taken from Amazing Heroes No. 174, December, 1989

Clive Barker: On the Beauty of the Beast

by Mike Maddox

Part 3

AH: How do you handle going on the Wogan Halloween special?
BARKER: Quite well. Jim was there, of course, and Mr. Wogan left us to our own devices for the most part. I mean, there were these two quite extraordinary mediums who were on. That sort of helped.
AH: I couldn't help notice that you almost winced as you made your way across the cardboard graveyard....
BARKER: Yeah, well… part of the thing, of course, is that you really do have to join them to beat them. That is the old, old paradox that anybody who's trying to make their work oper-ate on a larger spectrum is confronting. You've got to be able to go on Good Morning, America at 6:30 in the morning, knowing that you've got seven minutes (between ads) in which to try and sell, as I have done, The Damnation Game. The interviewer, the lady sort of asks, "So, Mr. Barker, what's your new book about?" And, of course, she doesn't have the faintest clue. She hasn't read it, she's just holding it up. You know that you've got just seven minutes to try and sell it to 26,000,000 potential buyers, or whoever happens to be watching at that time. This is something that's go-ing on, and is being fed to them all the time television has been on in America since 6:00 that morning. People are going about their business, they're shaving or they're shitting, or whatever. They're pouring out their cornflakes and you are just another face. But you've got to actually be there. Or else what happens is that space for proselytizing, that little slot (or not so little, actually) is going to be taken up by someone who's just written another diet book, or by the most recent convert to Christianity, or whatever it's going to be. Unpleasant as it often is, and it can be unpleasant, a real grind.. . I mean, you're halfway across America on a tour, you've been on the road for three or four weeks, and all you do from eight in the morn-ing to eight at night and sometimes much later is you just do chat shows. You get to Denver or Dallas and forget which city you're in, then you go on some chat show, and the phone lines are open, and after all this you get some whacko ranting down the line reading Deuteronomy to you, and you just think, "I need this like I need fucking holes in my head?" And then you run the risk all the time of just coming across like some pretentious asshole. I mean, I'm well aware of that. Especially when you're trying to talk about your work in a way that re-moves it from the ghost train ride and rubber spiders theory of Fantastique.
AH: Bearing in mind what you're trying to do here, it could be very easy, I suppose, to just say, "Back off man - this is my Art," and be done with it, but is it because of what you're trying to do that you see it as being essential that you reach as many peo-ple as possible? Why you use main-stream cinema and the bestseller lists?
BARKER: Absolutely. If you value, as I do, the imaginative act, if you in some sense or other decide that this is important to you... I don't mean in the practicing of, but in the experience of fantastic art, then I feel as if I want to share my vision with other people, I don't want to be cowardly about it, even though sometimes I think I am.
Either you go on these chat shows in America, and you get someone who's written a diet book and some-one who's written a self-help book, and you're in the green room, and you sit there with these people, and you just sort of say, "Hi.." and sit there. Or, occasionally, you'll get some real enthusiast who'll get it completely, and that makes it totally worthwhile. And, or course, the more you do it, the more it happens. Certain writers or radio people or TV people will seek you out. It's good going on MTV, for example, as the people there know my work and know the genre, and that's happening more and more.
AH: Can we talk about the theatre for a while?
BARKER: Yeah. I was doing plays for quite a while. John Bolton's actually going to be adapting one of them - Frankenstein in Love - which I think speaks for itself, which we're looking forward to doing together. That will be great fun.
AH: Can you see yourself going back to theatre?
BARKER: Oh, I don't think I ever really let it. Not for a moment. I think I make very theatrical movies. I'm not a naturalist at all. I don't think I ever will be. The cinema is a form of stage for me, where you get to keep the performance. I like working with actors, I like being with actors. The great pleasure of working, for me, in the theatre, is that it's such a communal activity. You can be working with many minds and many creators, and you get that in movies too. I mean, today we've got a deadline for Nightbreed, we've got one editor over there, another upstairs, we've got the titles editor coming in later on, and we've got the opticals working somewhere else. Danielle's currently doing the music, and Bruce is mixing the sound and everybody has a contribution. The valuable thing for me about the communality of this experience is that ev-eryone else constantly feeds your own sense of the possible. An actor or a designer or special effects guy or whatever comes to you and says, "wouldn't it be good if we did X?" And that happens in the theatre a lot, as well as in comics a lot. Books are different. I mean, yeah, your editor has something to say, your agent has something to say, and the cover de-signer has something to say... but, really, the bulk of the creative activity has already taken place by this time. It also has its pressures, of course. 'Working alone, you can be driven into this obsessive frenzy.
AH: Do you often have to change your material because it's too extreme? I know that in Hellraiser you had to cut the number of buttock thrusts in a love scene down to three....
