taken from Amazing Heroes No. 174, December, 1989

Clive Barker: On the Beauty of the Beast

by Mike Maddox

I met Clive on a Sunday afternoon at Pinewood Studios, where the finishing touches were being made on Nightbreed, Clive's latest film. The skies were that perpetual English grey, and seemed only slightly more comforting than the huge James Bond/Superman stage that sticks out like a grounded zeppelin for miles around. In the distance the tall, twisted towers of Tim Burton's Gotham City cut their way into the sky, seeming stranger when viewed against the greenery of the South Bucks woodlands than they did on screen.
I was born three miles from here and spent the first 20 years of my life in a radius of 10 miles of the studio. Yet despite being such a landmark, the studio retains a sinister, almost mythical quality to us yokels. Actually being invited to the place rather than sneaking in under the barbed wire seemed, at least to me, to be a very fine thing indeed.
Clive was busy as hell. People were running around, phones were ringing, things were getting lost. It was a quiet day, I was told. And as for Clive Barker - well....
Clive Barker is a gentleman. A seriously likeable sort of bloke. Everyone says that about him. When you meet him you find out why.
AH: First question is to do with something I heard you say on the radio the other day while talking about The Great and Secret Show. You said that you don't consider yourself to be a horror writer at all.
BARKER: Right.
AH: And if you were in South America, you'd be considered a magical realist. This has been worrying me ever since.
BARKER: Let me ask you why that worries you. What do you mean by "worrying"?
AH: Uh...not "worrying" in an obsessive sense - my wanting to pigeon-hole you or anything, genre-wise, but something that had been cropping up in my thoughts since you said it.
To do with the relationship between realism and.. you know.. .I meant, I can't see any distinction between what you do and magic realism, or horror, or science fiction, or straight fiction.
BARKER: Right. Neither can I. That was exactly my point. It's as simple as that. What I choose to do in my genre (or genres) - which I will loosely term le fantastique - uh... science fiction, occult fantasy, dark fantasy, horror fiction, straightforward invented world fantasy, all those areas will be things which in a culture that's concerned with subdividing literature into popularist and elitist - all those generic groups - would be embraced as belonging to the literature of the imagination, and would not be used with the same kind of….that would be celebrated as an imaginative art as opposed to being condemned for those same qualities.
I think what I actually said was not that if I lived in South America I'd be magic realist as much as if I was in translation from the Spanish and came to these shores there would certainly be more of a critical openness to the fantastic elements. There would be a sense-from the reviewers at least - that this was strange and weird and pleasurable because of those elements rather than have them seen as a kind of escapism. Okay?
AH: Fine. Perfect answer While we're on the subject of pleasure in the introduction to "Man on a Stick," the collection of drawings in Fly in My Eye, James Blair-Lovell says that if the reader doesn't find your drawings enjoyable or entertaining then there's something more that can be said about them. I know I did. There was some really first-class stuff in that antholo-gy, but "Man on a Stick" has been one of the things I've gone back over again and again....
BARKER: Thank you.
AH Bearing that in mind, do you want to talk about your artwork for a while?
BARKER: Well, the artwork's very important to me. Very important to me. It always has been. It was the first art practice that I was really involved in. It certainly preceded writing, as it does for most kids who have some artistic bent, as it's a very simple activity at its base. .It's something that for me has a very immediate, almost journalistic appeal. The reporting and setting down of sights that the mind's eye has seen, or is actually still seeing in the act of drawing. For me it's a very unpretentious activity, I do it, and have been doing it for years without any end commercial pressure on me, or deadline pressure or anything like that. It's something I've always done, and I do it because I suppose I want to make some kind of diary of some inner landscape, a report of some inner landscape, whatever.
