Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reprint This! Barbarella

Reprint This! is a periodic feature where I talk about some out-of-print comic book gems that are not available in collected form for readers to enjoy. This is hoping to let rights owners know that, yes, readers are out here, and we'd like to buy the things we can't get at this time!

Despite such an enormous variety of books available these days, and genuine efforts to present the material in reasonably-priced, archival volumes, there are still countless fabulous series from the US, Britain and Japan which are overdue for new editions. I've selected several titles which should be on bookshelves, but at this time are not.

One missing gem is BARBARELLA by Jean-Claude Forest. You're probably aware of the 1968 film adaptation of this sexy sci-fi comic, but the original comics have hardly ever been seen in English.

A few years back, before I started this feature, I was up in Hiawasee with my buddy, LiveJournal's sprocketship, doing a little junkin' to get over a bad breakup, and we ran across the Crazy Grandma-priced book store to beat 'em all. Sitting on a top shelf, above the $10 recirculated library hardbacks and the $50 records from the '70s kid's show Zoom was a collected edition of one of the four Barbarella adventures, priced to sit there forever at $100. I think that might have been the only copy I've ever seen, anywhere.

Barbarella is, I think, unique among film adaptations of comics in that hardly anybody in this country has ever read the original story. Everybody knows that the movie was based on some French comic book, but nobody's seen it. In America, there were two different collections of her first adventure floating around in the late sixties, one of which had a cover photo of Jane Fonda from the film, and the third adventure was serialized almost a decade later and there might have been a mail-order-type collection of it, but this is an odd example of a comic that everybody has heard of and that nobody has seen.

There were four Barbarella adventures, the first of which was loosely adapted into Roger Vadim's film version. That one apparently appeared in the French anthology V in 1962. After the movie had revived interest in the character, Forest created three more stories in 1974, 1976-77 and 1982, the last one with art by Daniel Billon. Story three, a 48-page adventure called, alternately, "The False Moon" or "The Moon Child," was translated into English and appeared in eight-page installments across six 1978 issues of Heavy Metal.

Interestingly, Barbarella's first American appearance was also as a serial. Her original story was translated in 1965 and appeared across three issues of the controversial old beat & counterculture magazine The Evergreen Review, paving the way for the magazine to commission the infamous and delightful Phoebe Zeit-Geist a couple of years later.

So is it any good? Well, I'm not completely sure. I've certainly read a few nice things about it. There are scans of some of the chapters from the original story floating around, and Pete Doree of The Bronze Age of Blogs was kind enough to post the opening installment of the third story back in the summer, from which I cropped the first three images here. Digging through old boxes full of back issues of Heavy Metal netted me a subsequent chunk of that yarn, and I'm just not sure. For something so notorious as a sex story, it's surprisingly tame. Visually, Barbarella doesn't appear to be even as racy as Oh, Wicked Wanda!, yet it's very easy on the eyes. It's drawn in a full palette of soft colors in a world full of gentle curves and a dreamlike sense of place. The skies are packed full of weird planets and exploding nebulae, and you don't get any of the harsh, ugly, industrial mechanization that I associate with most of the French comics artists of the sixties and seventies that were working in SF environments. It all looks more like a quiet little daydream than a randy funnybook.

If I understand correctly, the four Barbarella stories only come to about 200 pages in total. That's certainly doable for a single edition compiling the whole run. What I've seen certainly makes it look like a worthwhile enterprise, and if they ever get that proposed new film off the ground, it would make a wonderful tie-in. I certainly hope somebody tackles this project soon.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Grant. I'm from Brazil and I met Barbarella comics in 2011. Already in 2012, I found Barbarella 1 (1966), Barbarella 2 (Les Coleres du Mange Minutes, 1974) and Barbarella Le Semble-Lune. I bought all of them. The books are just AMAZING. A good idea to reprint this is something like a Marvel Omnibus...