in reply to State of the art of PDFs in Perl
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.