. And, yes: this may already be the most intellectually audacious comic I’ve ever read, even though I’ve only just finished Book One. And something in me says I should wait to read it all, before I post this review…not because I may be let down by Books Two and Three (I’m absolutely confident that I won’t be), but because no doubt Books Two and Three contain such marvellous and felicitous outrages in them, that no half-decent reviewer could bring himself to pass over without mentioning…
But then another part of me is saying that if I wait, I’ll only have less to say. Because I’ll have too much to say: already Book One (and a bit of Book Two) very nearly defeat me. If you were ever a person who thought that Alan Moore had grown overly reliant on a small handful of stylistic choices and narrative techniques, if you ever thought to yourself “oh, bloody Alan Moore again with his juxtapositions and his foreshadowings and his double meanings, can’t he ever learn more than one tune to put all those excellent words to?”, then come on and see what use he’s putting that bag of tricks to, these days. This right here, this is a novel that he and Melinda have written. This cries out for a couple dozen inches in the New York Times Review of Books. This is not fooling around, this is about something. This is a million miles away from “style-as-crutch”.
As I head deeper into Book Two, I cannot imagine having any cause to reverse myself on that. Although if I do, you’ll be the first to know!
But beware, casual reader: Alan wasn’t joking. This is fucking PORN.
And also, just by the way: a masterpiece.
…So, only one more bit of business to tidy up, then…
I found myself wondering just now, as I was going to check on the rice, what my friend Willow may make of this review of mine. Not that I can alter my opinion to conform to anyone’s reading but my own! But I didn’t just go out and get Lost Girls because it’s Alan Moore, I also went out and got it because I’d read so much controversial stuff about it online, that I had difficulty believing in. Many, many feminist comics bloggers (I do feel silly using “feminist” that way, because it almost feels as though I’m accusing people of being all single-issue-y — in the comics blogosphere anyway, I suppose the always-contested term “feminism” has accumulated some specific bullshit connotations that I’m uncomfortable with, and so therefore it feels like I’m overgeneralizing even to talk about feminist comics bloggers, as though there should be anything outre about feminist anything in FREAKING 2008 FOR GOD’S SAKE…!), have spoken out against it, some quite passionately.
I can only say (to my friend Willow, whose respect I’d be sorry to lose) that I believe those bloggers (those comics bloggers, damnit!) have not — sorry, sorry, you’ll pardon the expression, but I have to, it’s the mot juste — damn you, Alan — penetrated to the artistic intention of Lost Girls. To my reasonably well-travelled eyes, there’s much here, in this brilliantly, purposely transgressive work, for an enlightened person to welcome. And so…? I confess to being a bit downcast at the outcries against it. Surely if feminism stands for anything, it stands for uncompromising honesty — and Lost Girls, as a work, is just about as honest as it comes. It seems to me.
But of course — your mileage may vary.
Now please stand by to see if I find any reason to do an about-face after all.
Pleasant dreams, Bloggers!