I picked up Vol. 3 first (can't remember why I chose number three) for one reason only: the infamous quote on the cover from Stephen King. At the time (1986 or '87) that meant a lot to me; it was before King could be counted on to whore up a blurb for any writer (Bentley Little? Really?). "I have seen the future of horror," it went, "and its name is Clive Barker." (For you non-classic rock fans, that's a take on something said early in Bruce Springsteen's career). That was plenty good enough for me. King was right in some ways (the Hellraiser movies, Books of Blood) but wrong in others.
Barker proved to be a world-class talent as a novelist too, with ambitious, layered, magic-realist works like Weaveworld (1987), The Great and Secret Show (1990), and my absolute favorite, Imajica (1991). These books were long, ambitious, mythic, darkly fantastic, erotic, and metaphysical, evoking not just horror fiction like King, Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell or Poe, but also William Blake, Tolkien, kitchen-sink realism, surrealism, Peter Pan, Melville, Joseph Campbell, Jorge Luis Borges; a whole host of influences that most horror fans would (unfortunately) have little familiarity with. I can't recall Dean Koontz ever talking about the impact Les yeux sans visage, The Story of the Eye, or The Holy Mountain had on his fiction. Reading Barker improved my cultural literacy when I was just a teenager in a way no AP literature class could have.
He is also a wonderful and quite accomplished artist. You can see his dense, colorfully macabre paintings in Clive Barker: Illustrator I and II. And before he started his career as a published writer, he had written and produced crazy-quilt Grand Guignol plays, collected in Forms of Heaven (1995) and Incarnations (1996). And then children's books like The Thief of Always (1992) and the Abarat series (ongoing); and latter-day more mainstream, yet still visionary, novels like Sacrament (1996) and Galilee (1998). Whew.
Despite these incredible accomplishments, Barker's name is always associated with horror. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it puts Barker in a box (Lemarchand's box, one assumes) too confining for a popular artist. What else is new, right? Look at his stunning artwork for the UK editions of Books of Blood. Come on, what popular author can do all this?
I have a print of Vol. III's cover framed and hanging in my bedroom, it looks awesome!
And this is a seriously Gothed-out me meeting Mr. Barker in January 1991 at a Fangoria Weekend of Horrors convention in New York City. Here he's signing my Nightbreed (his 1990 "epic" monster movie) poster. Seems pretty excited to meet me, doesn't he?
I met him several times over the years at these conventions, and he was always terrifically engaging. During one Q&A I asked him why he thought horror should be "subversive," another time why we were so drawn to monsters and scenes of chaos and death. He answered my questions with enthusiasm, and suffered idiotic questions ("How do you get to the third level on the Hellraiser videogame?" "Will you and Stephen King ever write a novel together?" "What kind of shoes does Pinhead wear?") with smiling tolerance. One year we agreed that only David Cronenberg could adapt the then-upcoming movie version of William Burroughs's seminal Beat novel Naked Lunch; and then recommended I see Bernard Rose's Paperhouse (which has proved elusive). Barker is well-known for making hours-long appearances to sign whatever item someone has and meet his fans. Gracious, funny, patient, Clive Barker is genuinely a great and unique artist who truly enjoys interacting with the people who love his work and well understands the connection we have with him.