Sometimes it helps me to develop the way a character looks, the way a monster is, or sometimes there are things that can only work as drawings, that really have no literary equivalent. That have no cinematic equivalent as well. It remains to be a very simple activity... I mean, even a book - I hand write everything - requires transferring into typescript, from typescript into galleys, and from there to a finished book. But a drawing is a drawing is a drawing. Once you have fin-ished it, there it is. That was the full sum of the activity. Later on, someone might come along and decide to publish it and all that entails, but the act of drawing was it. There's no editorializing in a drawing. I don't really work through many roughs and choose this over that or anything. I just do them and walk away from them. The immediacy of the thing remains im-mensely attractive, especially in contrast, in fact in stark contrast to this [Clive gestures with his hand toward a nearby soundstage].. this massively elaborate process here. Moving monoliths. Drawing can be feather light by comparison.
AH: Do you see your involvement with comics continuing, if only a semi-regular basis?
BARKER: Do you mean in terms of Tapping the Vein? Or in the stuff that I've been drawing? Or...?
AH: The whole thing.
BARKER: I definitely see this as something which will continue, and that I hope will burgeon. I've been in negotiation with the people at Eclipse, and with Dan Chichester and Archie Goodwin, and with various others to try and work with all these people on comic book projects. Some of them I will write myself, others I will be simply producing outlines for stories, some will be adapted from my plays, some-given the right direction - I may very well draw myself. So there's certainly an awful lot of stuff that I want to be involved in.
I'm very pleased with Tapping the Vein. I think it's a very elegant and responsive book, in the sense of its understanding what the texture of the fiction is and putting into a visual form. I think it has actually caught, in its first issue, quite a lot of what makes the Books of Blood interesting. John Bolton's work on... I mean, you know, the work that Dan Chichester and his people have been doing on the Hellraiser comic is, what shall we say, provocative? Which again I welcome, obviously. There's a lot of projects out there that I'll following up on.
AH: We've all seen the comic industry go through some interesting changes in the last few years. Do you think it would have been possible for your work to have seen print in comics eight or nine years ago?
BARKER: Hmmm.… interesting. Well, I.. .I suppose that the Books of Blood were published five years ago, and nobody said to me "Don't do that," and I'm not entirely sure that five years before that - when James Herbert published The Rats - which was fairly visceral stuff. .I think there's always been people writing or doing comics, who were radical in some way or another. I don't think the problem is doing it, the problem is doing it for the right audience. I think that for me what happened, and what happened to Jim [Herbert], was that we found this wonderful, huge audience for these rather strong ideas and images. I think that's what's really im-portant. Hellraiser, the film, reached a massive audience in the cinema, more still on video. I hope the same will be true of Nightbreed. The concern always, but always, is to be communicating the vision rather than presenting it. I mean, I'm not one of those people who thinks his job's finished the moment the book is finished. After I've finished the movie I'll go on the road and prosylitize on behalf of this material, feeling that that's part of my responsibility. The responsibili-ty to the work done, to the effort that's gone into it, not the sort of responsibility to apologize for anything, but to offer up a vocabulary of what my comprehension of what this is, which people may or may not choose to take on board. I mean, there are reviewers who'll say, "I don't care what the luck you say about this, chum, it's disgust-ing and morally indefensible." But at least I'll have given it my best go.