BARKER: No, I've never had the buttock-thrust problem there. In fact, my next book is going to be a major buttock thrust book.... We'll see.
AH: It always amazes me that there are censors whose job it is to count buttock thrusts in films.
BARKER: Well, it's a hard job, but someone's got to do it.
AH: You're a big fan of Jim Steranko, I believe?
BARKER: Always have been. Except for that stuff he did in the adaptation of Outland for Heavy Metal. But the Nick Fury's great. But let's go back to the classics and talk about Jack Kirby.
AH: Ah, the King.
BARKER: I'm a great admirer of classic anything. There's a danger of being too modern. The real danger is that you do the experimental things and let the baby go out with the bath-water. I think I write very on the nose, very straightforward narrative. The conclusions those narratives reach, in terms of what they actually mean, what their underpinning is, may be very tar from straightforward, but the way in which those stories are told is pretty on the nose. That's important to me. I'm very concerned that if I'm going to tell a radical story of some kind or other, if I get readers to arrive at a conclusion that one normally wouldn't have arrived at, I like to get them there by the most conventional means. The conventional is a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. I don't like "punch-line" stories.
AH: After the Books of Blood how easy was it for you to make the transition from short stories to novels? I mean, the structure of the short story and the novel are quite different. In the short story the imagery has to be more concentrated if it's going to have any effect, whereas the novel allows you to take a less frenetic route.
BARKER: Sure. Well, I'm an inclu-sionist. I've always divided up (very, very broadly, I admit) the artistic in-stincts into the inclusionist and the exclusionist. The exclusionist is Raccine. The inclusionist is Shakespeare.
I've always felt like I'd prefer to throw 45 things into the pot, and hope that maybe 36 of them will taste good. You may choke on nine of them. I'd rather do that than have only half that number of elements, and each one perfect. That's because I know that different people choke on different things. I
love Gunter Grass and Herman Mel-ville for that reason, I love Shake-speare for that reason. I love Bosch and Goya for that reason. I think it's desire on my part, and I think that popularist art is for the most part in-clusionist rather than exclusionist. I wrote in volumes, and viewed them as collections. Into those volumes I put every damn thing that my imagina-tion at that time could whip up. With the novels, the same thing is true. One of the things that the critics are rather unkind about is that very tact. Intake or offer no apologies for it. I love the ability a novel provides, to be able to do that. One of the things I find with the slim novel is that it leaves a little bit of a challenge to me. I like the idea of coming to the end of a novel, never quite feeling like I've got it all. Com-ing to the last page and knowing that I've still got more to chew over. For me, as an experiencer now, that is something I find satisfying. The layering and the texturing of the experience is very important. It's one of the things that I think is only just beginning to happen in comics. Comic books were, fur such a long time, a very straight- forward experience. You buy one, you read it, you put it down, maybe two years later you pick it up again. That isn't true of something like Watchmen. Watchman rewards further investigation. Read it in one mood you'll find one thing, read it in another mood and you'll find something quite different. I think that's an absolute strength. I love Fellini movies for that reason, there's always something more. I think that when I was a kid the experience of things, the experience of just find-ing words fur things, of finding somebody else's world and being able to leap into it.. and like any world, you pick up the geography instantly. You expected the thing to unfold, you expected there to be valleys that upon en-tering that world you were barely aware of. For me, a novel-particular-ly a large novel - one that you put down at the end and think, "'hell, that was interesting. I'm not sure I understood chapters X, Y, and Z, but maybe next time I road it or talk to someone about it I will." And that's a very different experience to the immaculately formed, beautifully honed, finished "art-thing." Which I think is a source
of. well, I think that could be more of a very British thing, actually. I mean, Shakespeare is perhaps the most un-British of writers after all. I think that's true. The sheer abundance of the imagination in Shakespeare, or indeed of Marlowe, or indeed of Webster.
AH: They were also all popularists. If the play bummed, they wouldn't eat.
BARKER: Oh, absolutely. These were guys who were writing for a medium which demands that you be popular or else you're out on your ear. I think there is a way to be both popular and profound. I don't think there's a mutually exclusive condition in that.
AH: I'd better let you get on with it, I suppose.
BARKER: Yeah, duty calls. That was a pleasure, Mike. Thank you.
AH: Well, thank you. I've seen how busy you are here today, so thanks for making the time. One last thing: would you mind scattering your name on these books here?
BARKER: Sure. [Barker tokes a pen and draws a monster on the inside cover of Cabal.] Just a little something to safeguard it from theft. Which issue will this be coming out in?
AH: Hopefully it'll be November.
BARKER: You'll be sure to send me one?
AH: Sure.
BARKER: Uh... what day is it to-day?

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