Back in 1986, I was involved in publishing a line of comics under the Harrier Publishing banner. Our newest and most successful book was Redfox, which I had been editing, and that comic, and my own interest in sword & sorcery, led on to vague thoughts of a second title along similar lines.
And then, early in May, Nick Neocleous submitted a Redfox pin-up page. Nick was then just starting to do some professional comics work; we had worked together on an amateur project or two, and he had been a regular contributor to a number of fanzines I had ben associated with.
Digging into my filing cabinet has paid off, in that I can quote a few lines from the letter I wrote to Nick on May 9th. "Anyway, your picture, and expressed interest in working for Harrier, gave me the impetus to write the enclosed script over the last three days: "MEMREE - The Girl In The Iron Gag" would run 25 pages, and contains lots of underclad women, sometimes in mildly kinky situations. Are you interested in having a go at this? I hope so, as it has definitely been written with you in mind!
"When I was writing "Memree", I was thinking of it in terms of a one-off "comics novel", as I'd like to issue some one-shots like that - but I reckon that there would be plenty more to write about Memree and Charol, so we could perhaps think of either a series of individually-titled one-shots, or, depending on your speed and enthusiasm, a regular bi-monthly book."
Well, Nick said yes, character sketches were drawn and approved, and Nick began work on the script itself at the end of June. My June 21st letter, I find, first mentions the project's final title: "On the general principle that "Memree" is a pretty dumb title, and only applies to one of the two stars of the book, I've been trying to come up with something better, and the best I can manage is BARBARIENNE... or indeed the plural of that." I also had started to talk about a bi-monthly schedule by then. After allowing a little time for promotion and to let Nick get well ahead of deadlines, the first issue was published in March 1987; the series ran for eight issues, ending in November the following year. With the black & white glut, sales had fallen steadily; our plan was to create a thicker sword & sorcery comic, FORTUNE'S WORLD, in a format similar to "A1", but one of the projected main series (STORMWATCHER) "jumped ship" to Acme/Eclipse, the artist to another series, while retaining a high degree of enthusiasm, never produced any finished pages...and the ninth Barbarienne story, "The Choice", due to the uncertainty, took about 18 months to finish. The moment had passed; despite the fine work done by Nick, plus later John Marshall and Dave Roberts; Charol, Memree, and their supporting cast seemed to be lost in limbo.
But now, we move forward to early last year. Inspired by the earliest releases from Eros, I began to wonder if this was the opportunity for Charol and Memree to return. The original series had always been strong on "good girl art", with some mildly kinky trappings; I decided to rewrite the early issues without the self-censorship that had been appropriate for the time, and started to send those scripts to Eros until, intimidated no doubt by the large sums I was spending on air mail postage, I got a response, which likened my Barby rewrites to Bill Willingham (theoretically) adapting old ELEMENTALS comics for Eros, rather than creating IRONWOOD. "I'd suggest creating an original proposal, perhaps with characters from BARBARIENNE", Ryder Windham wrote. There were also some hints that a little more sex, rather than just nudity, would be a nice idea!
So, no problem. Instead of going back over old ground, it was just a matter of -- well, don't tell Ryder, but basically adapting my unpublished scripts for what should have been #10 on. The "new direction" and Spektros setting were already worked out, but the sexual side, instead of being glossed over, could be brought to the fore. This was a new development for the Charol/Memree relationship, but it was a logical one, perhaps even an inevitable one.
Of course, it would all have been academic without Paul Noughton. I had had art samples from him which had been good enough for me to encourage him to send more, so his work was "on file" when the project was far enough advanced to need an artist. After a previous prospect dropped out, I sent him the scripts... And the rest is history, right?
But, time for letters...or at least one letter, which somehow seems to have sneaked into our files:
Engra, c/o House Dovidia, Spektros Isle:
My dear sisters:
My mistress has very kindly given me permission to write to you, to let you know how I have fared. You will have noticed my address - I'm actually on the floating island of Spektros, which is real, and solid, and, well, floating, up above the clouds!
I wasn't too happy when father sold me into slavery, as you know, but one thing slaves have is plenty of time to think things over. Our parents had too many girls, too many for the farm to support, or to marry off. Is my future any darker here than as an unpaid farmhand, or a second wife for some dour old widower out near the forest?
The training took some weeks. Sera Zana knew I could cook, so I was given lessons on that, to increase my value, as well as the slave training you can imagine - and some I hope you can't! It came as a shock to realize that slaves are dressed as and if their owner wishes, and may even be sent on an errand naked through the city, cuffed and gagged, with a note stuffed under their collar. Slaves obey; they are bought and sold for the work they can do and the pleasure they can give, and they are not allowed to withhold anything.
