Wednesday, September 06, 2006

How to Buy Lost Girls for $15, Absolutely Legally

(Note: this post is entirely safe-for-work, but it is about a book that isn't, and links to reviews which may contain unsafe-for-work material. I'll try to indicate which, but no guarantees. Key:
* = link includes images, but work-safe ones
** = link includes images that are not work safe

The comic du jour -- probably, based on its buzz, the comic d'lannée (Or should that be "d'lan"? My French sucks) -- is Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's 16-year-in-the-making work of artistic pornography, Lost Girls.

Yes, I said pornography. By all accounts, it does for porn what, well, Watchmen did for superhero stories: elevates it to an artistic heights never before attained, while preserving the essence of the genre. It is, in other words, really art, and really porn. (To be clear: I haven't read it yet; according to Amazon, my copy has shipped, but it ain't gotten here so far. So this is all based on reviews, blog posts and other hearsay.)

If that bothers you, don't read further.

(And the word, incidentally -- or at least Alan Moore's preferred word -- is indeed "pornography" rather than "erotica", for reasons he has explained in various interviews*.)

I've seen something like a score of statements saying that it is a work of art, one of the best comics Moore has ever done (more or less unsurpassable praise in the comics medium), a must read, and so on and so forth. It's something that, unquestionably, anyone interested in graphic novels/comics or in pornography will want to read; if one believes some (many) of the reviews, that may extend to anyone interested in human sexuality. It is, in a word, supposed to be great. (A round-up of some reviews, interviews and link follow.)

What people have not been emphasizing, however, is that it is also extremely !@#$% expensive. As in $75.

As Neil Gaiman pointed out in his review, this is part of "the traditional approach of a respectable publisher when faced with the problem of bringing out pornography... to package it elegantly, expensively and beautifully, thus pricing, shaping, signaling and presenting it to the world, not as pornography, but as erotica." A reasonable choice, all things considered. But difficult for those of us who don't casually drop $75 on anything, let alone a graphic novel we haven't read yet. Its publisher, Top Shelf, compares it to DC/Wildstorm's "absolute" format for graphic novels, which publishes graphic novels as oversize hardcovers costing $75 (such as, for example, Absolute Watchmen and Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). But those are for well-established graphic novels -- not always "classics" of the still-young medium, but ones that publishers wish to present as such, anyway. And they are always available in cheaper editions. Whereas Lost Girls isn't yet -- and might well not ever be.

Never fear, Noble Readers. You can get it cheaper -- at least for $45, possibly even for $15. Absolutely legally -- not downloading a scanned copy or buying bootleg copies or anything.

Here's how.

Okay. Part one is that** -- yeah, I prefer neighborhood bookstores and local comic shops too, but when you're talking about a !@#$% $75 book, I'm willing to cut corners -- is selling the book for $45, or 40% off. That's already a lot better than $75. (When I pre-ordered it, some time ago, it was only 37% off -- $47.50. Bah, humbug. But the take-home point here is that the price can change -- and I doubt it will go lower than $45.)

How, then, to get down to $15?

Then the key is this: will -- or at least did recently, I don't know if the promotion is still active (since it knows I already did it and won't show me), but I think it probably is -- give you a $30 credit if you sign up for a free credit card. So you sign up for the card, put Lost Girls on it... and your first bill is only $15, once the credit has been factored in.

I'm pretty sure -- I'm hoping! -- that Top Shelf and Chris Staros don't get any less than full royalties on the $45 that Amazon charges. I believe that discounts such as that come out of the bookstore's pockets, not the publisher's. (Although maybe publishers give big bookstores like Amazon special deals that smaller bookstores don't get. I don't know.) And in any event the latter is clearly an Amazon promotion, and won't affect Top Shelf.

So that's how you do it: a new, legal copy of Lost Girls for $15. Bit of a pain, really. But it allows you to buy Alan Moore's latest work for more or less the price of a new, ordinary graphic novel. I mean, $15 is a very reasonable price for a major new Alan Moore graphic novel. Even one that isn't porn (if that's more your thing).

The cover of Lost Girls. The link is to a
photoset with review art**, including
some material that is not work safe.

And why would you want to buy Lost Girls? Here are some review samples, to answer that question -- to explain why I, at least, bought a copy.

"There’s no question it’s a stone masterpiece by both [Moore and Gebbie]... a stunning narrative achievement with a whole lot of fucking. It is unquestionably art: however explicit the drawings (and they sure are), they are, after all, still drawings. And there’s a level of artistic remove in the work that almost defies titillation. The weird thing is that Moore and Gebbie might very well have split the atom here. Filmmakers have for decades tried to make truly artistic smut and failed miserably. Moore and Gebbie succeed." -- Joe Gross

"LOST GIRLS is not only one of the best things Alan Moore has ever written, I also think it’s a fairly important work of art judged by any standard. It’s genuinely dangerous... I think it’s one of the most human and heartfelt pieces of work of his career, and his reputation as a dark genius will survive the truth of this piece... that he’s a fucking romantic deep at heart. It took writing about sex to bring out a passionate, soulful Moore that I’ve never seen before in print." -- Ain't It Cool News [second ellipsis in the original]

As an exercise in the formal bounds of pure comics, Lost Girls is remarkable, as good as anything Moore has done in his career... It is one of the tropes of pure pornography that events are without consequence. No babies, no STDs, no trauma, no memories best left unexamined. Lost Girls, however, is all about consequences. It's also about more things than sex – war, music, love, lust, repression and time, to pick a handful of subjects (I could pick more)... Lost Girls is a bitter-sweet, beautiful, problematic, exhaustive, occasionally exhausting work. It succeeded for me wonderfully as a true graphic novel. If it failed for me, it was only as smut; the book, at least in large black and white photocopy form, was not a one-handed read. It was too heady, dense and strange to appreciate or to experience on a visceral level. (Your mileage may vary; porn is, after all, personal.)
-- Neil Gaiman

"LOST GIRLS is about as sacred and profane as comics can get, and an absolutely essential piece of Alan Moore work comparable to From Hell, Watchmen, Voice of the Fire, or whatever your personal favourite Alan Moore work happens to be... about the most thoughtful rumination on sexuality and fantasy as I have ever experienced." -- Alan David Doane **

... and so forth. Top Shelf has a long list of reviews and interviews, which run from the impressed to the utterly blown away. The point is, it's a book that has impressed a lot of people. If you want to read it yourself, get a copy (it won't be at many libraries!). I hope this helps you get one a bit more reasonably priced than you otherwise might.

(If anyone knows any legal ways to get even cheaper copies, feel free to leave them in comments. But legal ways only, please! Top Shelf is putting itself on the line for this one; no one should download it or otherwise get royalty-free copies.)

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