Being gifted the chance to pick the brain of a personal idol is a once in a lifetime opportunity. In my case it was also an excellent reminder as to why I love my job, and why I look up to Clive Barker so much. The man is a genius in every sense of the word, and taking even the slightest sneak peek into his thought process is a breathtaking experience. I'm in debt to the man simply for the time he's isolated for me and the horror community; Clive, we all appreciate it!
I don't care to trouble you with a lengthy introduction.
All you need know is that you'll learn plenty about Barker's latest venture into the world of Abarat, his love for painting, some Hellraiser 411, Barker's firm stance on video games and their relevance and, well, a whole hell of a lot more! Now, I say unto you: sit back, read, and enjoy!
Note: This interview was conducted in conjunction between Horrorbid and Horrordigital.
1. The Abarat books have been praised for being accessible to adults as well as younger readers. Was it a conscious decision on your part to make the books appeal to a multigenerational audience, or was this something that happened organically?
Clive Barker: It happened organically. I don’t think you can plan something like that. Clearly, writing for a broader audience means that I’m not going to be writing about sex. That I’m not writing about violence in a gory or excessive way. But my major ambition was to write a story that had great characters. And I think great characters in a great story – like say, the first Star Wars movies – are universally appealing. It doesn’t matter who it’s written for. It’s who wants to read it in the end that matters. And it turns out that adults and children want to read these books. That, to me, could not be a more delightful surprise.
2. The Abarat, Harry Potter and Hunger Games books (among others) seem to be part of a larger trend of books that bridge the generational divide. What do you think the driving force behind this trend is?
CB: I think people are going back to books. I think it’s as simple as that. And they’re coming back to books because the other forms of entertainment, which have been much touted as the ‘replacement books’- whether it be games, the dubious pleasure of television, or the spectacles of cinema - don’t give you the intimacy and the sense of belonging that books give you. Absolute Midnight has been out for only a few days now, and I’ve already received messages from people that have read it, and all they have talked about is entering the world again (You have to remember, this is the third book in the series.) with a delicious sense of coming home.
3. What was the impetus behind moving into the realm of young adult fiction with The Thief of Always and, later, the Abarat books?
CB: I am a younger reader. There’s a part of me that adores the fiction of YA readerships, whether it be Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree, or the classics like Peter Pan and Treasure Island. These are books that never lose their joy for me. I’m completely bewitched by them. I’m enchanted by them. They make me happy. And they do it by reminding me there’s a child in me still.
4. What are your thematic inspirations for the Abarat books?
CB: Time. Courage. Evil.
5. Since the Abarat books are aimed at a younger audience, do you feel it’s important to impart a larger message or moral to the readers?
CB: They’re not aimed at all. They’re written. Yes, you can remove certain elements because they don’t belong in the heads of a younger audience, but you can’t aim a book. I went on Twitter recently and asked what people thought about the fact that there was no sex and violence in the Abarat books. Every single person said ‘I don’t miss it. It’s not relevant to the story.’ I want people to be enchanted by Abarat. Not aroused or nauseated.
6. The title “Absolute Midnight” implies that there are dark times ahead for Candy. With Abarat already fairly dark in tone compared to other young adult novels, are you concerned that the novels will grow too dark?
CB: No. Because, ultimately, I’m in control of the material. I haven’t had a single voice complaining about the darkness of Abarat 3 and I think this book is as dark and as threatening a book as the world of Abarat is going to present us with. They’re not going to get any worse than this. It’s the third in a series of five. This is the darkest part of the story. It’s where the thicket is densest. And the barbs are most dangerous.
7. Is the arc of the last two Abarat books already planned out or do you just let the story come to you as it pleases?
CB: Yes. Everything is planned out down to the last sentence. That isn’t to say that it won’t change, however. I plan with care and hope, and then I change. My hope is that I keep the strong stuff, and lose the weaker stuff.
8. Your artwork seems to work in tandem with the text to tell the story of Abarat. As someone who as always heard the adage “literature is the theater of the mind”, can you explain to me the function of your paintings when it comes to telling your stories?
CB: Yes. The paintings are the inspiration for the stories. I painted maybe 150 paintings before I even started writing page one. The story began on the canvas. I started with a series of paintings for an exhibition. They were supposed to be erotic. But, clearly I wasn’t in the mood, because the first thing I painted was the yellow-suited Kaspar Wolfwinkel who is not appropriate for any erotic frivolity that I can think of. And the paintings grew from there. From that mode. From those feelings. And I discovered that these all belonged together in one narrative, which was very exciting, because I had always wanted to do a Narnia of my own. I’ve always wanted to do a series of books like this.
