Interview conceived by smoky man & Antonio Solinas. Conducted via phone by A. Solinas on 19th February 2008. Originally printed in Italy on Scuola di Fumetto (N. 60, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) and Blue magazine (N. 189, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) on the occasion of the Italian edition of Lost Girls published by Magic Press. Presented here in English for the first time. Moore and Gebbie photo by José Villarrubia. Lost Girls originally published by Top Shelf.
1. The first question I would like to ask you is about the genesis of Lost Girls. Do you want to elaborate on that? I suppose, from my point of view, I have always been interested in the idea of the sexuality of the characters, ever since I started working in mainstream comics, because it just seemed to me a necessary part of characterisation. Back then, I would try to work in, if it was appropriate, some kind of sex scene into the comic that I was writing because I felt that that made for a more rounded character. But it was a bit of an encumbrance, because I was mostly writing about monsters or superheroes. I mean, I think we did some very good work, regarding the sexuality of these characters, but I always had a feeling that I would have liked to do something more extensive, something which was entirely based on sexuality and the sexual imagination.
2. Was this based on the fact that, for example, the sexual subtext in Watchmen was dumbed down by the people that followed in your path? I think that is true to a certain degree. I mean, for example, when we were doing the sexual issues of Swamp Thing, we were trying to find new ways of expressing this kind of ideas, but when it was applied to superheroes, in the hands of a lot of people that followed me, it seemed to degenerate quite quickly to a sort of a smutty joke, essentially a smutty joke, which was never anything that I have been that interested in. So I was very keen to do something about sex that hadn’t anything to do with superheroes or licensed characters of that nature, and I have been trying to think of some way to actually do this. But it was easier said than done. Every idea that I came up with, when I actually thought it through, it wasn’t really any different from the pornography that I saw around me, and which I found dull or distressing. It was very difficult to actually think of a form of pornography that wouldn’t fall into the same crap. Partly that was because I had been programmed, I suppose, by my work in the industry, to think in terms of collaborating with another man, simply because most of the people (if not all of them) I had collaborated with, up to that point, had all been men, just because of the sexual imbalance of the comics industry. But I had been approached, some time in 1989, by some people that were doing an erotic anthology, that was going to be called Lost Horizons of the Shangri-La. The magazine never came out, but initially they contacted me and asked me if I would like to do an eight-page story. When I was thinking about someone to collaborate with, I suddenly thought of Melinda Gebbie, because I’d admired Melinda’s work for a long time. I had been following her work in the underground: I had written an article over here, in which I had singled out Melinda for praise because I certainly thought that she was one of the best artists in the underground. I didn’t think there was any need to qualify that by even saying “best FEMALE artist”: she was one the best artists, full stop. I didn’t realise at that point, that Melinda had also been approached by the same anthology title, but a friend of ours, Neil Gaiman, the writer, knew Melinda. He had sort of seen her recently, and he offered to put us in contact. So when we first hooked up, we expressed an interest in working with each other, and Melinda would come up here at the weekends, and we spent two or three weeks just trying to work out what we did and didn’t want to to. It was still very difficult coming up with an idea that completely suited both of us, but we spent a lot of time talking about what we didn’t like in current erotica or pornography and, at some point during all this, we were throwing ideas back and forth: I remembered a not entirely satisfactory idea that I had at some time in the past, which was that it might be possible to do a sexually decoded narrative based upon J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. This was for completely simplistic reasons, and it was purely because in Peter Pan there are a lot of flying scenes, and because Sigmund Freud had said that dreams of flying are an expression of sexuality. As I said, it wasn’t a particularly brilliant or insightful idea, but I just threw it out there to see if it had anything about it. Melinda countered by saying she’d always enjoyed doing strips that had three women characters in a dynamic relationship: there was a strip that she had done called My Three Swans that would adopt a relationship between three strong women characters. Somehow, the two ideas crossbred. I started to think: “Well, if one is Wendy from Peter Pan - which was one of the characters that Melinda wanted to tell the story about - who would be the other two?”, and obviously the names Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz came to mind immediately. It was right there in that moment, when we said those three names in conjunction with each other, that we realised what a fantastic and appropriate idea it was. We had almost come up with it by accident, but there were such a lot of possibilities that seemed to explode out of that conjunction of those three very famous children’s book characters, and that was the point at which Lost Girls began to take shape at an alarming rate. As soon as we had those names together, all the other details kind of grew out of that really.
