Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Delights of Dread: Meeting Clive Barker

"There is no delight the equal of dread," wrote Liverpudlian Clive Barker in the first lines of his 1984 short story "Dread," collected in Books of Blood Vol. 2. I believed him back then and I believe him now. Also, from the title story: "The dead have highways... Their thrum and throb can be heard in the broken places of the world, through cracks made by acts of cruelty, violence and depravity." Who could resist the promise of such a glimpse?

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.


Jeff Allard said...

Hey, we must've passed each other at that Weekend of Horrors! I was there with my pals that year. I miss those days - horror conventions seemed a lot more fun then. But maybe it was just because they were new to me. I didn't meet Barker myself at that '91 con but those I know who did said he was terrific to talk to.

Daniela said...

Wish I could meet Clive Barker... Love his work a lot.

Will Errickson said...

Thanks for reading guys!

Jeff--I had so much fun at those Fango Cons. I went to about four in the early '90s. The money I spent! Haven't been to any since, alas. I also saw him give a lecture at a college in NJ back then & he signed my copy of IMAJICA.

Daniela--I don't know where you live but Barker still does lots of public appearances! You should check out one his websites for any.

Keith said...

That is awesome. I've never had the pleasure of meeting him. I've been a big fan of his since the 80's. I graduated from Stephen King up to Clive Barker.

Will Errickson said...

Keith I appreciate you stopping by. I'd say I had precisely the same experience as you. I started with King, but outgrew him, as Barker was a much better *writer* and his story ideas were so epically strange and complex, and unlike anything else.

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