During our APE coverage, Our Young, Roving Correspondent talked with Top Shelf head Chris Staros and got the scoop on Alan Moore’s controversial new work, Lost Girls. What follows is the relevant portion (which can also be heard at the tail end of The Bat Segundo Show #31):
STAROS: For other new stuff, our really big book this summer is going to be Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, which has been in development for twenty years and is finally seeing print. It’s actually heading to the printer next Friday. We’ve just about wrapped it up and it’s going to be an absolutely beautiful book. Cloth volumes, hard covers, dust jackets, slip case. And it’s actually going to be larger than the absolute editions of Watchmen and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman. So it’s going to be in that class of product. It’s going to be beautiful.
OYRC: Now did Alan Moore go directly to you? Or did you have to fight to publish this book? Or what’s the situation?
STAROS: Well, you know, when Alan Moore left DC Comics the first time in the 80s and started to do his own work with Mad Love, his own publishing company, he did three things: From Hell, Lost Girls and Big Numbers. Those were the three projects he started. Now From Hell was eventually completed and published. And we were the publisher of From Hell now. And then Lost Girls and Big Numbers had fallen into limbo. Big Numbers was a project he didn’t want to pick up on. But about five years ago, I flew to England to meet Alan at his house in Northampton with the sole purpose of trying to convince Alan and Melinda [Gebbie] to pick up Lost Girls and finish it. Well, lo and behold, nobody knew, but they had actually been tinkering with it the whole time. They had never let it go. They’d just been working on it slowly, slowly, slowly. And they showed me how much they’d done of it and how absolutely beautiful it was. And so I said, “Would you allow Top Shelf to publish it? We would be honored to do a book this important.” And they said yes.
So ironically, the first time I ever got an Alan Moore autograph, which is something I always wanted as a fanboy, was on the contract to publish Lost Girls. One of his most important works ever. So Lost Girls is Alan Moore’s attempt — not attempt, his success to make pornography literary, human, thoughtful, and exquisite. And so it is something that’s never been done before. And Melinda Gebbie, his now fiancée, painted the book and it’s three 112-page volumes, all coming out at once. So 336 pages of fully painted, beautiful illustrations and some of Alan’s best writings in it. It’s quite extraordinary.
OYRC: Did you have any editorial input on this in terms of shaping it? Or was it pretty much hands off to let Alan do his thing?
STAROS: I am the editor on the book. But in that sense, it’s really more of a shepherding thing. Like getting the designers in, getting the book produced, helping the page docs, working with Brett [Warnock], my partner, as the art director of the thing to make sure it looks right. And, you know, hunting down typos and those kind of things. I don’t think I’d have the audacity to coach Alan on how to write the thing. I mean, he’s – he writes flawlessly to begin with. So he didn’t need any editorial input on that regard.
OYRC: It sounds like a pretty expensive volume to put out with all the color artwork. It seems to me almost like a big risk for you.
STAROS: It’s a very expensive book to produce. The most expensive book we’ve put out by a factor of about six or seven. So it’s huge. But if you’re going to do a high-risk project, there’s no better name to have attached to it than Alan Moore. And Lost Girls is a pretty safe bet in that even though it’s going to be highly sexualized, and there’s going to be some people and some stores that may have to stay away from it, the book has had such a reputation and has been building for so long. People have been anticipating it for so long that I think when it hits, everyone’s going to want it. Plus, when they see the package and how absolutely beautiful it is, it’s going to be an impulse buy that’s just going to. Probably the first printing’s going to sell out so quickly where we’re not going to know what happened to it.
OYRC: Now in terms of stocking this in stores, is this a problem possibly for you? That some people are going to say no because they will consider this to be pornography?
STAROS: It definitely could be a problem in some states. There’s potential that some people might have some problems with the interiors. But we’ve already had legal reads on it, you know, from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund attorney, Burton Joseph, who you know works for Playboy and so forth. And it is a legal book. But that doesn’t mean in this day and age when there’s a lot of conservatism going on and people challenging things, that we couldn’t not necessarily run into challenges. But we’re working really hard to make sure that the book gets a lot of mainstream press before it even comes out. So that publications like Entertainment Weekly and Publisher’s Weekly and Time and USA Today and Playboy and others get a shot at talking about it, reviewing it and discussing it in a free speech capacity, so that if we run into any problems with the book, it’s already got a nation behind it. It’s already got the industry behind it. It’s already got a big name like Alan Moore behind it. It’s not something that’s going to be easily attacked. So we’re trying to take an offensive-defensive posture, if you know what I mean.
OYRC: I gotcha. But as to the content itself, you say that it changes and transcends, sort of like the nature of pornography. Do you think – I mean, obviously, it’s kind of a strange question to ask of the publisher, because you have a self-interest in the answer. But maybe you can elaborate on this. How does it push boundaries?
STAROS: Well, it’s the story of Wendy from Peter Pan and Alice from Alice in Wonderland and Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Not so much named, but you kind of get an idea that it’s based on them, right? And about them all meeting in a hotel at the outset of World War I and really getting to know each other in a sexual sense and in an exploratory sense, and reflecting back on their lives and their stories. And a sense that their stories are really covers for the sexual revelations and the things that happened to them in their childhoods. So it involves a lot of reflections on them. So it can be considered, you know, controversial on a couple fronts there. But it’s truly a work of art. I mean, it’s unbelievable. I’ve read the thing several times myself already and I’m just amazed at how much of a commentary he does. Because it’s a book about, you know, the Western world’s hang-ups with sexuality and discussing sexuality. And it also makes the statement that war is the ultimate pornography. Not sex. And it really makes a strong statement about that. And also reflects upon itself as our own issues in our society with the legalities of pornography and obscenity. It kind of is a recursive thing in that it deals with magistrates and judges within the book itself. So it sort of is a reflection about the same point of people it has problems with. So it answers all of its own questions within itself, if you know what I mean.
OYRC: I think it will do just fine. [awkward aside about Homeland Security guy recently busted for child pornography elided to spare readers]
STAROS: The difference is when something is drawn, it doesn’t involve real people. And laws are designed to protect real people from being involved in these kind of things. So in this particular case, it’s just ink on paper. And in a country that respects the pen, then ideas should be protected at all costs. That’s what the First Amendment’s about. So I – this book is legal. It is safe. And if anyone wants to challenge that, we’re ready to fight that full-board.
OYRC: Rock on. Okay, thanks a lot, Chris.