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Books & Lit, TnO

Sexy fantasy heroines not welcome here.

Posted by Matt / November 4, 2006


Ordinarily, comic books + sex = one happy 12-year-old. Lately in Toronto, however, it's also meant controversy, backpedalling, and more than a bit of legal trouble.

The comic book (ahem, "graphic novel") in question is called Lost Girls, and it's the latest work by a writer whom many consider to be the finest in the field: Alan Moore. He gave us Watchmen, V for Vendetta, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and many other brilliant works of comic art that have been butchered into piss-poor Hollywood movies.

With Lost Girls - which Moore has been working on for 16 years with his life partner, Melinda Gebbie - he's given us something new again: unabashed pornography. (Moore makes no bones about this: the book is meant to turn you on and get you off.) And although Lost Girls is quantifiably a work of art that deserves serious consideration in the medium of graphic novels, you won't find it in Toronto.

I suppose it's understandable that so many people are freaked out. Lost Girls is about three of the most beloved fantasy heroines of all time: Wendy from Peter Pan, Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, and Alice from Alice in Wonderland. As adults, the three of them get into crazy erotic fun and storytelling at a hotel in Austria in 1914. (The just-pre-WWI time frame is significant.)

Even if this setup weren't enough to have Walt Disney spitting blood at his coffin-lid, however, the real danger zone is that Moore has used Lost Girls as an opportunity to explore the sexual coding that was (let's face it) fairly blatant in the original stories. He's decided that the fantasy lands of the books - Oz, Never Never Land, and Wonderland - could be interpreted as metaphors for sexual euphoria and coming of age. And since describing such metaphors involves depicting the sex lives of characters who would have been, at those points in their fictional lives, in their early teens, the resulting novel is stunningly prurient.

It's also a hell of a turn-on. I think any thinking, breathing human would be hard-pressed to find something in Lost Girls that didn't get their tissues throbbing at least a little bit, given that in the course of three volumes, the work essays just about every fetish and paraphilia ever invented, except that one Tracey Ullman came up with in Dirty Shame.

I'm one of the lucky ones: I did find Lost Girls in Toronto. The release of the graphic novel in September was attended by genuine concern throughout the comics industry as to whether the book would even be allowed into Canada or the U.S. (it originates in the U.K.). Surprisingly, the Americans did fine, but Canada got locked out: Canada Customs has declared the work pornographic and has halted shipments into the country.

The Beguiling, which has never shied away from carrying works that will appeal to grown-ups as well as to kids, brought Lost Girls into the city anyway under mysterious circumstances, and quickly sold out of their first printing.

When I called The Beguiling a couple of weeks ago to ask after additional copies, though, I was told that the publisher had explicitly asked them to stop selling Lost Girls in Toronto, until their appeal against Canada Customs can go through. In the meantime, Chapters has put a hold on all orders for the book in Canada, and most of the other comic book stores in the city won't stock it, or weren't ever planning to.

The Silver Snail, known the world over as one of the best comic book stores in North America, wouldn't touch Lost Girls with a ten-foot cattle prod, saying that theirs is a family store, and Lost Girls is not family material.

(The Silver Snail does, I must note, carry issues of Grant Ellis' The Boys, the most recent of which featured a Teen Titans-style group having a superpower-amped orgy with the ladies of a local whorehouse, and included vivid descriptions of the damage to a prostitute's body that having sex with a superhero can cause.)

Obviously, hypocrisy is thick on the ground when dealing with any sort of art of Lost Girls' stripe. And yes, any liberal-mindedness on my part does in fact fall secondary to my understanding that there many taboos - particularly around young people and sexuality - that nobody likes to see pushed.

In Lost Girls' case, however, I'm still rankled by the myopia. Moore's artistic thesis, about the role of fantasy vs. reality in our sexual selves, couldn't be more plain; to see his book struck down as smut and taken away from intelligent readers in this city and elsewhere is a painful thing.

Unequivocally, Alan Moore is aiming to arouse with Lost Girls; as usual, he is also an equal-opportunity revolutionary with his guns set on (in this case) war-mongering, sexual conservatism, religious supermorality and the patriarchal domination of women. He's no dummy. And with a work of this magnitude, shouldn't readers have the opportunity to judge - and think - for themselves?



Gloria / November 4, 2006 at 05:32 pm
Crap, are you SERIOUS? I've been thinking about buying a copy for a long time now. I went to One Million Comics asking about it, and was told they had sold out of their few copies a long while ago and weren't sure when they would be able to restock ... there was no mention of Canada Customs having a stick up their ass.

I'd buy it from Amazon, but I'm not willing to pay the customs fees and taxes when it should be perfectly easy to buy a copy in Canada.

Be ever so kind and please keep BlogTO readers (well, me) updated on the situation. I'd love to know when this clears up and I can get my smut.
Gloria / November 4, 2006 at 05:34 pm
By the way, as an aside, I haven't shopped at the Silver Snail for a long time, and now hearing their hypocritical policy on Lost Girls -- barring some kind of clarification -- I never will again.
Matt / November 4, 2006 at 06:11 pm
Hi Gloria,

Unfortunately, not even buying from Amazon.com is necessarily a solution because it's entirely possible that your shipment would get stopped at the border. Until the Canada Customs situation is ironed out, I'm afraid, the only way to get a copy of LG is to either go to the States and smuggle it back, or go to the UK and do the same thing!