3. Throughout your career, you have always seemed to be inclined to play with archetypes. In the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, as well as Watchmen and From Hell, you have picked up archetypal characters and given them a lot more depth than other people that used those archetypes before. Where does this attitude stem from and is it possible to draw a comparison between Lost Girls and these other works, in a way? I suppose it is possible to draw similarities in the sense that I, in whichever area I am working on, I try to work as fully as possible with the kind of furniture of that genre or that character. I try to invest as much of myself as I can in any given character, and I suppose that these archetypal characters reflect really, just the way that I see characters. I tend to think that most characters, in some way, even the interchangeable ones, if they are treated right, can become almost archetypal. I mean, you’ve only got to look at Charles Dickens, where some of the most memorable characters that have become archetypes are the lowliest seeming characters, his Huriah Heep, his Fagin, people like that. I think that it is what you invest into these characters that makes them archetypal and I think that, if anything, the fact that this kind of approach to characters does tends to turn up a lot in my work is because that is how I see or how I try to see all the fictional characters that I deal with, even the worst ones. If I can do something to make them a bit more memorable or archetypal I will do. With Lost Girls, there was a tremendous fascination because of not just the fact that we had these three archetypal children’s book characters, I suppose, but the fact that we had them in an erotic story that imagined a projected later life for all of those characters. It’s not just the characters themselves, it’s the context that you present them in. I mean, as with Watchmen, it wasn’t just the superheroes, it was the fact that we presented them in the context of this pseudo-realistic world that had a political dimension, as well as other dimensions that people didn’t really expect in a comic book of that period. With Lost Girls, it was trying to take history characters, who we associate with apparently innocent children’s fiction, and it was thinking that, since we all read those stories when we were children, or had them read to us, or were aware of them in some way, whatever gender we are, in a sense, we were identifying with those child protagonists, back then. In a sense, they were us, and, before Lost Girls, they remained at the age they were when those stories were told, whereas we grew up. We grew up, our bodies changed, our minds changed, our emotions changed…
4. Our desires changed, I suppose… That was it. We suddenly became less innocent and pink-cheeked than those characters we identified so much with when we were children, and yet, I think that even in books that purely have children as their main characters, there is a kind of an implication that these characters will grow up. I mean, indeed, in Peter Pan (alone among those three books), by the end of the book, Wendy is grown up and she has a child of hers, which kind of implies that she’s had sex, at some point (laugh), in the normal run of things. So it didn’t seem to us illegitimate to actually project these famous child characters forward into a kind of an imagined adulthood and, in some ways, we thought that that would have a lot of resonance because, to a degree, even if we are telling it in a phantasmagoric form, we are telling the story of our condition, we are telling the story of what it was like for all of us when, at whatever young and tender age (or not so young and tender age) it was, that we entered into our sexuality and we found it to be a strange and puzzling world, every bit as bewildering and illogical as Oz, or Neverland or Wonderland. And it was when we hip upon those three characters that we realised that we got a perfect metaphor, in a sense. In those three characters we had a perfect metaphor for how bewildering and disorienting the landscape of sex is when all of us first discover it, you know.
5. This, I suppose, was all part of the preparation of Lost Girls, but, going back to what you told me earlier, it was supposed to be an eight-page story. Did you at any point have a “mini-version” of Lost Girls, or did you realise at the early stages that it would have been impossible to contain the concept in 8 pages? We realised very quickly. Like I said, when we got those three basic characters in place, the story started to expand and grow from there, and we realised that, if we were going to do it justice (we realised that it was such a good idea that we would have to do it justice) that it was far too good to squander in an eight or sixteen-page story. We rapidly realised that it was going to take thirty 8page episodes or 240 pages. Now, at the time, we didn’t realise that it would take us something like 17 or 18 years to actually finish it. But I think that if we had realised, it was still such a good idea that I think that we would have probably gone ahead with it anyway. Even if we had known how much work that would entail, you know, we were so enthusiastic about the idea that we had to do it.