You know what I was saying the other day about superheroes? Well, same for pornography and illegible typographic design.
One of my sons gave me Lost Girls for my birthday. I knew enough about it to say as I tore the protective wrapping from the deluxe hardcover, ‘This is a rude book.’ I opened it at random and after a cursory glance showed the spread to my yum cha companions. ‘That’s not rude,’ someone said. ‘It’s pornographic.’ She was right. And there aren’t many spreads in the book that that’s not true of.
The eponymous lost girls are Wendy (as in Peter Pan and Wendy), Dorothy (as in The Wizard of Oz) and Alice (as in Alice in Wonderland), all grown up. They meet in a decadent European hotel just before the first World War and tell each other pornographic versions of their respective classic tales, then go on a seemingly endless series of sexual adventures. It’s a bit like a cartoon I remember from my early 20s that shows a crowd of Disney characters having an orgy. Only this goes on for, oh, 180 pages.
I can’t say I read it all, or looked at every image. I don’t know who would want to. I don’t understand why the brilliant story-teller Alan Moore and the fabulously talented artist Melinda Gebbie made the book in the first place. Evidently they married each other during the making of the series, so it can’t have been as off-putting for them as it was for me. If you want a proper discussion of the book, Tim Callahan discussed it as part of his Great Alan Moore Re-read on tor.com.
At the risk of incurring the wrath of truly hip commenters, I am now going to say that Unearthing also left me fairly cold. According to the back cover it began life as part of an anthology about London, and ‘evolved through a series of live performances and recordings’, before being published as this book. It’s a kind of biography of Steve Moore, a friend but no relation of Alan Moore, enmeshed with an account of Shooters Hill in South London, Alan Moore’s text and Mitch Jenkins’s photographs combined in a design phantasmagoria. I did read some bits: Steve Moore is an occultist who seems to use a lot of recreational drugs and have shared hallucinations with Alan on at least one occasion. The prose is overwrought, and in order to read it one has to variously read tiny print, decipher weird Gothic fonts, follow text presented in a spiral, distinguish pale type from an only slightly paler background, etc. And when the physical effort comes up with, for example,
The bookshelves there behind him are the hexagram with six unbroken lines, Chi’en,the Creative, are a doorway where the brilliance bleeds through from a next room that’s not there, a warren of such rooms stretching away above, below, on every side, a Hyper-London, an eternal fourfold town of lights. This is it, this is real, this lamp-glow that’s inside the world like torchlight through a choirboy’s cheeks, the mystical experience as Gilbert Chesterton’s absurd good news and it goes on for hours, goes on forever
I’m afraid I just lose the will to continue.
These books made wonderful birthday presents – beautiful, luxury objects, that took me well out of my comfort zone. I don’t know if either of them actually expanded my world, but they did make me wonder if pornography and occultism don’t have a function in common: to provide distractions from real issues in the real world. Lost Girls could even be read as saying as much in its last pages where (SPOILER ALERT) the motif of the poppy is transformed from a symbol of dreamy erotic surrender to an emblem of the carnage of war.