Hopefully customs figures this out sooner than later... I've got more than a few folk who would love a copy of Lost Girls for Christmas. :)
emo / November 5, 2006 at 12:35 pm
this is just ridiculous. it's not like it's perfectly easy to find smut in shops, there's plenty of it on the magazine racks..

btw, pages on queens st still have a few copies of it
Ouimet / November 5, 2006 at 12:59 pm
Why don't you download it?

<a href="http://www.torrentz.com/search_lost-girls";>http://www.torrentz.com/search_lost-girls<;/a>
Matt / November 5, 2006 at 01:16 pm
Pages is a good call. I hadn't thought of that but they'd probably be better able to access the book via their channels than the comic book stores.
jerrold / November 5, 2006 at 02:13 pm
True story:

Driving in Japan, I pulled up at a 7-11 convenience store to buy a snack. I stepped on something as I got out of the car. On the ground in the parking lot was a child porn manga comic, complete with scenes of gang rape and other unbelievables. I was only able to look at one or two pages before I was instantly filled with disgust and anger. Teen porn manga is proflific and ubiquitous in Japan, but this was extreme.

So my question is... despite the inherent quality and intent of Alan Moore's Lost Girls, might some people (Canada Customs, for example) have good reason to put a block on this kind of thing? Might there be some validity in the stepping-stone argument?

Also, what is the law in Canada regarding this sort of thing? Is it clear? Could a comic buyer be charged with child pornography for having Moore's book? Could a vendor face charges for selling it?
Gloria / November 5, 2006 at 04:47 pm
I'm extremely *unclear*, but my feeling is that child pornography laws applicable only to actual children, not illustrations or art (which is of course wildly undefined).

Thanks for the note, Emo.
Matt / November 6, 2006 at 07:28 am
The law isn't exactly clear, due to that ephemeral quality known as "artistic merit." Lost Girls certainly has it, and as Gloria points out no actual children were harmed or exploited in its production, so it could probably get by.
Anonymous / November 6, 2006 at 08:22 am
Quick fact check: even though the writer and illustrator of LOST GIRLS are British, the book was published in the United States, by Top Shelf Comics of Marietta, GA and Portland, OR, so the book does not "originate in the U.K."; for the purposes regarding Customs you describe. In fact, the book had been delayed from distribution in the U.K. over copyright issues raised by the holders of the Peter Pan copyrights in the U.K. I've had my own-run ins with Canada Customs over comics in the past, but please get your facts straight.

And who's "Grant Ellis"?
Hamish Grant / November 6, 2006 at 09:31 am
Ordered it from amazon.ca - it says '4-6 weeks' on delivery time so we'll see what happens.
Matt / November 6, 2006 at 11:08 am
And here I thought I was being all cool with my investigative journalism. Thanks for the corrections, Anonymous, and you're right: Grant Ellis! Why do I keep doing that! It's Garth Ennis' book that I was referring to. Maybe Grant Ellis is someone I went to school with.


By the way, correcting my facts while keeping yourself anonymous: I love that! Can I get a "three cheers for the internet"? :)
Christopher / November 6, 2006 at 11:23 am
Hi, it's Christopher from The Beguiling here. I just wanted to say that we find it as unfortunate as you do regarding the Lost Girls situation, but we are planning on stocking the book again. As you noted, we have a very strong relationship with <i>Lost Girls</i> publisher Top Shelf Productions, and while their challenge against customs is underway it's really in everyone's best interests to hold off attempting to bring it in.

<p>We're very confident that we will have copies of the book available in time for Christmas; don't worry about not being able to stuff your smut in a stocking Christmas morning...
Cameron Drew / November 6, 2006 at 03:08 pm
Hey All,
For whatever reason information trickles down slowly. Top Shelf submitted Lost Girls to Canada Customs for review early October. Canada Customs has ruled in favor of allowing Lost Girls into Canada for reasons that I don't have time to get into right here. The good news is that it will be available January 2007.
Cameron Drew
Chris McLaren / November 6, 2006 at 08:46 pm
Not that I want to steal a potential sale from Mr. Butcher, who is a scholar and a gentleman, but I believe my LCS here in Halifax, <a href="http://www.strangeadventures.com";>Strange Adventures</a> still has copies and they happily do mail order.
kev / November 7, 2006 at 02:15 pm
Customs has a good overview of what it uses to classify material as "obscene", which is an important distinction from pornography. The overview is <a href="http://www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca/E/pub/cm/d9-1-1/d9-1-1-e.html"; >available here</a>, and does a good job of spelling out the guidelines that are supposed to be applied. I found the guidelines to be pretty clear, but there is certainly wiggle room for an individual customs agent to block the import of the material.
<p />
That said, there's also an appeals process which is well documented. I guess the question I have (not having seen the actual work) would be "are the characters adults?". The article here starts by saying the events take place while they are adults, but muddies the water a little by making it unclear whether they are adults (or adults recounting childhood experiences).
<p />
I think The Beguiling has the right attitude. Appeal it once, and get the individual customs agent's decision overturned and set precedent. In any event, do have a look at the guidelines from Customs. While they may not have been applied in this case, it's nice to understand the documented rationale behind determining what's obscene and what isn't.
Gloria / December 1, 2006 at 08:24 pm
Definitely informative thread. Thanks for the heads up, Cameron.
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