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Lost Girl Found - Part 1

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The following article presents images of a pornographic nature. The images may be inappropriate for readers under the age of 18. The images are DEFINITELY NOT work safe!!!

Part 1 – Seeds are Sown

After sixteen years of hard work, Melinda Gebbie and Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, their fantastical pornographic opus, is finally being published. Neil Figuracion met with Ms. Gebbie at the very busy Top Shelf booth at the San Diego Comic-Con and talked to her about her roots, the beginnings of the project and her views on human sexuality.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Is it right to say that you were part of the American underground comix movement?

MELINDA GEBBIE: Yeah, the underground movement sort of started in San Francisco. Yeah, it would be very proper to say that. I was very much a part of that movement.

BF: What was the underground comix scene like?

MG: We were… we were a wild bunch, bunch of delinquents, I think. I think the whole thing started with Robert Crumb. We’ve got to give him credit for doing his own books and selling them from a baby carriage on Haight Street. [The underground comix scene] was a way of writing about drugs and sex, which was not being done in comics. Comics was mainstream stuff, mostly for kids.

BF: Were you a fan of mainstream American comics?

MG: Umm… I think the general consensus amongst us was that they were a different animal altogether. We were struggling very hard for personal identity. It was not connected with them [mainstream comics]. Much like you try to get away from your parents and all their constrictions and all their rigid ideas. We wanted to do stuff with our generation, with things that we were interested in – politics and pleasure and exploration of ourselves in the world.

BF: What went through your mind the first time you saw the work of  Aubrey Beardsley or  Alphonse Mucha?

MG: I was thrilled by them! They really affected me. The naturalist forms in Mucha’s case and the exquisitely artistic pornographic line of Beardsley, which enthralled you so much you only noticed later that there was blatant genitalia all over the page. And probably I think Beardsley was a very important influence because he taught me that when something is beautiful, people will look at it and people will take it in. Because it’s beautiful it makes sense somehow, internally.

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BF: Would you want to see the Lost Girls work hung on walls and appreciated that way?

MG: I think that would be lovely. It’s not necessary for me, but I would like it if that’s what people want to do with it. I most of all wanted to do a book that people could put on their shelves instead of something they buy and throw away in shame.

BF:  How did the seeds for Lost Girls get sown?

MG: We [Melinda and Alan Moore] were asked to work on a comic book individually at the time, called Tales of Shangri-La. We were each asked to do eight pages. I was working in London as a P.A. for a comics publisher, and Neil Gaiman came in and said “Melinda! What are you doing here? You’re an artist. Why are you being somebody’s secretary?” and he said incidentally “You’ve met Alan Moore a few times and you’ve gotten along. He wanted to give you his phone number.” So we started talking about the project, Shangri-La. I went up to visit him and we got into long conversations. So the seed of Lost Girls came from the idea that I said – The only funny comic strip I’ve done in the underground was based on three characters. There’s something about three women [that] I really like.

“I’ve always been interested in fairy tales,” he said. “Dorothy, Wendy and Alice,” and then we just elaborated from there. I suppose it took three or four days worth of conversation together to come up with that.

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BF:  When Lost Girls first appeared in Taboo, was it everything that you’d wished it would be?

MG: No, it was everything I didn’t wish it to be. It was made from color Xeroxes because obviously technology was way behind. If it weren’t for digital things it wouldn’t be as beautiful as it. So the color was wrong, the paper was wrong, the packaging was wrong. It looked like something you’d throw away. And the art, frankly was wasted on the production.

BF: What happened to the book in the meantime?

MG: Well, I just kept working on it for sixteen years. We went through four publishers. Every one of them sort of… something happened and they all collapsed eventually. We just kept working. I think about into the tenth year was when… (hesitates) – Well, Kitchen Sink did collapse, so I’m not telling the public anything they don’t know. So Alan paid for me to keep doing it because I wasn’t going to give it up. Then Chris Staros [of Top Shelf] put us on a list of Top 100 Books, just based on those poorly done comics.

BF: The Kitchen Sink reprints?

MG: Yeah. [Chris] came to visit and said “I love this book. I really want to see it published, and I’m going to put my everything where my mouth is” and asked “can I publish it?”

BF: He really put his neck on the line for you.

MG: He did. He put his neck hugely on the line. The production standards on this book would rival anything in the art book field. I mean, I love good paper and this has beautiful archival quality paper. The printing is absolutely magnificent.

BF: What was it like re-working the art for the completed edition?

