Being Offered The Keys To The Candy Store: Writer Sarah Hoyt Talks ‘Barbarella’
by Tom Smithyman
A fan favorite returns in February with Barbarella: The Center Cannot Hold, scripted by prolific writer Sarah Hoyt. Hoyt is no stranger to the character, having written her in Barbarella: Woman Untamed. In an exclusive interview with Comicon, Hoyt discusses her love of science fiction and how her son taught her to write comics.
Tom Smithyman: You have a long history with Barbarella, going back to reading her adventures when you were younger. What do you find so appealing about the character?
Sarah Hoyt: Barbarella’s special characteristics come from her heart, her brain and her sense of empathy. It’s great fun writing such a character, for a character-oriented writer like myself.
Smithyman: You’ve said the story’s theme emphasizes the importance of who you are and what you do over who you are and where you come from. Why was it important for you to get that message out to your readers?
Hoyt: It would be pretty hypocritical for an immigrant writing in her third language to convey the message of “flourish where you’re planted.” I think everyone has, if not infinite capacity, enough ability and mental power to do what they really want, provided they’re willing to work and sacrifice for it. Now, is this an important message to convey? Um…I don’t so much write to send a message. I write to entertain. The message tends to come along because of who I am and my deep-laid beliefs of how the universe works.
Smithyman: You’ve written a number of novels across genres. What draws you to writing comic books? The process has to be dramatically different, right?
Hoyt: Before I read novels, I read comics. Partly because it’s much easier for a kid to teach herself to write by remembering what people said when they read that particular image. And it’s easier to follow the story when you’re shaky on your reading ability, say, before 5.
The thing is that growing up in Europe I never thought of comics as a “young” much less “child” thing. So I continued reading comic books all through my time there, and then dove back into comics in the US when my own kids started reading. (Younger son has absconded with my collection when he moved out. Truth be told he put them in sleeves and is better with them than I am, but all the same.)
All that said, when life became insane, because I was writing several books a year and raising a family, I let the comics habit go a little. So when I was offered a chance to work in comics – and again given my background, that was like being offered the keys to the candy store – I had to trust my sons to help me with the first two or three scripts, particularly when I fell in the habits of “too many words, not enough images.” My (grown up) sons, henceforth referred to as goon one and goon two, were invaluable in this endeavor. The younger has gotten some traction out of explaining to people he taught mom to write comics. I’d dispute it, but it happens to be true.
Smithyman: Your novels run the gamut from historical fiction to mysteries to fantasy, but you’re said you love sci-fi the best. Why is that?
Hoyt: You see, I fell in love with science fiction when I was 11. So, I wanted to write science fiction “when I grew up.” But I came in at a time when all the editors wanted to buy was fantasy. So I learned to write that. And, well, dad raised me on mystery reading and we shared an extensive library, so I wrote that when the opportunity arose. And I always liked history.
However, I think of all genres, science fiction – space opera to be exact – is the closest to my heart and fantasy perhaps the most distant. Which doesn’t matter. When I’m writing whatever it is, I give it 100%.
Smithyman: Science fiction has long been criticized for not having enough leading women. Do you think that is changing with the popularity of characters like Barbarella, or is she the exception that proves the rule?
Hoyt: I think most of the people who criticize science fiction for lacking leading women don’t read science fiction. By the time I came in there had been such leading lights with long, female-main-character oriented series as Anne McCaffrey. These days even men tend to write female main characters. Look at David Weber’s iconic Honor Harrington. Honestly, I think mostly science fiction suffers from perceptions that gelled sometime in the 1930s.
But sure, if people can appreciate Barbarella – a character completely a peace with herself and comfortable as a woman – perhaps it will help chip away at that perception.
Smithyman: I know you’re not involved in the upcoming new Barbarella movie, but let’s say it does well and you’re invited to pitch an idea for the sequel. What’s your pitch?
Hoyt: Oh. I might be the worst person to ask this, as movies really aren’t a consistent part of my life. (Mostly because I have trouble sitting down long enough to watch one.)
However, I think the first series I did for Dynamite, or at least the first three books, would make a pretty good movie.
So…. Let’s see: In an uncaring universe, many groan under the boot of oppressors. Into this comes Barbarella, a freedom-fighter of a different kind, who undermines tyrants and oligarchs with the power of understanding and love. Barbarella: Freedom is beautiful!
Smithyman: You’re hired! Thanks for taking the time to talk, and best of luck with the new series.