Saturday, October 10, 2009

Clive Barker part 1 A Fan Letter

I have a lot of influences as a writer from various sources. They're usually really easy to pick up depending on what field I'm working in at the time. My blogging and podcast stuff, for instance, definitely carries with it the influence of the writers at aintitcool news and a lot of Alan Cross mixed in with my own sensibilities. I think it's become a pretty distinct voice at this point but you can definitely see my influences.

My comics work is definitely something I really own but if you look you can see hints of Neil Gaiman and Garth Ennis in there.

Now what few of my friends realise is I do write prose. I am very rarely happy with it enough to show my friends unlike my comic stuff. I think it's because unfortunately I hold it up at a very high level.

When you look at my prose, it's pretty much me at this point. Or at least it should be, I've been writing in a serious manner since I was 12. I'm sure my close friends can see my sense of humor, maybe a little bit of influences that they know of.

When I look at it I just see three very big shadows looming over my shoulder. One is Andrew Vachss (crime author who through his books taught me how to use first person narrative). Stephen King who was the first author I really read in a serious manner. By that I mean I discovered The Eyes of the Dragon through a kindly librarian who recognised the fact that I was bored with the books that my age group was supposed to be reading. From there I read every book King had out at the time.

The third shadow, the one the lurks at the back, sitting in a chair, smoking a cigar, waiting, is Clive Barker.

Clive Barker was the first author I had discovered pretty much on my own. I had heard his name in connection with Hellraiser but I hadn't seen it yet. But sitting on the library shelf was this book called The Damnation Game. It was a paperback, had a weird tree on the cover and the backflap made the novel sound interesting so I checked it out.

I was completely unprepared for what happened next.

I loved the book. It was well written, funny, horribly scary and flew in the face of what was typically depicted as Faustian deals. The demon in this book may not have been incredibly likable (depending on your view of things) but he was definitely easy to identify with.

So back to the library I went and stood in the section where all of the authors starting with B were kept, looked at the bookshelf and more or less said:

"Okay Mr. Barker, what else do you got?"

The next novel I picked up was The Great and Secret Show.


To attempt to place this book in a genre would be doing a disservice to Mr. Barker and the book itself.

But if I had to place it some how I would call it a science fiction fantasy horror love story. It has magik, sex, ghosts, evolved apes (and by this I mean an ape that has been evolved through a weird science magik), explosions, a love story and creatures made from magik, poo and sperm.

That's right, evil poo sperm magik.

And it is awesome.

After that, I read everything I could get my hands on. Everville, The Hellbound Heart, Imajica, Weaveworld, The Thief of Always (which is still one of the best children's novels I've ever read), and a ton more.

Barker introduced me to the concept that you're book didn't have to be just one genre. Why would you only play on the swings when you could also play on the slide and in the sandbox?

He was also the first author I read about who understood like I did, that comics were awesome. Not only that, he wanted to write and create comics.

You can even see this a little bit in his literary work. Barker's characters all seem to share the same world or at the very least, are known in parallel universes. Harry D'Amour makes a few appearances. The Cenobites from Hellraiser are known to some of the characters in Weaveworld.

Then I discovered his films. The first of which was Hellraiser.

Hellraiser was a bit of a revelation to me. It proved you could make not only a stylish horror film but that it could also be smart as well. The creatures or cenobites were like nothing I had ever seen before. And for a first time director, the direction is really solid. The most interesting thing about the film is that (with the exception of Julia's hair and the female cast members' clothing) is not particularly dated and holds up incredibly well. The sequels to the film are not particularly great (I liked 2 but the

His follow up "Nightbreed" really caught my attention in my younger years (it's a decent but flawed film and from my reading up on it, I kind of get the picture that the flaws weren't Barker's fault). Lord of Illusions is probably my favorite as it encapsulates everything I love about Barker's work. It had weird magik, action, horror, a decent cast, a solid script.

All of these creative works have inspired me a fair amount. Try things that haven't been done, don't worry about boundaries, if the story is good, it will not matter.

Like reading a gay author.

Now back when I started reading Clive's novels, I don't think it was public knowledge that he was gay. but looking back on his novels...well...duh. But at the same time, when I started reading his books, being "gay" was not well accepted. It along with derogatory words like "fag" were generally used as put downs in the school yard and in my area in general. Put that together with the fact that "they" carried a "gay disease" called AIDS (o clarify, we all know that this is all bullshit and if you don't, please stop reading my column now). But Clive's novels just excepted the fact that sometimes women slept with men. Sometimes women slept with women, sometimes men slept with men and sometimes all of them slept with creatures that weren't either. Then Clive came out of the closet and it dawned on me that this dude wrote really good books was gay, that school yard conceptions of what being gay meant could be very wrong. As a straight man in a bit of a homophobic situation, it was a bit of a wall coming down. What does it matter if I like girls and he likes guys? It doesn't.

Beyond that I always strive for what I saw in Barker's works. Something a little familiar that grasps the reader followed by something awesome and different. That's why when I write I can kind of feel him in the background of my thoughts. Something along the lines of "Well that's good...but what about this?" "Well that's a bit different isn't it?" "Yes it is, but more interesting, no?"

Clive has since gone on to write ghost stories, children's novels and a bunch more. Whenever I see a new book on the shelf with his name on it, it's kind of like running into an old friend. Sometimes you have a chance to catch up and have a great conversation (Mister B. Gone for instance) and other times it's a quick "Hello, glad to see you are doing well" (his Abarat novels for young adults have always caught my eye but I've never quite been able to get into one). I'm awaiting his forthcoming Scarlett Gospels novel for a return of Harry D'Amore.

I've never gotten to meet the man except for a very brief occasion at Fan Expo in Toronto a few years ago, where our paths crossed for a very brief second and he said "hi" to me (apparently my all access pass was not all access and the tall asshole guy from Fan Expo volunteers booted me out. If you've ever gone to Fan Expo you know exactly which guy I am referring to.) but if he happens to be reading, thank you Mr. Barker, I owe you a drink next time you're in Toronto.

Next: Hellraiser dvd review

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