who are these people, anyway?
Charol is an adventurer, a warrior, an ex-mercenary. On one assignment she discovers Memree, locked in a deep and dark dungeon--a victim of some magical experiments by the she-warlock Atzmon. Memree can remember nothing of her
old life before Charol rescued her, though it seems that she'd been a lackwitted scullery-girl before Atzmon magically boosted her intelligence - in a spell which killed its other victim, Marius Restormel, who Charol had been hired to find. Not wanting to return to her old life, Memree persuades Charol to take her with her on her travels.
In BARBARIENNE #5, Memree (acting as a decov) and Charoll end the activities or a gang of slavers, freeing their captives, and killing or enslaving the slavers themselves. Griffin, the head of the gang, had her own servant, a mute woman called Cleve; the enslaving of Griffin frees Cleve of her loyalty to her, and Cleve makes clear that she would like to accompany Charol and Memree for a while.
Atzmon, meanwhile, though apparently killed by Charol (with Memree's help), has taken possession of a new body. It looks as if revenge on the pair who'd lopped her head off her shoulders is now her top priority!
Though this title still definitely has its problems, #3 offers further hope that it may eventually turn out to be a worthwhile series.
The scripts continue to be generally interesting. This issue's story of the escape from the armed camp proceeded logicalIv. The use of monstrous illusions as a diversion was a nice device, and Fran's subterfuge in "helping" Memree & Charol was a convincing turn of events on what at first appeared to be a shallowly motivated plot convenience. On the negative side, the story did not proceed at quite the quick pace that would have been effective in such circumstances, and some of the dialogue seems rather stilted.
Nick Neocleous continues to improve in the art department. However, much of his work has a flat, two-dimensional look to it, and his figures can at times look quite stiff and posed, with the battle sequences in particular lacking the necessary degree of continuity and fluidity. Some of the faces he draws can be quite expressive though, unfortunately, he can be inconsistent in this area too.
The "risque" aspects of this title continue to be in evidence. At base, most of them make sense in the context of the story, and are rather well-handled. I imagine that a lot of the "inappropriate" atmosphere could be averted if the more scanty of the clothing employed was avoided. (Hmm, maybe I should rephrase that ... ) For instance, though the standard Churmuk battle garb is appropriate (being fairly similar to that used by the Greeks or Romans, for instance), the outfit worn by Natella (starting on page 16) is rather outlandish (particularly the "skirt"!), and it seems gratuitous to have her suddenly "stripped" down to just a "bodysuit" (on page 19). (Though, I hasten to add, stripping her of her armour is a good psychological move by Charol, as a prelude to getting her to surrender. Hey, who said it was easy to script comics, Martin?!)
Memree continues to grow in ability and confidence. I await further developments, and hope that her friendship and association with Charol will turn out to be the special one that it shows the potential to be. Certainly, such friendships between women in comics are rather less frequent than they properly should be!
We were putting too much pressure on Nick Neocleous by asking him to pencil & ink a full bi-monthly comic, so he's now rediscovering other less demanding ways of passing the evening. Still, once we can find a more suitable project, such as a mini-series, be assured that Nick will return.
And now, moving from BARBARIENNE #3 to #4, and Maplegram #2918 to #3003, it's back to the Wild Westonian:
In many ways (maybe in most ways), "Fever Dream" was the best story in this
series to date. Some of the reasons for this are accumulative - that is, that we are beginning to know the characters better, and thus can see them as individuals rather than just their surface traits. The "surface" of these people, and the situation(s) in which they find themselves (and also the intention of you as the writer, Martin) is such that it is rather easily open to misinterpretation -- especially to people who are "looking" for something to misinterpret, if you know what I mean.
The trappings are mildly risque, and the relationship between Charol & Memree is a delicate one. This can mean that there are fine possibilities for character development & for interesting storlines, but it also unfortunately means that vou are open to fire from those who don't see matters as vou do (whether this be due to their considered objections or to off-the-cuff reflexive feelings). But, to get back around to my original point, we have now had a few issues to begin to see the characters as they really are, and BARBARIENNE #4 only furthers this process.