Don't worry about me, though. Just when I had become one of the longest-serving students in the slaver house, I was pulled out of a baking class, and found I'd been sold as a domestic slave and cook to M'sera Ellan tre Dovidia, who, after many years on the surface, was being called back to Spektros to take control of the merchanter house that bears the Dovidia name. She had one male adviser, and was allowed to bring three female slaves with her; immigration to Spektros is strictly controlled.
M'sera is a girl-fancier; my weeks of training had taken most of the shock out of that, and I'm quite at home with it now. After all, we were hardly all paragons of virtue in our room at home during the long winter nights, were we? She had picked up a friend during her travels, and her return to Spektros would have parted them - but her friend, Roli, volunteered to become her proper legal slave, so that she could accompany her lover to Spektros! That's really romantic, I think. I don't imagine Roli had expected to be sent to the slave school by her new mistress, but once she had signed the contract, she didn't really have any say in the matter, did she?
The other purchase, Griffin, is First Slave. it's nice that we were all trained together, not that in a place that size we'd shared more than a class or two. Griffin and Roli knew each other from before - I think that was why M'sera chose her, she knew Griffin wouldn't do Roli any favours, Griffin used to be a slaver herself, catching girls and selling them, but she was caught, her captives freed, and sold into slavery herself, which was only justice. And the adventurer who caught her was Roli, aided by M'sera herself acting as a decoy!
All three of us are "white collar" slaves, which means having nothing to do with men... nothing physical that is, though M'sera's advisor, Ashil, certainly gets to see a lot! M'sera and Roli seem very much in love, and enjoying the dominance and submission that Roli's slavery entails; I might actually be jealous, but Griffin, as first slave, gets to choose a bed-warmer too, and that's little me!
Both M'sera and Griffin are generally kind and thoughtful, but do exercise their right to discipline a slave. I'm not being whipped or anything, but they are fond of using something called a "cross-arm binder" on us, which immobilizes my arms crossed behind my back, leaving us entirely at their mercy. And Griffin in particular is fond of buckling a ball-gag into my mouth before she lets her hands roam where they will. .
Slaves and bondage go together I guess, and in the thoughtful, skilful and often tender hands of M'sera or Griffin, a little gentle bondage is what we used to call "pussy- perking." It tends to slow things down almost unbearably - and the slower sex goes, the more time there is to come, if you get my meaning!
Not that I would advise you to start hinting to our father that you'd like to follow in my footsteps. I think I have been lucky, and even so I could be sold tomorrow if M'sera tires of my cooking or of me, or just needs the money. After slave-trading, I could just as well have been sold to a busy local tavern and red-collared, having to give any customer with a spare coin my 'divided' attention on a mat in a smelly cubicle, or ended up under an old-fashioned sadist, or as a cheap work-slave, pulling a plough for a farmer who couldn't afford oxen.
Sisters, I am well, and content - a shameless pussylicking white-collar slut, because that is the only option I have been given, but happy... for the same reason, I guess. You have my good wishes, and - well, our old life, looking back, had its disadvantages, like boredom. Spektros is a magic place to be, and a morning's trip to market is as good as the old Spring Fair! In a funny way, in my metal collar, even when Griffin removes my already-scanty clothing and adds a few straps and that darned ball-gag, I feel more free to be me than I ever used to. Strange, isn't it?
Your affectionate sister.
* * * * * *
Hmm. I hadn't expected Engra to take up so much of our space; she is usually a quiet type, hardly saying a word. This means that the threatened creator biographies had better be held over to next time -- not a bad idea, as Paul is so busy both on Barby art and on a presentation for another series that he hasn't been able to come up with anything yet. And I particularly want to know where he finds his models...
Harrier's run of BARBARIENNE had its kinky moments before kinky was fashionable, but the emphasis was always on strong female characters. The change in the Memree/Charol (or Ellan/Roli) relationship, and the natural shift in focus to the bedroom that follows, may seem to undermine this, but I still hope that their strength as characters comes through. We are seeing a new stage in Charol's life, seeing it more graphically with Eros than I'd originally expected, but "Roli" is still Charol, and will continue to have adventures as well as assignations; Memree, despite her own upcoming investigations into the slavegirl's point of view, is still the woman she used to be, growing in confidence. Neither of them would have it any other way.
Let me repeat last issue's reminder that this is a fantasy comic, as much in its depiction of slavegirlery as of flying islands; don't try this at home, fellas. We welcome your letters... Creator credits are the same as last time, with Paul Noughton & "Eva Legova" on art and me, Martin Lock, as storyteller. Come back next month for the next exciting instalment; reserve your copy now, why not?