11. Marvel’s Hellraiser comics pushed boundaries and it seems like it has taken graphic fiction almost 30 years to catch up to what you were doing in the 80s. Now that you’re returning to the realm of comics with the new Hellraiser series, how do you plan to push the envelope even further?
CB: I ain’t tellin. But we’re going to, I promise you that.
12. As someone who has adapted his own work to the big screen, what do you see as some of the greatest pitfalls of filming a live action adaptation of a well-known story?
CB: Disappointment. Disappointing the audience who has read the story already, and has a vision of it in their heads. Your vision can never be their vision. By definition. That’s the biggest pitfall, and unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about it.
13. The epic scope of much of your work means that books like Weaveworld or Imajica don’t really lend themselves to motion picture adaptation. Have you considered a cable series on a premium channel, such as HBO, where the expansive canvas of a 12-20 hour season would give the material the room in needs to breathe?
CB: Yes. I have. And we’re still looking at that, but these things take time.
14. What is the status of the proposed Hellraiser remake, and how do you feel about remakes in general?
CB: There are good remakes, and there are bad remakes. I don’t have an opinion about that really. I keep away from them as a viewer, by and large. And I know nothing about what the Weinsteins are planning.
15. How much have you kept up with the Hellraiser sequels? Are there any of the later sequels that you thought did anything interesting with the mythology?
CB: I haven’t watched them. And that isn’t any reflection upon the artists involved in the projects. It was just that, at a certain point, you lose focus on what those projects are; you lose focus on what connection they even have with you as an artist. What was the last one I watched…number five perhaps? I was involved with number three. And number four was the space one, which was a mess. People took their names off of that picture. There are so many hands involved so many of those things. They feel as though they’re made by committees.
16. What was your favorite horror film(s) of the past few years?
A Serbian Film
Enter the Void
Trouble Every Day
17. Fans were extremely excited at the discovery of some of the lost Nightbreed footage though Morgan Creek didn’t express much interest in a Special Edition DVD re-release. With the explosion of Blu-ray and the HD market is there any hope that the footage will soon see release, even if it’s not incorporated back into the film itself?
CB: I’m going to pass that one over to my colleague, mister Mark Miller, who is the one that’s really done the hard work first in finding the material, and doing his best to persuade Morgan Creek to become more involved in this. I think Mark can probably express more clearly the issues that are involved there:
“It’s tough. From what I understand, after the fans proved their enthusiasm for the project, Morgan Creek decided to go back to the vault and look for the missing bits of film, but they couldn’t find it. Whether it’s gone forever, or still in hiding remains to be seen, but what I can tell you is that the video footage we found is bad ass.
Nightbreed was supposed to be a balls-to-the-wall, action/fantasy/horror epic. And that reads when you watch this footage. Now, as far as this stuff seeing any HD/SpecialEdition release, I really can’t say. It’s very possible. Anchor Bay released composite editions of both The Wicker Man and Army of Darkness, and people loved them. And I know that a lot of people want to see Nightbreed get the same treatment. The fact that the question of its release is still being brought up, is a testament to that. All I can say is keep asking. Squeaky wheels have a way of getting greased.“
18. In your experience developing games, what were the toughest artistic challenges that were unique to the medium of video games?
CB: There is no singularity of vision when you’re dealing with rooms full of people.
19. Undying was a first person action adventure game and Jericho was a first person shooter. What genre would you be most interested in exploring next?
CB: As long as it’s got interesting stories to tell, I’m not a guy that’s bound by genre. If you look at my work, there is a very wide range in the material. I’m not wetted to any one thing. Or any ten things, for that matter.
20. You got in a public, and very heated, debate with Roger Ebert where you defended video games as art. Why do you think there is still such resistance in the mainstream to accepting video games as an artistic medium?
CB: I think it’s always the case: when new mediums come along, they’re argued with. It took a long time for comics to be accepted as a valid art form. Many people will not accept them even now. Roger had his views. I have mine. So be it. Roger wrote one of the Valley of the Dolls pictures, so he obviously knows all about art.
Note: Checkout the exchanges between Barker and Ebert...
Barker: “It’s evident that Ebert had a prejudiced vision of what the medium is, or more importantly what it can be.”
Ebert: The word “prejudiced” often translates as “disagrees with me.” I might suggest that gamers have a prejudiced view of their medium, and particularly what it can be. Games may not be Shakespeare quite yet, but I have the prejudice that they never will be, and some gamers are prejudiced that they will.
Barker: “We can debate what art is, we can debate it forever. If the experience moves you in some way or another … even if it moves your bowels … I think it is worthy of some serious study.”