This furtherance is also accomplished by a good story, which helps to show that the two main characters are not one-dimensional or always the same in their reactions. So far, Charol is seen as the "strong" one and Memree as the "weak" one. But as you imply in the lettercol, Martin, a lot of this is due simply to circumstances -- after all, Memree was the one in the dungeon, and Charol in the position to rescue her! But in "Fever Drean" we see some of the "weaker" characteristics of Charol. I am not speaking of the misfortunes she has suffered, for in that she displayed only great courage and determination. (Though it is interesting to see her in the so-called "weak" position that Memree was in earlier, namely that of being a prisoner. This does not make Charol weak, but rather shows that Memree is not to be considered weak for having been a victim - only unfortunate.) Rather this "weakness" (or is it simply humanity?) that Charol shows is her emotional turmoil, her feelings of inadequacy over her scars. Thus, she shows herself to be "merely" human.
Memree, on the other hand, shows the stronger side of her character. In her case it is evidence of a growing process rather than a revelation of inherent characteristics as it was with Charol (though Memree must have had something there on which to build!). Memree is still somewhat hesitant and unsure of herself, but a definite strength of character is shown.
Also, the story demonstrates the deep friendship that has developed between these two. Memree is willing to overcome her fears in order to help Charol, and Charol is quite willing to accept help when she is "stripped down" to her basic personality by the sorceress's spell.
In addition, I enjoyed the method bv which the mage-healer operated. There is no simple hocus-pocus here! That scars have an emotional presence and thus must be at least partially banished by coming to terms with those emotions is a neat little concept. (And not a bad idea for an informative flashback, either!)
And, it may be my imagination, 'out when Charol was younger, were her legs longer (if such is possible!)? (See, in particular, page 14.) That said, Nick Neocleous's art continues to improve, and if he can refrain from designing costumes that are too bizarre, I think he'll gain a lot more acceptance. (Costumes this time were less bizarre, if you know what I mean ... )
Well, some of them, I guess! But what do you think of John H. Marshall's ideas
in costuming? It's good to know that you are appreciating what we're trying to do here, T.M. - however, it looks as if we can't please everybody:
BARBARIENNE #4 turned put to be a great leap backwards.
Okay, so we had been expecting this particular storyline, in one variation or another, since the first issue. I'd hoped however that BARBARIENNE would have matured from its bondage phase, and lost some of its more voyeuristic elements.
Come on, Martin! That "Gosh it's hot in here, let's take all our clothes off" bit was daft enough to have been swiped straight from a Kenny Everett sketch. Unfortunately, it was too stupid to be intentionally funny.
I have to agree with of' T.M., that things have been getting weird in this title -- weird in a disturbing way. Particularly the Atzmon pin-up.
I was glad to see that Harrier did well in the Eagle Awards. You all deserved to. At the time the votes were cast, Harrier was publishing some of the most entertaining independent comics on either side of the Atlantic. It took guts to have female characters such as Fl'ff in leading roles, even 2000AD with its healthy circulation and the backing of a large publishing firm has always dismissed heroines as uneconomical.
So imagine how depressed I am by a tendency throughout your range towards depicting sexual or emotional violence towards these characters.
For close on three years I've worked with a support group for the victims of violent crime, and in that time I have shared countless horrendous stories of the violation innocent people have had to endure at the hands of others trying to bring some sick fantasy to life. But these are far removed from our own gentle, heroic comicbook fantasies, are they not?
Well then, how do you explain recent episodes of "Lone Shark' or "Diana"?
I assure you that I have no political axe to grind here, and little enough time for the "baggy denim" types you decided to have a go at. All I can do is call the situation as I see it.
I'm afraid you are seeing it in a most peculiar way, Andrew; your Victim Support work is very praiseworthy, but it's rubbed your nerves raw. You'd better not read comics aimed at a more mature group of readers any more; not just this one but, for example, anything in DC's $2.95 prestige format (especially the Green Arrow "Longbow Hunters"), or KAMUI, ELFLORD, GRENDEL, TREKKER, DARK WOLF...while much of popular paperback fiction might also prove distressing for you. I can thoroughly recomend the ARCHIE line of comics, though...
