First things first, this is definitely proof that comics, or graphic novels, are not for children. Put simply, Alice (in Wonderland), Dorothy (of Oz) and Wendy (as in Peter Pan) meet in a hotel in southern Austria in 1913 / 14. Alice is an unrepentant sapphist, stints in asylums having done nothing to change her mind in that regard, Dorothy is healthily pansexual, in Europe for unspecified reasons but eager to experience all it has to offer, and Wendy is stuck in a loveless (in every sense) marriage with a man who hides himself behind his respect for convention. And what follows is a long draw out series of sexual experiments of all kinds, in which three women love one another in evert conceivable way, while not forgetting to take the opportunity to take pleasure with anyone else who happens to be willing. And while this goes on, they recount their stories, not as we know them, but the true stories of which the books we know are merely coded versions, the story of the sexual lives.
The first thing that has to be said about this book is that it is simply beautiful. From the sumptuous binding to the amazing art-work, merely looking at it is an act of pleasure in itself. And I don’t mean because of the naughty bits. The art work is superb, varying page layout and style, drawing on all the usual suspects as far as artistic style goes, and a few very unusual ones: the pseudo Randolph Caldecott soft-core Queen of Spades is a hoot, and the lesbian frolics a la Kate Greenaway is absolutely priceless. So style changes with mood, layout too, and colour and shape forms an absolutely integral part of the story.
As for the story, well I am fast coming to the conclusion that Alan Moore simply knows everything. He draws on his three source-texts (and a few others as well) and creates a massive revisionist take on them, turning them into stories of sexual misadventure, involving the amazingly unbuttoned lesbians of mid-Victorian England, high jinks on a farm in Kansas and a version of Peter Pan that just makes so much more sense than the original. And woven into all this is the ongoing world crisis that culminates in the juxtaposition of an orgy that I might call Sadeian, if it were not for the fact that all find pleasure in it, with the outbreak of war, the madness and dislocation of sexual order of the one acting as a natural mirror to the madness and destruction of all order of the other. Out of this only a new world and a new people can be born.
So we have a book of great subtlety, full of textual and artistic allusion, that makes a powerful case for a sexual version of Nietzsche’s re-evaluation of morals. We see more or less every possible sexual act and, with a few very specific exceptions, all of which are coercive, we see not the depravity, filth, degradation and inhumanity that even today puritans (who, depressingly, seem to occur at both ends of the political spectrum, from the body-denying, God-ridden demagogues of the right to the ‘all sex is rape’ ideologues of the left) claim follows in their wake. Instead we see joy, pleasure and an awakening of true humanity and caritas for one another. If only more people could not read Moore and Gebbie’s gospel.