MG: We had a very dear friend, a kind of guardian angel, who helped us with the digital enhancement. Without him we couldn’t have done the book. We went to visit him and it was a very, very hectic two weeks. We worked on it non-stop and even when I came back home, he continued to work on it non-stop.

BF: Among Alan Moore’s collaborators, you have a rare amount of personal access. Did Mr. Moore write out a complete script or was your creative partnership more social?

MG: It was social, but it was also very, very… we got together several times a week. He had a lot of deadlines at that point. He was always working on five or six projects at any one time. When we got together we were very intensely involved with what we wanted this book to do and achieve. Well, it was a systematic appraisal of everything that’s wrong in pornography – why it never works for women, why men are ashamed to have it found in their homes, why no one wants to talk about it, why no one wants to look at it. Even that the fine artists who had done pornography for themselves, many of them had their partners burn the stuff once they’re dead, because they didn’t want anybody to know that they drew people having sex. We just wanted to re-integrate the libido back into human life and to hopefully make it a topic of discussion in polite society and make sex an okay topic so that we can get rid of our shame and our guilt and our fear.

BF: Some fans of contemporary pornography complain that when porn gets more artful it distracts from the titillation. How would you prepare a fan of modern porn for what they would pick up in Lost Girls?

MG: I would say that Lost Girls is for the whole person to appreciate, not just the part of us that presents itself as a drive. [brief interruption as fans ask for autographs] It’s as if we get into a car and we don’t want to see ourselves turning the engine on, so we look out the window and pretend it’s not happening, but it is just one of those things you have to do if you want to drive. We have to integrate what we are all born with and accept it and work with it. We have to get over our fears.

You know the best way to say this is that when I was about nine or ten, I had a dream that there was this book about sex. I was just getting interested in the idea of it. My mother had given me these horrible pamphlets, these American Medical Association pamphlets – y’know (haughty voice) “Mating and You” with these horrible charts, and me and my little girlfriends used to giggle about it. “Isn’t it horrible? Poor mommy!” And I had this dream that I found this book that was beautiful, explaining sex. It told me why it was good, why it was beautiful – the fact that everybody has a good relationship with all their working parts and that everything’s fine, because once we’ve integrated this huge part of ourselves that we’ve tried to make into a separate thing from our lives…

We are very vulnerable to the idea of taking that energy, which is huge, and turning it into a morbid drive, like in war. I think that’s why a lot of young men go to war. They’ve got a huge amount of energy. They think, “My God! I can’t function like this. Please give me something to do so I can stop feeling ashamed and vulnerable.” And the possibility of getting themselves killed seems a better option than just learning to enjoy what they were given.

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BF: Is there an important distinction between erotica and pornography?

MG: Um… well I think erotica is the socially acceptable word for pornography. Pornography seems to mean – if you’ve got a low paying job, you like pornography. If you’re rich, you like erotica. They’re the same thing. I believe [the Latin root word] Pornos, it doesn’t mean “Joy”. It means something similar to that. It’s not a bad word. It’s a word that’s just descriptive of sexual feelings. It’s been denigrated so that all of us walk around feeling this immense schism in ourselves.

Even among my friends, I couldn’t really talk to my women friends about the book that I was doing because of the subject matter. It triggers things in their minds and suddenly they think “well, this isn’t appropriate for polite conversation anymore. You’re talking to me about stuff that I don’t want to talk about.” Very often they’ll look at a page and say “this is too exciting. I either have to buy a copy or stop looking at it because it’s taking me some place that’s not polite in society.”

It seems like we’re walking around with an unexploded bomb in our bodies. It isn’t an unexploded bomb. It’s a gift. War is something we do instead of enjoying our gift.

Click to enlargeBF: If you were to discount the artistic or literary merit [of Lost Girls] (you may have already answered this question), would or should this work be considered obscene?

MG: Nobody has used that word so far, nobody who has seen the book. I’ve only been thanked and congratulated. People have said “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for not making me feel like a dirty wretch but like a proper human being.”

BF: For a book that hasn’t yet had an official release, there’s been an awful lot of controversy. Do you feel that the controversies are an integral part of the project or that they’re more of a distraction?

MG: I think it’s integral to people’s curiosity and fears. There’ve been so few reactions of fear. I think most people have just been waiting a long time. The only negative responses we’ve had are from people who’ve not seen the printers’ proofs. The idea of the fairy tale figures… I think we’ve had one response of “you can’t do that to fairy tale figures,” but they have not seen any of the book.

The conversation concludes on Thursday in Part 2: In the Garden of Heavenly Delights.

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