Ebert: Perhaps if the experience moves your bowels, it is worthy of some serious medical study. Many experiences that move me in some way or another are not art. A year ago I lost the ability (temporarily, I hope) to speak. I was deeply moved by the experience. It was not art.
Barker: “It used to worry me that the New York Times never reviewed my books. But the point is that people like the books. Books aren’t about reviewers. Games aren’t about reviewers. They are about players.”
Ebert: A reviewer is a reader, a viewer or a player with an opinion about what he or she has viewed, read or played. Whether that opinion is valid is up to his audience, books, games and all forms of created experience are about themselves; the real question is, do we as their consumers become more or less complex, thoughtful, insightful, witty, empathetic, intelligent, philosophical (and so on) by experiencing them? Something may be excellent as itself, and yet be ultimately worthless. A bowel movement, for example.
Barker: “I think that Roger Ebert’s problem is that he thinks you can’t have art if there is that amount of malleability in the narrative. In other words, Shakespeare could not have written ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as a game because it could have had a happy ending, you know? If only she hadn’t taken the damn poison. If only he’d have gotten there quicker.”
Ebert: He is right again about me. I believe art is created by an artist. If you change it, you become the artist. Would “Romeo and Juliet” have been better with a different ending? Rewritten versions of the play were actually produced with happy endings. “King Lear” was also subjected to rewrites; it’s such a downer. At this point, taste comes into play. Which version of “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare’s or Barker’s, is superior, deeper, more moving, more “artistic”?
Barker: “We should be stretching the imaginations of our players and ourselves. Let’s invent a world where the player gets to go through every emotional journey available. That is art. Offering that to people is art.”
Ebert: If you can go through “every emotional journey available,” doesn’t that devalue each and every one of them? Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord of choices. If next time, I have Romeo and Juliet go through the story naked and standing on their hands, would that be way cool, or what?
Barker: “I’m not doing an evangelical job here. I’m just saying that gaming is a great way to do what we as human beings need to do all the time — to take ourselves away from the oppressive facts of our lives and go somewhere where we have our own control.”
Ebert: Spoken with the maturity of an honest and articulate 4-year old. I do not have a need “all the time” to take myself away from the oppressive facts of my life, however oppressive they may be, in order to go somewhere where I have control. I need to stay here and take control. Right now, for example, I cannot speak, but I am writing this. You lose some, you win some.
That said, let me confess I enjoy entertainments, but I think it important to know what they are. I like the circus as much as the ballet. I like crime novels. (I just finished an advance copy of Henry Kisor’s Cache of Corpses, about GPS geo-caching gamesters and a macabre murder conspiracy. Couldn’t put it down.) And I like horror stories, where Edgar Allen Poe in particular represents art. I think I know what Stan Brakhage meant when he said Poe invented the cinema, lacking only film.
I treasure escapism in the movies. I tirelessly quote Pauline Kael: The movies are so rarely great art, that if we cannot appreciate great trash, we have no reason to go. I admired “Spiderman II,” “Superman,” and many of the “Star Wars,” Indiana Jones, James Bond and Harry Potter films. The idea, I think, is to value what is good at whatever level you find it. “Spiderman II” is one of the great comic superhero movies but it is not great art.
Barker is right that we can debate art forever. I mentioned that a Campbell’s soup could be art. I was imprecise. Actually, it is Andy Warhol’s painting of the label that is art. Would Warhol have considered Clive Barker’s video game “Undying” as art? Certainly. He would have kept it in its shrink-wrapped box, placed it inside a Plexiglas display case, mounted it on a pedestal, and labeled it “Video Game.”
21. As an artist who has worked in so many different fields, which bmedium would you say best expresses your artistic vision?
CB: Two. Painting and Writing. I love both.
22. The 1980’s saw the rise of splat-stick cinema and thesplatterpunk movement. Horror cinema in the 90’s gave us films that were post-modern and deconstructionist in their approach to the genre. The 2000’s have been an overwhelming wave of nostalgia, with franchises being remade, rebooted and sequelized. Looking ahead, what do you see as the next big trend, or trends, in cinema or literature?
CB: In horror we’re going to find new subjects to horrify people. Horror is always about the subjects. I think our decreasingly artificial, and cynical, and unreal, and desensitized culture is producing horrors which would have been unthinkable fifty years ago - things that make the atom bomb look positively benign. The Cuban Missile Crisis was fifty years ago. It was a battle that never happened. It can be argued that it was either never going to happen, or it can be argued that a lot of smart people stopped it from happening. I go for the first one, because people were a lot more sensible back then. They had a sense that life was worth living. I think we now are seeing the rise of a generation filled with too many individuals that simply don’t care.
And when these people are put in positions of power, there is going to be great trouble, because they don’t believe in anything.