Everything about Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's graphic novel Lost Girls looks daunting, from the three-volume hardcover package and $75 price tag to the densely literary, borderline-immoral plot, which has three heroines of children's literature engaged in explicitly pornographic tableaux. But Lost Girls is surprisingly approachable, in part because Gebbie's soft, lightly crayoned illustrations give the story a touch of innocence, and in part because Moore fits everything into a clean structure. Each volume contains 10 chapters, which generally rotate between the sexual adventures of each of the women: Alice from Alice In Wonderland, Wendy from Peter Pan, and Dorothy from The Wizard Of Oz. Each chapter covers eight pages, just like a Tijuana bible, so even when the sex gets extreme, readers know an end is coming.
Moore has said in interviews that he considers Lost Girls to be a healthy, honest examination of what we get out of sex and pornography, and that's probably so. But the brilliance of the book is that it isn't harmless. Moore and Gebbie aren't just doing a giggly porno version of classic children's stories, they're retelling them with the fantasy removed, replaced by the coming-of-age experiences that were previously rendered as metaphor. Dorothy's "tin man" and "scarecrow" turn out to be the farmhands she lost her virginity to, Wendy's "lost boys" are a gang of bisexual street hustlers, and Alice's "white rabbit" is a family friend who molests her. These stories are about three women undergoing a not-always-pretty initiation into sex, and as with the Victorian erotica that inspired Moore, the Lost Girls narrative doesn't stop until everybody fucks everybody—even those they shouldn't.
Yes, it's hard to scrub out the brain-stain after seeing Wendy's brothers jack each other off, but Lost Girls' constant pull between arousal and disgust also makes for a reading experience that's as emotional as it is intellectual. The book covers a lot of ground, including the terrifying and liberating effects of free expression, the decadence of the upper class, and the early-20th-century culture-shocks that preceded the first World War. Then Moore and Gebbie wrap everything up with an unexpected and moving final image that suggests the enduring power of the human imagination. That ending also reduces the central message of the book to a choice between sex and war, and after showing the messy endpoints of unchecked sexuality, Moore and Gebbie have made that a fairer fight then they might have intended.