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Barbarella #1 Kenan Yarar cover
In his career, Mike Carey has written comics including Lucifer, suicide Risk, Hellblazer, X-Men, and many others, and novels including The girl With All the gifts and The boy on the Bridge. now he turns to Jean-Claude Forest’s classic character with Barbarella from Dynamite. Carey shares more about the series with Westfield’s Roger Ash.
Westfield: Are you a fan of the original Barbarella comics?
Mike Carey: Yeah, I enjoyed the hell out of them. I read them back in the ‘70s, which is when I discovered French comic books for the first time. I was picking up Pilote and Charlie Hebdo when I could, and discovering creators like Moebius, Fred, Druillet, Franquin – and of course Jean-Claude Forest. Barbarella was one of the most exciting series coming out of France at that time – a book that existed at the interface between sci-fi and fantasy (sci-fi furniture, fantasy plot logic) and was also about sex and sexual identity. I was blown away by it, not least because I was in my teens and figuring out how these things were going to play out in my own life. By “these things” I mean sex, not sci-fi. I was already in love with sci-fi.
Barbarella #1 Kenneth Rocafort cover
Westfield: For many, their only exposure to Barbarella is the Jane Fonda movie. Do you think the comic will surprise them in any way?
Carey: I hope so. The movie has its own charms, but the comic was always the real, undiluted version of the character and her world. It was a picaresque romp through a substantial universe, with Barbarella falling in and out of bizarre and incredible situations in the same way that Alice does in Wonderland. The movie felt obliged to impose a more linear plot and to give Barbarella an official role – a diplomatic mission. The Barbarella of the comic represents nobody but herself, and follows no agenda except her own. That’s what I’ve tried to stay faithful to.
In a way it’s a classic sci-fi formula. A lone explorer sets out from earth and has fantastic adventures in the depths of space, doing good and solving other people’s problems along the way. What made Jean-Claude Forest’s vision unusual and ahead of its time was Barbarella herself. and it’s not that she’s an early incarnation of the kick-ass female protagonist, it’s the way she chooses to live. Her refusal to accept other people’s definitions or values. She’s a loner without being a misanthrope. In fact she loves people: she just knows who she is and loves her own company too. When she’s dealt with the big bad she doesn’t stick around for the party. Her polyamory is part of that.
Barbarella #1 Joseph Michael Linsner cover
Westfield: Is there anything you can tell us about the story?
Carey: The plan is to have lots of stories that loosely interlock. in that sense we’re following the structure of the original series. having said that, there are more continuity elements in my version than in Jean-Claude’s. There are more characters who make repeat appearances, and things that happen early on will have consequences later.
In the first arc, Barbarella wanders across the edge of a battle in space and is captured by one of the two sides on suspicion of spying. She discovers that earth is now at war with another galaxy-spanning culture, Parosia, which is a religious autocracy. and she right away gets to experience what that means as her body is surgically altered to fit the Parosian norm. From that point on she’s determined to intervene in the war, partly for personal reasons.
But the more she finds out about the conflict, the less certain she is which side she’s on. until finally she’s forced to make a decision to try to avert an act of genocide.
Barbarella #2 Marcos Martin cover
Westfield: who are some of the other characters readers will meet?
Carey: There’s quite a large supporting cast. first of all there are the other women in the prison to which Barbarella is sent. one of them in particular – jury Quire – will turn out to be important in the wider story. jury helps Barbarella plan a break-out, and discovers to have a lot of relevant skills. This is because she’s a covert agent from earth sent into Parosian space to find a rumoured doomsday weapon.
Later we’ll meet two more earth spies, Ix Pendrum and Kettlesmith, who are from a different cell than jury and have different methods of working. There’s also a talking fox named Vix, who insists that she’s not actually sentient, and an extremely polite robot horse named Pegasus.
Barbarella #2 Kenan Yarar cover
Westfield: You’re working with artist Kenan Yarar on Barbarella. What can you say about your collaboration?
Carey: It’s been an absolute dream working with Kenan. He’s an explosion of anarchic energy, but it’s all in the service of the story. When he draws a cityscape he fills it with layer after layer of detail, and his character designs are fantastic. I knew he was right for the book when I saw his sketches of Barbarella. She had a real, vivid personality right from the start. You could tell that he had a sense of her, and that her sexuality was only a very tiny part of that. That’s true of the supporting cast, too. everyone looks and feels like a real person.
Westfield: any closing comments?
Carey: only that I’m four issues into the series and I’m having the time of my life. I think we all are, and I think it shows.
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