While this may be of no use, your statement, "The field is littered with the corpses of CPAN modules ...", struck a chord. A couple of years ago I was tasked with creating a pure Perl solution for creating PDF documents from scratch. After hacking my way through a graveyard of undead (much as you appear to have done) I found PDF::API2::Simple. I managed to achieve my goal with this module.
The documentation for this module starts off with a claim by the author that he has telepathic powers: "Take note that PDF coordinates are not quite what you're used to.". He then goes on the explain the Cartesian Co-ordinate system with jaw-dropping incredulity.