I don't want to go too deeply into the old censorship debate, particularly as it seems to have died a natural death in recent months. We try to approach our subject matter in a responsible way - but the subjects we cover must include some less than pleasant scenes, if what we are doing is to fulfil its potential.
If you have problems with what you see in AVALON or SWIFTSURE, you should write to those titles; I have no editorial input there. As for your reading of "It was like walking into a furnace. The light hurt my eyes, and the last of the rain steamed off me in seconds" as just a cheap excuse for Charol to take off her clothes, I find that most annoying. Charol could hardly have had her scars seen to while wearing her tunic; what I was trying to do was emphasize the strange- ness of the room, and the magic that was to be done there.
I don't like the way that every modern atrocity is blamed on "Rambo", or "Hill Street Blues", or Yosemite Sam, and is never, ever, the fault of some poor Sun-reading inadequate with a mail-order rifle. Genghis Khan read TALES FROM THE CRYPT as a youngster; Caligula watched Saturday morning TV cartoons before the censors got to work on them. Sure they did. That means we must burn all books we don't agree with, right?
The National Association of Victim Support Schemes can be reached at 34, Electric Lane, Brixton, London SW9 8JT; if, in Britain, you want to help, or need assistance yourself after being the victim of violent crime, they can put you in touch with a local group.
Well now, BARBARIENNE #4 was very nice indeed. It was good to see Charol's background, but do take it slowly. We don't need to know everything at once. Artwise, things are coming along nicely. Each issue gets better.
I'm going to miss Charol's scars. As far as I know, yours is the only book that shows that if you're cut, you not only bleed, but it stays with you a long time.
Memree's rescue was great, but I wonder if in Charol's subconscious she will hold the image of the warrior goddess.
As for the lesbian angle, go ahead and keep the "unresolved sexual tensions", but don't pass up the chance for a relationship. I'm all for the two of them as sisters/lovers, though.
Looking forward to #5...
Thanks for writing, Robin. Charol and Memree will continue to be close friends and partners, but if Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid could go around toether without nasty rumours about their virility, maybe Roli and Mem can too, even if they are prettier than Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
And that just about empties the letter tray; Steve Field opines that this title "is coming along nicely", which is good to know; "I'm looking forward to your new one, CUIRASS" he also says, which confirms that he is a man of sound judgement and excellent taste. It must be all the Harrier comics he reads. A suitable point on which to end, I think!
This just leaves me room to recap on various Harrier happenings you need to know about. HARRIER PREVIEW #1 got a bit delayed, when Titan Studios didn't come through with their central 16-page ad section when Mike Lake had promised they would; as BACCHUS #1 (Eddie Campbell) and KALGAN THE GOLDEN #1 (an E.C. Tubb tale, adapted by PHil Harbottle & drawn by Ron Turner) were due for printing at the same time, this means they've been held up too, and of course, since NIGHTBIRD #1 and CUIRASS #1 lead on from
HARRIER PREVIEW, they're likely to have to run a few weeks late also...while
BARBARIENNE VERSUS CUIRASS #6 has to appear alongside CUIRASS #1. We will try to catch up as quickly as we can, but if this issue is a few weeks late, please bear with us while we get sorted out.
Anyway, if you've read this issue, do remember to come back next time for more thrills, duels, and high adventure. I'd show you the cover, but I'd prefer you to be taken by surprise! Meanwhile, do check out CUIRASS #1 ("cuir" pronounced "cure", "ass" rhymes with "gas"), and see more of our guest star -- and also her successor as wearer of that particular item of armour. If your comics store has no copies in stock, and won't order them for you, start looking round for a new comics supplier. The 8-page story you'll find in HARRIER PREVIEW #1 is set a few months after CUIRASS #1, so don't worry if you have difficulty finding it -- at a mere 75c (25p) per copy, it ought to vanish from the shelves fairly fast. As well as the CUIRASS tale, there's the start of the NIGHTBIRD saga, continuing in
NIGHTBIRD #1, drawn beautifully by Cameron Smith and scripted by the multi- talented, Eagle Award-winning...me?
Harrier is publishing some rather fine comics this spring, as you will see from the following pages. Stay with us - the best is yet to come! -Martin Lock