Part of the problem that le fantastique generally has, critically, and to a certain extent science fiction, is a problem of vocabulary in terms of the way that it is spoken about. As soon as people began to see John Le Carre as an analyst of English reserve and, with a subtext on English sexual life, and all the other terms that we now see IC Carre as being, and in' tact as he has always been, reviewers began to comprehend that he was doing something other than beautifully formulated spy thrillers. I think that it's very important that the same be done for horror fiction. I'm not one of those horror writers who will sort of simply say, "I'm really only interested in wanting to scare the living daylights out of you" I have no real interest in scaring the living daylights out of anyone. I'm much more interested in why we need the dark imagin-ation not just why do we simply want to go on ghost train rides.
I think there has been a move in popular culture in this country recently, which has been by and large successful. Alan Moore's work, for instance, has been - it's been hugely successful. I see it coming through once in a while on television. It's always been there in the pop music we turn out, there's always been something which has had some kind of dark undertow. It tends not to be as popular
the charts, but we've always had this through punk and the new gothic stuff and so on. There's this quite wonderful sense of the morbid and the dra-matic. Recently I've been listening to a lot of stuff by Dead Can Dance. Do you know them?
AH: Yeah. Fine band.
BARKER: Oh, they're great. Just great. And that sensibility completely overlaps with my sensibility of... I mean, they're a wonderful band. Ex-traordinary vision, great stuff.
AH: Would you like to tell us about your views on suspense versus revul-sion? I mean, you said in Heartbreak Hotel that, you know, if you have a film called "The Thing," let's see the Thing-don't bother hanging around in the shadows.
BARKER: Yeah, I like to see things in exacting detail. One of the things about the very fine sequence of Swamp Things that John, Steve, and Alan turned out was that there were a few issues in which you were really getting a blow by blow account of boo' the Swamp Thing was growing itself. Comic books do allow you to assess, very closely in fact, just how an effect is being had on you, even as that effect is taking place. I mean, in movies you can't do that. They have the effect and then they move on. It's true you can get a video and run it back again, but somehow it's not quite the same. We can actually analyze this very closely. There was a very interesting article in The Comics Journal a while back about why it was that comics weren't like movies, and why movies weren't like comics. They analyzed a sequence in frames from The Spirit, which is quite often described as cinematic. Of course it's something quite other. The problem is that there isn't a suitable adjective which is derived from comics the same way that the word "cinematic" is derived from the word "cinema." "Comicatic?" No, it doesn't quite work, does it?
AH: Not really. Too "cakky" sounding.
BARKER: "Comatic?"
AH: "Comatic." Yeah, that's better. "Comatic."
BARKER: Yeah, "comatic" would be alright. I wouldn't mind "comatic '
AH: I think I could live with that.
BARKER: Yeah, yeah. I think something could be described as being "comatic" as opposed to "cinematic" I think we could believe that these were fundamentally different effects. The comatic effect. (now that we've got the word we may as well use it) doesn't happen in a fixed time, rather it happens in the readers' own time, the second thing is that it's the flow of two distinctly different pieces of in-formation which are quite separate, the visual information and the written information. It's nothing like a book. A book is all words and your mind's eye provides all the pictures. Thirdly, there are two ways, possibly several more, in which it's possible to view the reading experience. So you read it sequentially. Yet because of the size of the average comic book page, your. mind's eye is also aware of the whole scale, possibly even the full scale of the double page. You are aware of yourself in the line of the narrative. Particularly if a splash panel is coming up, if you're running through a flow of small panels and you're breaking out into a splash panel, as you turn that next page the first thing that hits you is the splash panel, and in fact as we analyze this more closely, we can have the comatic effect. I think that the comatic effect is actually much more elaborate than what is given. The term "sequential art" doesn't quite describe what happens.
AH: The birth of a new word. Exciting times. Can we talk about monsters?
BARKER: Oh, yes, please, let's. Absolutely.
AH: The idea of the monster as a being in possession of its own grace and beauty. I mean, I can see Lugosi's Dracula as graceful, King Kong, even Karloff's Frankenstein to a certain degree, then all of a sudden we have these stalk and slash killers in the '70s, then you come along and make them graceful again?
BARKER: I think that there's always been at least two quite different tradi-tions in the way that monsters are presented. Quasimodo is not graceful. Lugosi's Dracula is, Lee's Dracula is, Frankenstein isn't. Igor is not graceful or beautiful. I think you really have to push the definition of what graceful is to allow Karloff to be endowed with this. I mean, he may be perversely graceful, but in the broad sense of what we believe that term to be, he's not. There's a wonderful balletic quality to some of that stuff, but he's.... No, he's a lumbering force of nature, I think.
AH: I was thinking of the scene with the little girl and the flowers....
BARKER: Oh, yeah, I agree. But those films are about a seven-foot raging lump of cadaver rather than a series of scenes with little girls. And I think that's fine. But I do think that as you look through the horror films you can find that interesting problem being played back and forth. Some-times, in some characters, you find both in one. The Phantom of the Opera, for example, is interesting as he presents a very graceful, elegant exterior, whereas beneath is the ugli-ness, beneath is the disfigurement, be-neath are the things that are horrific. The problems I have are with people like Freddy Krueger. I mean, he's just ugly. He's an ugly fuck and that's the full sum of it. Interestingly, the shape of Michael Myers returns somewhere to the Phantom of the Opera. That pale light mask in the first Halloween, and I don't think it came up right again, the first picture was wonderful. He was very, very chilling, sepulchur-al thing with this insane thing under-neath. So, no, I don't think it works in terms of strict chronologies. I don't think there was any period that offered up the elegant monster, followed by the ugly, and hack to the elegant again. I do think the best monsters, for me, are creatures who collide with both of those traits. I mean, the Cenobites [sadistic demons from the Hellraiser movies & comic-ED] are in a perverse sense very elegant. And yet, in their own way, they're rather gross and disgusting. That kind of combination is what makes them interesting to me. What worked with Pinhead was that the image was both very repulsive and attractive at the same time.

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