Girls, girls, girls!

I usually try and avoid running press releases, but Top Shelf’s announcement of the upcoming Lost Girls collection by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie is really interesting. Its efforts at pre-emptive publicity are pretty impressive.

Top Shelf’s Chris Staros begins by talking about production quality and cost:

“This will be the most expensive book Top Shelf has ever published, with the first printing costing us almost $200K. Why so expensive? Because Lost Girls will be published as three, 112-page, super-deluxe, oversized (9″ x 12″) clothbound hardcover volumes, each wrapped in a beautiful dust jacket, with all three volumes sealed and shrink-wrapped in a gorgeous slipcase. The entire epic published — all at once — as an art object for the ages.”

I think it’s smart to address the price point so directly. It won’t stop people’s eyes from goggling at the $75 price tag, but the value-added aspects of the production do seem provide reasonable justification. And how often do publishers bother to address price point at all?

So with cost addressed, Staros moves on to issues of content. Johanna Draper Carlson noted Top Shelf’s avoiding the word “pornography” in its solicitation for the book, though they are fairly clear about the book’s target audience in the press release:

“PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS BOOK CONTAINS EXPLICIT MATERIAL AND IS FOR ADULTS ONLY. AT THE WEBSITE YOU MUST CERTIFY THAT YOU ARE OVER 18 YEARS OF AGE TO PURCHASE A COPY.”

The solicitation at Top Shelf’s site takes a somewhat more subdued approach, putting in a “FOR ADULTS ONLY” tag at the bottom.

Staros tries to put the book in context, which is a bit of a challenge given its rather unusual nature:

“Brett Warnock and I would personally like to thank everyone for helping us get this project off the ground, as this is, without a doubt, the single most important graphic novel we’ve ever published. And with a decade of publishing and 150 literary graphic novels & comix to our credit — including From Hell and Blankets — that’s saying something.”

More important than Blankets? The hell you say! Back that up, Staros!

“Why is this release so important? Because it does something that’s never been done before: reinvent pornography as something literary, thoughtful, exquisite, and human. A singularly unique and layered story, Lost Girls is a commentary on the intimate wonder of human sexuality, the undeniable value of free speech, and the vulgarities of war. In an era and political climate when most would shy away from taking such a stand, this graphic novel champions freedom of expression and puts that ideal to the test.”

I think some people will view “pornography” and “literary” as mutually exclusive terms. I’m not one of them, but the apparent contradiction already cropped up in Publishers Weekly’s piece on the upcoming release:

“Likewise, one owner of a small bookstore in the Bible Belt, who declined to be named, told PWCW that while her store sells both erotica and a growing selection of graphic novels, she won’t carry a book that’s billed and promoted as ‘pornography.’”

That strikes me as a fairly artificial distinction. I’m reminded of a panel at SPX on pornographic comics where the word “joyful” came up roughly 1,000 times during the conversation. It struck me at the time that this was a way of defanging porn, like making a blueberry muffin with whole-wheat flour. If it’s “joyful,” then you can deflect any implications of seediness or lurid intent, because everyone’s just having so much fun. The distinction between pornography and erotica strikes me as similar – erotica is porn, but it has higher fiber content.

Anyway, back to Staros:

“As a tightly knit community of fans, creators, retailers, publishers, distributors, and press we all believe that the pen truly is mightier than the sword, but we also know that the power of the pen lies not in the author so much as the audience. As such, Lost Girls need the support of all of us.

“It has often been said, ‘If it’s worth reacting to, it’s worth overreacting to,’ and you can be sure that this fully-painted epic will get a reaction from everyone who reads it — and more than its share of over-reactors as well. The literary, political, social, and sexual aspects of Lost Girls are going to challenge our system to live up to itself. Get ready.”

I think the removal of Paul Gravett’s Manga from some California libraries indicates that you don’t need to actually read something to overreact to it, and it’s nice to see that Top Shelf seems prepared for that possibility or at least cognizant of it.

At the same time, it’s kind of weird to see this kind of Team Comix mobilization being applied towards a really high-end piece of Dorothy Gale slash. Obviously I realize that’s a hopelessly reductive description, but I think the book might end up being called a lot worse. Pornographic re-imaginings of beloved storybook icons just seem to beg for community standards freak-outs. I’d even hazard a guess that Moore would be disappointed if it didn’t result in any.

(Edited because I apparently thought that Mr. Staros needed an extra “r” in his name when I initially wrote this. Beats me why.)

2 Responses to Girls, girls, girls!

  1. Brigid says:

    Your last point is dead on, David. I have a feeling the Victorville dust-up has seriously boosted Gravett’s sales. But this particular product seems like the porn equivalent of those leather-bound sets of the classics of Western literature you used to see advertised in Parade magazine. It’s using good production values to add a veneer of respectability. Nonetheless, I seriously doubt that those of us who balk at paying $22.95 for a Fanfare/Ponent Mon manga are going to shell out $75 for this book.

    I loved your porn-muffins comparison so much that I’ll probably steal it eventually. With proper attribution, of course.

  2. […] of limitations run out yet on the phrase “Team Comix”? I’m just funning ya, David Welsh, because I couldn’t figure another way to get your analysis of the Lost Girls promotion […]

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